How to Save Our Planet

by Mark Maslin

summary by Sara Pawlikowska

“How to Save Our Planet” by Prof. Mark Maslin


“How to Save Our Planet” by professor Mark Maslin is a short book delivering the most content in the least amount of words. The facts and figures are supported by relevant references and presented in an easily understandable way.

This is not just a delve into the problems we’re facing now and a scary vision of so many more to come. Professor Maslin comes to us with a truly scientific approach. Yes, there are problems and it’s good to understand how we got here. But more importantly, we need to think about the solutions.

In the book, we get the chance to think about all the different initiatives that can be introduced throughout various sectors of economy, agriculture and politics, to name a few. And the straightforward format of the book makes it really easy to follow. With the numbers and figures not being overwhelming, but necessary for the context.

There is a dark version of our future. But there is bright one as well. Here, you’ll see that while knowing that the problem is big and real, there’s a lot we can do to make it better.

So don’t feel intimidated by the title. This truly is a book about hope and positive change. And the realization that we already have many ideas and knowledge on how to improve our planet’s health is both motivating and inspiring.

Chapter 1: History of Our Planet
  • The universe is 13.8 billion years old
  • You are made of stardust
  • The distance between the Earth and the Sun is 149.6 mln km

Did you know that 37% of your entire DNA was inherited from some ancient bacteria?

Honestly, I’m not sure how that fact changes anything in my life, but somehow I know nothing will be the same anymore.

The very first bacteria emerged around 4 billion years ago. And about 2 mln years ago, the cells that have nuclei, which makes them more complex than bacteria, developed.

Dinosaurs roamed around for 170 mln years, until they went extinct 66 mln years ago in rather tragic circumstances. Fortunately the little mammals survived. Fun fact, those guys were eating mostly insects, which they then digested using chitinase enzyme. Some people today are found to have that enzyme.

Long story short, our ancestors tamed fire around 1.5 mln years ago, and Homo sapiens came into the picture 300,000 years ago, with the more ‘modern’ version emerging 60,000 years ago in East Africa.

The fact that we pass on what we learned means that every generation is smarter (in theory, at least) and can further advance our technology. Now, we just need to use it to save our planet.

Tags: Sun bacteria dinosaurs insects

Chapter 2: History of Humanity
  • Humans caused extinction of 4% of mammal species by 10,000 years ago
  • Agriculture was developing independently across various locations
  • Deforestation for farming use causes CO2 release into the atmosphere

Before the Industrial Revolution took place in the 18th century, the growing agriculture caused a rise in atmospheric CO2 (carbon dioxide) from 260 ppm (part per million) to 280 ppm. The farming of rumnants led to increased atmospheric methane concentration as well.

Since 1492 when Columbus made it to America, in just 100 years, 90% of indigenous people (10% global population back then) died. They were killed by diseases brought from oversease, as well as famine and military violence.

This is the second biggest human mortality event, only surpassed by the World War II, which ended lives of 50-80 mln people.

The never-ending trade of various goods, animals, plants and diseases started between Americas and Eurasia. Goods were exchanged for slaves and people started to mix on a global scale.

In 1543 we learned that it’s indeed the Earth that revolved around our star.

By the 19th century, the human population rose to 1 billion and doubled in the next 123 years. The Industrial Revolution led to many discoveries, such as photography, railways and new medicines. But it also led to increased pollution. By 1939, the CO2 levels were at 310 ppm.

Between 1950 and 2020, the world population skyrocketed from 2.5 billion to 7.8 billion. That of course comes with a huge energy demand. Currently, we use the equivalent of 280 billion lightbulbs a day.

Tags: extinction world population industrial revolution

Chapter 3: State of Our World
  • There’s enough concrete to cover the entire surface of Earth
  • There are more lego people than real people
  • A plastic bag was found in Mariana Trench (almost 11 thousand meters deep)

Now, we are the ones roaming the Earth. We have as much of an impact on life and climate as a meteorite. As cool as it sounds, that’s a lot of responsibility on our shoulders and we’re not carrying it very gracefully.

Wild animals (by weight) make up only 3% of land mammals, with 67% being livestock and the rest us. That probably didn’t sound as alarming as it should. Giving it some context, 10,000 years ago wild animals were at 99.95%.

Yeah, my thoughts exactly…

Another nice (sarcastically speaking) fact is that since the dawn of civilization, we cut down over half of all the trees on Earth. Pretty scary, right?

Being a global problem which it is, not everyone contributes to it equally. The richest contribute the most (90%) to the atmospheric pollutions. While there are around 780 million people who get by with less than $1.90 a day.

It’s also worth noting that so far the warmest ever year recorded is 2016, with 2020 taking the second place on the chart.

