According to John Berger, author of the newly released book Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader’s Guide to Understanding the Climate Crisis, time is running out. The climate is changing in ways that will bring unwanted results, and we as a species are slow off the mark to do something about it.
Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader’s Guide to Understanding the Climate Crisis begins with a description of the global climate in the not too distant future, 2100. It is of course a guess, perhaps fiction. But Berger’s description of the world in 2100 is plausible, and much of it probable. We don’t know, of course which parts are more vs. less likely. Killer heat waves are common. Forest are dying. Wildfires are frequent and abnormally large. Natural habitats, all of them, are being destroyed by changing conditions, causing widespread species extinctions. Serious diseases well ensconced in the tropics have spread widely. Island nations and low lying continental regions are being flooded, or are already destroyed by rising seas. And more.
By 2100, the Arctic Ocean is virtually ice-free. That amplifies global warming, because the reflective ice is replaced by darker water, which absorbs more heat. Without the ice, walruses are virtually gone. The huge shoals of shrimp-like krill that swarmed and bred beneath the margins of the ice shelves are gone.The whales that strained tons of krill have starved. So have the krill-eating fish and seals that had eaten the fish—and that needed ice during breeding and pupping season. Polar bears that depended on the seals and that bore their young on ice have become very scarce.A small population remains on land where they interbred with grizzlies…
With water so scarce and costly, many farms over the past decades had first fallowed their fields and, when the rains failed, had finally gone out of business.Then food prices had shot up. … Many people simply left the region. Farm economies unraveled…
Skeletal remains of shorefront buildings and walls protruded from the surf. A congealed mass of plastic flotsam and jetsam identified the high-water mark. …
And that is just a sampling. And, again, there is nothing in Berger’s alarming description that is “alarmist” in the sense science denialists usually use the term. Alarming, yes. Alarmist, no. Just realistic.
Berger describes climate change and its mechanism, gives some history as to how we know what we know, and discusses the perils of climate change in several major categories: That pertaining to the United States in particular, though he also discusses the situation across the globe; economic perils, health related perils, extreme weather, extinction, and bad things that happen to the ocean.
The hardest chapter to write, the one that is most likely wrong in detail, and at the same time, the most important, is on “Tipping Point Perils.” There is presently a discussion on the internet about one tipping point that is probably not realistic: the rapid extinction-event level warming induced by the release of large amounts of Methane from beneath the Arctic sea (and nearby land areas). Berger goes out on a limb a ways with his discussion of Methane, as do many others, and we hope there is not really a “Methane Bomb.” For the most part, though, he addresses the Arctic Methane problem fairly realistically, pointing out evidence on all sides of the issue.
Most of Berger’s tipping points are more realistic and still quite serious, including his discussion of methane. For the most part, a “tipping point” is an out of control positive feedback, where warming induces the rapid increase of some effect which in turn increases warming. Like melting permanent ice and snow, which normally sends an important quantity of the Sun’s energy back into space. Another is the qualitative change in climate systems, such as changes to large scale oceanic currents which contribute greatly to how heat is distributed across the planet. Obviously, glacial melt is on this list as well.
Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader’s Guide to Understanding the Climate Crisis is a fun read. If, you know, you like non-fiction apocalyptic stories.
An important point is this: Berger does not say the game is over. He advocates taking action and makes the claim that these perils can be addressed, and of course, must be addressed.
Fortunately, many global studies confirm that we have the technology, financial capability, and renewable energy resources to successfully transition to an energy economy largely free of fossil fuels. But this will require some hard technological and political choices.Very large global programmatic investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy technology, agriculture, forestry, as well as carbon capture and storage will be needed to protect the climate…
Unfortunately, the movement for climate protection and clean energy does not have 50 years to put clean energy proponents in high offices and end business-as-usual energy policies. Fortunately, grassroots political activism plus new technology sometimes produces faster results. President Obama himself used grassroots organizing and social media to gain the White House in 2008. Social media was also indispensable to the Arab Spring revolutions that began in Tunisia in 2010. But whereas many climate organizations are already active on the web, their initiatives are often lost in internet cacophony, much of it created by powerful commercial interests.
The book has a foreword by Benjamin Santer, and an introduction by Paul and Anne Ehrlich.
Berger has a PhD in Ecology and has been involved in environmental issues in a number of ways, including advising for the National Research Council.