Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® by Joe Romm is just out, and is the most up to date examination of climate change science, the effects of climate change on humans, policy related problems, and energy-related solutions. Everyone should read this book, and if you teach earth system sciences you should consider using this book as a guide in your teaching, or in some cases, assigning it in class. The book is written to be read by general audiences, so it would work well in a high school or college setting.
As Romm points out, climate change will have more of an impact on humans, including you, than even the Internet. It is an existential issue. Romm acknowledges that some of these impacts are already happening, but that future impacts are likely to be very significant. Over the last 10 years or so, we have seen remarkable superstorms, significant drought, notable wildfires, and killer heat waves. These events have made people sit up and take notice. For this reason, more people want to know more about climate change, and indeed, everyone should know something about this problem. Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® is an effort to provide that information to the average person.
Romm’s book is divided into major sections: Climate Science Basics, Extreme Weather and Climate Change, Projected Climate Impacts, Avoiding the Worse Impacts, Climate Politics and Policies, The Role of Clean Energy, and Climate Change and You. Each of these chapters is divided into a number of bite-sized mini-chapters covering the larger topic in logical sequence, with helpful illustrations.
To me, one of the most significant contributions of this book is Romm’s discussion of severe weather and climate change. This is an emerging area of science. In my view, the weather related impacts of climate change have been visible since about 1980, but have increased more recently, even in the last five years or so. It is very difficulty to study these changes because severe weather events, while common, end up being rare when you divide them by region, season, kind of impact, and kind of climate related cause. Also, meteorologists, who are in the trenches when it comes to severe weather, have been reluctant in recent years to openly acknowledge climate change (especially among the “presenters” or TV meteorologists, as they are called in different countries). This is said to be because they are part of the press, which is in large part funded by the corporate world, and you don’t want to piss off your corporate sponsors. Romm’s sections on climate change and extreme weather are well thought out, well documented, and well presented.
Another area of strength is Romm’s treatment of energy alternatives. Romm is detailed and specific in his discussion of energy and suggestions about the needed changes.
To have a significant chance of keeping total warming below 2°C, we need to cut global emissions of carbon dioxide and other major greenhouse gas (GHG) pollutants by more than 50% by mid-century. That rapid decline needs to continue through 2100, by which time the world’s total net emissions of greenhouse gases should be close to zero, if not below zero.
Romm’s section on “Climate Change and You” is a unique contribution to the growing literature on this topic.
The transition to a low carbon economy is inevitable this century, and indeed it has already begun. It will have significant consequences for both you and your family, whether the transition comes fast enough to avoid dangerous warming of more than 2°C or not. …because climate action has been so delayed for so long, humanity cannot avoid very serious climate impacts in the coming decades—impacts that will affect you and your children. Therefore, you need to understand what is coming so that you and your family will be prepared…
The defining story of the 21st century is a race between the impacts our cumulative carbon emissions will increasingly have on our climate system and humanity’s belated but accelerating efforts to replace fossil fuels with carbon-free energy. Some of the most significant impacts of climate change are ones that we likely have not foreseen. For instance, a couple of decades ago, few people imagined that the most consequential near-term impacts of climate change on large parts of both the United States and Canada would be the warming-driven population explosion of a tiny pest, the tree-destroying bark beetle.
Romm points out that many Americans, when they decide to retire, consider moving to a place that is near a coast line, or a place that is relatively warm, or both. Bad idea. With sea level rise and increasing heat, one should really re-think that strategy. He talks about the impending crash in coastal property values (something I’ve been yammering about for some time now … the current value of land that will be inundated by sea level rise is actually almost zero, though the market has not adjusted yet!). He also covers what students who want to be prepared for a role in a climate-changing world should study, investment strategies, necessary changes in diet, and how one can (and should) reduce one’s own carbon footprint.
The book has fairly extensive footnotes, and is available in hardcover, soft cover, or eBook formats.