Tags: concrete meteor animals trees pollution

Chapter 4: Taxonomy of Denial
  • The climate change with its timing and direction towards global warming is not ‘natural’ or ‘just weather’
  • It’s estimated that with just 1% of global GDP climate change could be fixed
  • Every year an area equivalent to the UK is deforested

There are different types of denial.

Science denial argues that changes we’re experiencing are just normal weather conditions. Or that the climate models cannot be trusted, since they might be oversensitive to carbon dioxide.

These are false, since over the last 2000 years, only the last 150 of them showed a directed climate change towards global warming. As for the models, none of them is truly correct, as climate is complex. But various models agree with each other and their predictions were accurate so far.

Economic denial focuses on money, saying that the issue is too expensive to be tackled. The estimates show that currently it would take around 1% of world’s GDP, while by 2050, the cost could grow to over 20%.

Humanitarian denial preaches that there are actually various benefits to global warming. Those could include better farming conditions for some geographical areas, or milder winters, which would prevent people dying of cold.

The benefits of climate change are unfortunately not comparable to the severity of its negative effects. And problems such as homelessness is more of a societal issue, that an environmental one.

And finally, political denial. There are various inequalities when it comes to emissions between different countries, as well as when it comes to taking climate change action. That’s true, but all countries need to cooperate. By 2050, all countries should reach net zero carbon emissions if we are to avoid experiencing 2℃ temperature rise.

Tags: denial myths net zero

Chapter 5: Potential Futures - Nightmare or Ecotopia?

Alright, let’s have a peek into the future, shall we?

For the simplicity’s sake let’s say we have 50% chance (I’m a writer, not a statistician, alright?) to create a beautiful ecotopic future for ourselves.

We’re talking no fossil fuels, better diet, reduced global poverty, efficient farming and additional trillion trees chilling all around. Sounds good, right? Well, this could be our year 2100.

Or not.

The other 50% (man, too much math) is not so pretty. It’s really, really warm. By the end of this century, the global temperatures increased by 4℃. This of course helps a lot with frequent droughts. 3.5 billion people don’t have enough access to drinking water.

Arctic sea ice is melting, which causes among other terrible things the rise of sea levels. That in turn leads to floods, which claim the land surfaces previously habitable to people and wildlife. While many cities are just entirely under water.

Ocean has become more acidic which interferes with the entire oceanic ecosystem.

The disturbed oceanic food chain also leads to less fish and other sealife for human consumption. And since farming has become very unpredictable, the price of food rises and many people are too poor to afford it.

The food and water depravation, as well as severe weather causes deterioration of human health. Pandemics are also common now.

This nightmare of a future doesn’t have to happen. Not on our watch!

Tags: fossil fuels farming sea levels pandemic ocean acidification

Chapter 6: Power of the Individual
  • Flexitarian - a person who mostly eats plant-based with some meat and dairy products in moderation

We want to help. That much is certain. But… how? There’s plenty of stuff we can do, really. I’m sure you’ve heard most of it before, but repetition is learning, so let’s take a tour.

First things first, let’s talk about it! We need to come together and find new solutions to our problems. Let’s discuss, bust myths and brainstorm. We need to.

Another thing we can do is be more flexible. At leat when it comes to our diets. Let’s try rocking those green leafy bad boys and leave red steaks a bit behind. We don’t need to cut out the meat and dairy altogether. It’s about making a shift to change the ratio of those products, letting veggies take the lead.

Next, think about your energy source and usage. How about changing your current supplier for a renewable energy one? Also, make sure your house is well isolated. You could try reducing the temperature by a degree or two as well. Good for the environment (and your wallet).

Now, when it comes to transport, less flying, less cars. Really, it’s as simple as that. But if you’re a car fan, then there are quite a few hybrid and electric options on the market. Take your pick.

Another big one is consumption in the broad meaning of the term. So reusing what you already have is the first step. Then buying less in general is a good one. Also, think about what you’re buying, do you actually need it? Or are you trying to reduce social stress by getiing what everyone else seem to have?

Protip: not caring what anyone else has is the best cure for social stress.

Remember, who you vote for and which products you choose to buy creates a change in demand and shifts the focus. We need to start demnding more sustainability in various areas of consumption especially.

Tags: flexitarian energy consumption vote

Chapter 7: Corporate Positive Power
  • Over $15 trillion a year is generated by the top 100 companies only
  • Circular economy (as opposed to classic economics) focuses on prolonging the life of products, instead of disposing of them
  • We need to have a novel and entrapreneurial mindset towards businesses

Businesses can no longer think in the short-term. The ‘take, make, dispose’ model has no place in our planet’s future.

