The climate crisis isn’t exactly fun to think about, which is perhaps why it receives such little mainstream media coverage, at least in comparison to other, juicier topics. It really is something that we all need to focus more mental energy on however, as we keep inching closer to a point in which we might start triggering vicious feedback loops that could severely reduce the habitability of our planet. Young climate activist Greta Thunberg has compiled this collection of essays from a host of notable authors, scientists, and public figures in the hopes that it might inspire us to do just that.
The dozens of writers within include best-selling author Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), New Yorker science writer Elizabeth Kolbert (The Sixth Extinction), author Bill McKibben (Falter), French economist Thomas Piketty (Capital in the Twenty-First Century), Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer, Harvard University professor Naomi Oreskes, Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh (Sea of Poppies), Canadian nonfiction author Naomi Klein (This Changes Everything), journalist David Wallace-Wells (The Uninhabitable Earth), SUNY professor Robin Wall Kimmerer (Braiding Sweetgrass), and many more from around the world and across a variety of fields. The sheer magnitude of the amount of knowledge contained in these pages is staggering, though as with any compendium of this many writers, some chapters are better than others.
The entries are organized thematically, beginning with a general explainer of how climate works then moving on to how the Earth is changing, how these changes affect humanity, what we have done about it so far, and what we need to do going forward. As such, the first two-thirds of the book can be pretty bleak reading. It’s hardly inspiring to learn that over half of all human-caused CO2 ever emitted has happened since the United Nations held its Earth Summit in 1992 and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was founded. Or that Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius actually predicted the dangers of carbon dioxide pollution back in 1896. But they are important to know, so that we might better understand exactly where we find ourselves, how we got where we are, and what options genuinely lay before us.
Some of the pieces included here can read like dry recitations of facts, but most manage to inject enough life into the data to avoid feeling like a school textbook. Thunberg herself proves one of the more compelling authors, appearing to summarize the material every so often throughout and injecting healthy doses of righteous indignation. The final sections of the book begin to focus on some of the ways we might be able to get ourselves out of this mess. It’s up to you if you think they seem plausibly doable or more like platitudinal hopium. I’m firmly in the former camp, but fully understand the psychological need for the latter. The Climate Book isn’t always an easy read, but it is a necessary one, with a message that I hope can reach enough people to truly make a difference before it’s too late. ★★★★
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor