Books

Paddy Manning
Body Count

Its title may sound like the latest splatter thriller, but journalist Paddy Manning’s new book is no fiction; the explicit subtitle clears any ambiguity. This is a book about “how climate change is killing us”. The chapter headings are eerily topical – “Fire”, “Heat”, “Flood”, “Disease”, “Breakdown”, “Hope” – and there’s even an epilogue about an age of pandemics. Manning sets the tone early on as he explores the circumstances of the death of Dick and Clayton Lang, a father and son in Kangaroo Island, South Australia, during the “firenado” early in 2020. They were just two victims caught in the melee.

Manning points out that until 2019 Australia’s media and politicians had been reluctant to link natural disasters with climate change. But the “Black Summer” was a game changer and we can no longer afford to be in denial. After three decades of warnings, the danger is well upon us and the news is ineffably grim, with experts predicting thousands of deaths due to global warming if present trends continue unabated. As Manning writes, “The climate change body count has already begun.”

Beginning in winter 2019, Manning travelled around the country for six months, visiting places such as Kinglake West, Toowoomba and Melbourne, and talking to those who were affected by some of our worst natural disasters that “directly or indirectly bear the fingerprint of human-induced climate change, according to leading scientists”. This book presents their stories alongside broader comment and research about the impact of a warming world on the economy, on society and on the environment. Manning looks to past natural disasters that inform present conditions. His journalistic training allows for nuance; there’s space set aside to discuss climate change sceptics and deniers even as his central thesis is unequivocal: that “as the planet hots up, the mercury’s grim harvest will threaten more of us”.

Dedicated to the loved ones of those who’ve lost their lives in the stories told within, Body Count is at its heart an urgent and passionate rallying call. It asks the Australian government to fulfil its duty to keep its people safe, by taking on board lifesaving changes, including actions on emissions reduction. For those who persist with the claim that Australia has always been beset by natural disasters, Manning counters: “What we are watching is a succession of unnatural disasters. More extreme weather, more often, in more places.”

Thuy On

Simon & Schuster, 352pp, $32.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 12, 2020 as "Paddy Manning, Body Count".

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Reviewer: Thuy On