It might come as a surprise to you, beacuse of that image of huge, profit-driven enterprises that pops into our heads when we think about companies. But being eco-friendly is actually good for business.

Corporations that disclose their carbon emissions have a 67% higher return than those which don’t. An example of planned climate action is Microsoft, which aims to go carbon negative by 2030 (they just can’t help their competitiveness, can they?).

But this friendly rivalery based on who gets to net zero or negative carbon emission first is just what we need. We need companies to motivate each other to get there faster. We need this to become our new standard.

Transparent businesses are open to sharing their carbon successes and failures with the general public. That way they are obliged to keep on working on their transition and come up with solutions to get there. It’s a good idea to have a timeline with clearly marked targets, both short and long-term ones.

One thing especially worth focusing on due to its central role in any product creation is energy. Try using the most efficient lightbulbs and go for sustainable providers wherever you can.

Another benefit of taking your business on the path to net zero emissions is the message it sends to current and potential employees. It sends a powerful message about the company’s values and ethics. Especially as we become more and more aware of the climate emergency, future employees will be choosing to work for businesses that care about the environment and are actively striving towards making a real change.

Tags: circular economy entrapreneurs carbon negative

Chapter 8: Government Solutions
  • Innovation is government-driven
  • Being eco-friendly can be a win-win situation
  • Fossil fuels should be taxed

Imported fossil fuels should be taxed, while investing in them and subsidising their use reduced. Governments spend trillions of dollars on fossil fuels subsidies every year. There are better uses for that money, such as healthcare, or renewable energy.

Or building a new low-carbon infrastructure, which would allow us to take a high-speed train instead of a plane. This could replace around 80% of interal flights in the US. Also homes and offices could be built in a low-carbon manner. And the structures already in existence could be adjusted to this standard.

Another initiative is the reintroduction of wildlife to increase biodiversity. As well as reforestation. Trees, as we all now, store the atmospheric carbon, while providing us wth oxygen. It’s a naturally negative carbon emission.

Governments need to promote more eco-friendly farming and diet. Apart from food labels providing information about relative healthiness and the country of origin of the product, they should also indicate its carbon footprint and farming method.

Consumers should have the right to make best-informed decisions when it comes to the products we buy. Governments need to change the vision of farming to a one that protects the environment and ensures food security.

While great for the planet, it should also be good for our health, with junk food being more expensive, not advertised and all in all less appealing. The food culture needs to be changed.

Another thing governments can do is support emissions trading. In case you’re not familiar with a ‘cap and trade’ regulation, a.k.a. emissions trading, let me bring you up to speed. It’s based on allocation of permits that need to be bought by companies to allow them to emit greenhouse gases. It encourages businesses that can go net zero to do so as soon as possible, with the number of permits available being decreased and made more expensive every year.

A controvertial initiative is the idea of universal basic income. This in turn obligates the government to financially support every citizen, with no regard for their circumstances and at a level above their immediate needs.

This would reduce poverty, allow more freedom to change careers, or choose more sustainable jobs, reduce social anxiety and healthcare costs, as well as increase creativity and the number of entrepreneurs and their success rate.

Tags: government tax wildlife farming diet cap and trade emissions trading universal basic income poverty

Chapter 9: Saving Our Planet and Ourselves
  • We have the money and technology we need
  • The problems to solve include climate change, global inequality, security and poverty, as well as environmental degradation
  • We need a plan and the right policies to support it and save our planet
  • By 2050, the global population will be 10 billion

Since this is a global issue, we need to make sure our international institutions are up and running. With many of them being plain old, they need to be updated and redesigned to support our current goals.

As mentioned in Chapter 7 (Corporate Positive Power), the economy needs to change as well. Its focused should be shifted from money to human wellbeing. This should be the main objective and measure of success. This also brings us to universities, which can no longer just pass on the knowledge we already have. They need to become incubators of entrepreneurs and encourage their students to come up with new ideas instead of replicating patterns.

The right targets, like negative carbon emissions by year 2100 should be set globally and legislations supporting those targets need to be put in place as soon as possible. The change we’re working towards is not just about more trees. It’s about better living conditions, more meaningful jobs and safer environment.

We’re not all just bad as people, though.

We’re the first ones to have the technology to solve our problems. We can take charge of our fertility and choose to have offspring or not. We can understand the consequences of our actions through science and education. We can think globally and act locally to create better future for everyone on our beautiful planet.

Tags: technology global population economy university

Extra Facts & Figures About Our Planet
  • Antarctica is the world’s largest desert (14 mln km2)
  • The densest planet in the Solar System is Earth
  • -89.2℃ is the coldest temperature recorded
  • Water takes up 71% of Earth’s surface area
  • We know of 1.9 mln different species alive today