What to Read Before it Gets too Hot

Hurricane Sandy, the Oklahoma tornadoes, and the massive flooding in Europe are all recent natural disasters that have imposed massive destruction. Combine that with the record-breaking high temperatures experienced in recent years and it's hard for the average person to doubt the existence of climate change.

But the average Joe or Josephine needn't just go with just their gut instinct. A recent report found that 97% of scientists have concluded that climate change is real and is mainly caused by human activity.

So what do we do? Are we doomed? Is there hope? Do we fight to mitigate the disastrous consequences or do we give up and prepare for the worst?

Two recent books, Hot and 2052, look at the plight of the planet, each with a somewhat different lens.

Hot, Hertsgaard, climate changeHot by Mark Hertsgaard, journalist for The Nation and Mother Jones, is an impassioned plea for change. Hertsgaard had written about environmental issues for 15 years. When his daughter was born a few years ago, he developed a new sense of purpose about the need to protect the Earth for future generations. I recently had the opportunity to hear Hertsgaard speak at a conference in Atlanta, and that sense of purpose came through.

Mark HertsgaardThe central question of Hot is "What is in store if we don't take action?" The answer, of course, is rising sea levels, more droughts, more disease, less food, more fires, more natural disasters, and mass extinction. Hertsgaard weaves a story of potential doom, yet he also delivers hope. For example, in Africa, which stands to be most affected by climate change, there has been considerable success in withstanding impacts by using sustainable farming practices. From these successes, Hertsgaard believes that hope will grow and with it the commitment to further action—especially by politicians and corporations—galvanizing the change needed to sustain the planet.

Jorgen Randers, 2052,science, climate changeThe hope that Hertsgaard represents is countered by Jorgen Randers' sobering analysis in 2052. Randers brings a scientific perspective in examining current trends in climate change. This isn't a new topic for Randers. Forty years ago as a young scientist working at MIT, Randers and his colleagues wrote the groundbreaking book, Limits to Growth, which used new computer technologies and simulations to determine likely futures for the environment. With the exception of population growth, which is in decline, most of the predictions from Limits have come close to the mark.

Randers decided to write 2052 as a forecast for the next 40 years, hence the title. 2052 covers the same topics as Hot, except with more scientific rigor. The outlook is more bleak than hopeful, though not one of complete despair. The book demonstrates that each problem, such as rising sea levels, rising temperatures, food scarcity, and other topics have several potential outcomes. Rather than making narrow predictions, Randers proffers several potential outcomes based on the use of scientific reasoning and modeling.

While both Hot and 2052 are equally educational, Hot reads more like a novel, while 2052 is more like a scientific paper. But the prescription in both is the same, that is, we need to do much more if we are going to mitigate, or even be able to adapt to, the effects of climate change.

Meredith Crocker is an MIT (Manager in Training) working in the communications office in Elkridge, Maryland. This is her second blog post for Planet Aid.