Friday, December 21, 2012

The Right Book at the Right Time

As the year 2012 comes to an end, we should pause to consider all that we experienced during this portentous year.

2012, as you may have heard, has turned out to be the warmest year on record. 2012 was also the year in which we saw a dramatic increase in the number of forest fires around the country, record droughts and resulting crop failures on a massive scale, and a frankenstorm named Sandy that many climate experts believe got much of its destructive power from increased water temperatures in the Atlantic.

With the effects of climate change being so manifestly evident, one would have expected the progressive candidate running for President this year to mention the topic during a debate or a campaign event. And yet Obama, like most members of his party, was totally mute on the subject. For their parts, Romney and his Republican cronies in congress continued their “drill, baby, drill” mantra and acted as though climate change was some kind of liberal conspiracy dreamed up to destroy the economic might of the United States.

Worse still, the American public—once committed to the goal of reducing carbon emissions—has been experiencing ecoparalysis for the past decade. Despite all the horrific events that we’ve seen this past year, Americans—unlike their European counterparts—seem befuddled about what to think about climate change or how to respond to the issue. The problem is that the issue of climate change is so huge, so complex, and so scary that it doesn’t lend itself to the kinds of simple, inexpensive solutions that Americans seem to love.

Even college-educated students seem confused about what climate change actually means. When we have a huge snowstorm one winter or a cold July, at least one student will inevitably suggest that such facts disprove the theory that the plant is warming. Apparently we are failing to adequately educate students and members of the general population about the difference between weather and climate, and this plays right into the hands of global-warming deniers, who have a vested interest in stoking ecoparalysis for their own political and economic gain.

But education on this issue is absolutely essential if we are going to address the issue of climate change in any kind of meaningful way and ask the public to make the kinds of sacrifices that are needed to reduce carbon emissions. That’s why I was delighted to see that Climate Central, an independent research organization, has come out with what I consider to be an absolutely essential primer on climate change. It’s aptly called Global Weirdness—aptly because climate change, global warming, or whatever you’d like to call what we’re experiencing is more about erratic weather patterns than about an overall warming trend that will treat all areas of the world the same way (No, the United States is not going to become a tropical paradise as a result of climate change, so get over your wishful thinking!).

Global Weirdness is divided into four no-nonsense sections:
  • What the Science Says 
  • What’s Actually Happening 
  • What’s Likely to Happen in the Future 
  • Can We Avoid the Risks of Climate Change? 
The text is very concise—only 214 pages—and each chapter is only a few pages long. Best of all, the book is written in a way that even the average person can understand. Although I’ve been studying the issue of climate change for some time now, I actually learned a few new things myself from reading the book and I also gained new ideas about how to present the issue of climate change intelligently to my students.

Global Weirdness, in short, is definitely worth the hour-and-a-half it will take you to get through it and should be required reading for every student in the country.

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