8:24:19 Losing Earth, a book review

The emerging global catastrophe that climate change presents appears to divide people into three camps. First, the hyper-carbon-footprint-conscious, who believe we must stop global warming in its tracks, whatever it takes. Second, those who see the steps needed to halt anthropogenic contributions to the problem as unreasonable and a too little, too late dilemma at play. Third, the skeptics or outright deniers, who are content to fiddle while, as now, the Amazon Forest burns.

losing earth

Losing Earth: A Recent History by Nathaniel Rich is a needed survey of how we got here in the climate change debate. Rich takes us back 40 years, and begins his account with these words: "Nearly everything we understand about global warming was understood in 1979. It was, if anything, better understood." As many have since said, the science is settled, a scientific consensus was reached.

What Rich painstakingly lays out for the reader is how the global warming debate moved from the science labs to political corridors ... and went nowhere. The reader meets, however, those who tried. Unsung heroes like environmental activist Rafe Pomerance, climate researcher James Hansen, and a well-known political sponsor in Al Gore, Jr.

Rich points to a group of philosophers, economists, and social scientists--whom he calls the Fatalists--who doubt whether a human solution to this human problem of climate change is feasible. Are we even willing to solve this existential crisis? The Fatalists would argue no. For several reasons. We lost control of our technology when we stopped associating benefits we enjoy with their effects (costs). Beyond that, we collectively refuse to cut back our immediate standard of living for future benefits. How much do we value the future for our heirs? Apparently, very little.

Rich finds an exception to inertia about matters of atmospheric science. In May 1985 British scientists published their findings on ozone depletion in Antarctica. News the ozone layer had a hole was electric and told of immediate harm: Australians, for example, suffered increasingly high rates of skin cancer. Importantly, the singular culprit was identified: synthetic chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). A solution was also immediate: Ban CFCs and the ozone layer recovered.

Alas, there's no similar quick fix for the climate change problem. Rich argues we must stop seeing climate change as simply a political issue and accept it as a question of survival. We might then find the moral imperative to change.

Losing Earth: A Recent History by Nathaniel Rich. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019. 210 pp. ISBN: 978-0-374-19133-7.

Image credit: englewoodreview.org


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Read Charlie Dickinson's latest novel, Losing Laika, as an ebook in these five downloadable formats:

.azw3 and .mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf and .txt (for PCs)

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Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)


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