I first heard of Greta Thunberg when, as a high school student, she sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, avoiding polluting aircraft or diesel-powered ship transport, to address the United Nations and the U.S. Congress about the existential threat of global warming.
Now, at age 20, in “The Climate Book,” (2023 Penguin Press) Thunberg presents the assembled expertise and thinking of more than 100 specialists and activists in by far the most comprehensive book I have seen on this topic. This book provides concerned people with solid information and strategies regarding climate chaos, now being experienced, sometimes disastrously, around the world.
The rate of change continues to outpace projections from the scientific community. Complex interactions between land, oceans, atmosphere, and ecosystems are so intertwined that often scientists, mostly expert in highly specialized fields, fail to unravel the full extent of climate interactions. Fortunately, we know enough of the human causes to avert the extremity of climate disaster. But we have to change both our behavior, what we support politically, and by voting with our dollars.
“The Climate Book” provides solid information about how people are precipitating climate chaos and suggests strategies for avoiding the full potential of climate disasters. The book is organized in sections beginning by establishing the problem, explaining many of the contributing factors, and proposing measures that concerned citizens can take. Following a concise three-page introduction, the book features about 125 ‘papers’ on components of the climate change issue. The discussion headings are:
- “How Climate Works”
- “How our Planet is Changing”
- “How it Affects Us”
- “What We’ve Done About It” and
- “What We Must Do Now.”
Thunberg’s introduction of themes and sub-themes is followed by (usually detailed) presentations by experts.
“The Climate Book” concludes with “What’s Next?,” Thunberg’s wind-up essay followed by “What needs to be done.” Then comes “What we can do together as a society,” then “What you can do as an individual” and, finally, “Some of us can do more than others,” which includes ‘assignments’ for politicians, media people, journalists, celebrities, and “The most affected people in the most affected areas.”
Despite Thunberg’s stated scorn for “old ‘cis’ white men” (a category to which I happen to belong), she sees past this prejudice to include essays by writers such as Vermont’s Bill McKibben, who verges on that longevity category. (McKibben’s 4¼ page essay, “The Persistence of Fossil Fuels” is among the most insightful and readable offerings in the book.)
Even the most hopeful reader of Climate Change cannot but conclude that the international goal to hold climate warming below 1.5° C above ‘normal’ is an improbable aspiration. Indeed, a number of contributors make that very point. Tipping points (thresholds beyond which climate change feeds on itself whatever we do) are mentioned a number of times, but not well described.
The book’s defects are mainly physical. Aside from the jacket, color is avoided for obvious conservation and economic reasons. Therefore some graphs using varied shades of gray are difficult to decipher. Most of the photographs between chapters, printed black and white on darkish gray stock, range from difficult to make out to indecipherable. Black type on dark gray paper that signifies Thunberg’s contributions is a chore to read. And every page is laid-out with a wide margin on the left and a very narrow margin on the right. So the type on the left-hand pages almost runs into the binding, making it difficult to read to the end of each line.
Thunberg has provided a useful tool for education needed to understand the basic causes of climate chaos, see what has to be done, and, hopefully, take action.
I ordered this book based on Thunberg’s rigor of refusing emission-causing transportation to the United States, choosing much slower, less convenient, and potentially more dangerous transport that would not contribute to the problem that she set out to address. Consistency convinces.
The book is even more complete and rigorous than I expected. It could be the basis for a high school or college course, or, hopefully, community discussions. I invite anyone with the resources to purchase “The Climate Book” in bulk for local schools. We are a half-century late in taking this matter seriously. We are paying and will continue to pay for that procrastination. Here is a ready-made tool to help us get up to speed and begin taking actions now to potentially mitigate at least the worst effects of climate chaos.
Dan Hemenway, a Montpelier resident, was a permaculture teacher, publisher, and designer from 1981 until his retirement circa 2010. He has international awards in conservation and community service and five advanced degrees from the International Permaculture Institute.
Climate Change Discussion Group
Bridge contributor Dan Hemenway invites concerned readers to join a climate change discussion group based on Greta Thunberg’s “The Climate Change Book.” The group would exchange views, questions, and answers via email and support technical explanations when desired. Presumably, discussions will include measures that people can take individually or collectively. Email email@example.com with questions and suggestions and to learn how the group might interact. A donor to supply books for low- or zero-income participants would be appreciated.
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