IF CORONAVIRUS hadn’t happened, 2020 would have been dominated by the environment.

Back at the start of the year, the headlines were about bushfires in Australia and floods in the UK.

Last week, in amongst the Covid news were the shocking images from California, where wildfires led to the Golden Gate Bridge being given an eerie, Bladerunner-style orange glow.

Further down the news agenda has been the fact that the Northern hemisphere has recorded its hottest ever summer, with 2020 on track to be one of the five hottest years since records began.

In 2019, the Extinction Rebellion protests caught the public mood and offered promise of real change.

But in 2020, their campaigning has failed to cut through.

This week sees the publication of a fascinating, thought-provoking new book, The Best of Times, The Worst of Times, by leading environmental scientist Paul Behrens.

One of those books suffused with intriguing facts and stories, the narrative takes the reader through alternate outcomes on key issues such as population, energy and food: the pessimistic scenarios outline what will happen if we don’t take action; the hopeful scenario shows what is possible if we do.

It’s a structure that echoes how our future remains very much in the balance.

When I caught up with Paul earlier in the week, he talked about the lack of media connection between issues: “This summer,” he explained, “you were seeing unprecedented heat, with the same old pictures of people with ice creams. At the same stage, scroll down the page and you’d see that yields and harvests in Britain are down.”

He described how a failure of leadership, of international co-operation and entrenched vested interests were combining to hinder essential change.

But Paul was also keen to point out that progress was possible.

He spoke about the Climate Assembly, and how such bodies can come up with solutions and suggestions that traditional government models overlook.

He cited, too, the example of CFCs and the Ozone Layer – an environmental problem that the world came together to solve. Yes, the challenges we face and the change required now is of a much greater magnitude.

But such cases show that with political will, it can be done.

I asked Paul what we can do as individuals.

The top three ways that we can help are, firstly, to cut down on meat, especially red meat, and dairy.

Secondly, look at your energy consumption – heating and cooling the house, and transportation.

And thirdly, think more carefully about your levels of consumption.

Paul also encouraged everyone to get engaged.

He said: “Research seems to show shows that once people take action and even get involved in climate movements, they start to feel more hope.”