Climate change is no longer a subject of discussion for scientists alone. It never actually was. The tardiness in understanding and accepting the challenges of climate change has delayed the process of making choices that are good for the planet. From politicians to policy makers, people in general are unable to see the existential threat because it has not affected them directly, yet. The COP27, this year’s most important climate conference underway in Egypt right now, has been described as the make-or-break moment for global action to get the Earth’s rising temperature under control. We often read books to escape from reality, but it is perhaps important to now seriously read the ones on climate change, so that we and our successive generations are invested in safeguarding our lives.
After Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius published a seminal paper in 1896 predicting that changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels could alter the surface temperature through the greenhouse effect, British engineer Guy Callendar, in 1938, linked the rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere to global temperature. Scientists began to worry about climate change in the late 1950s and began to unite for action in the 1980s.
While the warnings escalated at various forums, Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature, published by Random House in 1989, is considered to be among the first books on global warming, written for common readers. The author apparently penned down his lament on Nature thinking that by simply stating the problem, people would be provoked into action. His book drew attention to core issues such as the greenhouse effect, acid rain, and the depletion of the ozone layer.
However, the perils of climate change as we decipher today were known by 1979. Losing Earth: The Decade We Could Have Stopped Climate Change is Nathaniel Rich’s ground breaking chronicle of events from 1979 to 1989, when the world came close to signing international treaties which could have put the brakes on the acceleration of global warming. While scientists and activists sounded the alarm, the book reveals the genesis of the fossil fuel industry and the birth of climate denialism and how politicians and businesses worked to thwart climate policy through misinformation. Rich’s cautionary tale of the climate battles ahead is a riveting work much like John Hershey’s Hiroshima and Jonathan Schell’s The Fate of the Earth that articulate a moral framework for understanding how we got into this situation which could end all life on Earth, and how we must act to avoid a catastrophe. Rich wrote in his 2019 book that when the condition and time were favourable for solving climate crisis, “nothing stood in between except ourselves”. True to his words, each successive year, we belched increasing quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning coal, gas and oil.
The indiscriminate burning of fossil fuel continues to be the villain in the climate crisis. Another wonderful publication is the 2008 book Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need A Green Revolution by Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman, wherein he explains the urgent need to expand national renewables and a rapid shift to clean energy. According to Friedman, climate change has presented a unique opportunity to bring forth innovation and transform national economies.
In 2020, Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin’s Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving The Planet mapped out the irreversible consequences of unchecked climate change. Their book presents a blueprint for change, while highlighting the forecasts of a hotter planet: how vast stretches of the Earth will become uninhabitable, plagued by extreme weather, drought, rising seas, and crop failure. They also argue that it is entirely feasible to cease fossil fuel burning within the next 30 years.
Another 2020 book, Our Final Warning: Six degrees of Climate Emergency by Mark Lynas, catalogues the latest climate science and charts the likely impact of global heating. At one degree — the world we are already living in — vast wildfires scorch California and Australia and monster hurricanes devastate coastal cities. At two degrees, the Arctic ice cap melts away and coral reefs disappear from the tropics. At three, the world begins to run out of food, threatening millions with starvation. At four, large areas of the globe are too hot for human habitation, erasing entire nations and turning billions into climate refugees. At five, the planet is warmer than the past 55 million years and at six, a mass extinction of unparalleled proportions sweeps the planet. It is a death knell and time is running out. But the authors, like many scientists, believe that the escalating consequences can still be avoided if we stop burning fossil fuels within a decade as a must mitigation measure and if countries adopt the binding agreement for reducing carbon emissions to limit future warming.
Climate scientist Peter Kalmus embarked on a journey to change his life and the world. He began by bicycling and growing his own food and slashed his climate impact to one tenth of the U.S. average. Published in 2017, Being The Change, his book is inspirational for those who want take climate action, but are unsure of where to start.
In the 2021 Global Climate Risk Index, India ranks as the seventh most impacted country in the world.
Indian authors such as Vandana Shiva ( Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development) and Amitav Ghosh ( The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable) throw light on the current environmental crisis. Mridula Ramesh in her book The Climate Solution: India’s Climate Change Crisis and What Can We Do About It comprehensively focusses on green sources of power and talks about climate warriors who have helped reverse the effects by adapting sustainable methodologies.
With a clear understanding of climate change, its history and impact over the decades, the author gives a checklist of actions that everyone can implement to fight climate change. Till then, the growing energy crisis, record greenhouse gas concentrations and extreme weather events will continue to be a danger we need to be prepared for.