Monday, February 22, 2016

There'll Be A Hot Time in the Old Town....: It's Getting HOT in Here: The Past, the Present, and Future of Climate Change by Bridget Heos

People often say that in a perfect world, this or that would happen. Nice guys would finish first.

But our world already is pretty perfect. It has to be in order for life to exist. Even simple life forms have yet to be found on other planets. But here on earth, conditions have allowed complex plants and animals to evolve.

For humans to have populated the world and built civilizations that provide food, water, health care, and education, things had to be just right.

Primary among those things necessary for abundant life is the greenhouse effect. Too little carbon dioxide and methane in the upper atmosphere and the earth is an icy snowball. Too much of a good thing and.... well, it's not a pretty picture, as Bridget Heo's forthcoming It's Getting Hot in Here: The Past, Present, and Future of Climate Change (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) points out. Like that iconic polar bear marooned on a tiny ice floe on the cover, the results of the continuous rise of average global temperature is certain to leave a super-storm-battered mankind high and probably dry on shrunken continents amid a rising sea level of increasingly salty water, with fresh water sources evaporating in the rising heat. 2015 was the hottest year since humans have kept records. Most of the ten or twenty hottest years have been in the twenty-first century. What must we do to turn down the heat?

Heos' It's Getting Hot in Here is a succinct summary of the basics students need to know about climate change, a easy-to-understand compendium of theories, facts and figures, and ideas about what to do, recounting the history of our awareness of changes in climate going back before NASA's James Hansen issued his first warnings. The author explains the role of greenhouse gases in the "Land Before Time," within the perspective of earth's history over billions of years, the ups and downs of those gases over millions of years, but concentrates on the years since the mid-twentieth century when the advance in physical sciences enabled us to analyze variations of carbon dioxide in ice core samples from glaciers and sample the greenhouse gases in the upper atmosphere. The graphs are stunning in their clarity. After changing little for many centuries, the rate goes straight up from the late 1700s and continues its rise to the present, perfectly showing the rise in the burning of carbon-dioxide-releasing fossil fuels.

Bridge Heos' solid, science-based text is not guilty of scare-mongering. She straightforwardly describes the changes in polar ice, glaciers, and the rise in the oceans which has small South Pacific island nations already brokering a move of their entire populations to Australia and Asia. Tovalu, Tonga, Kiribati, Fiji, Samoa, and the Maldives, only a few feet above sea level, are likely going under in the lifetimes of this book's readers. And lest we feel too smug up on our big continent, let's remember that New Orleans is already below sea level (Remember Hurricane Katrina?), and Galveston, Miami and Palm Beach, New York, Charleston, and downtown Boston are no more than three feet above ocean level. With extreme tropical storms like Super-Storm Sandy likely, that's not going to be enough for those areas to survive this century either.

Author Heos traces the genesis of human efforts to slow the rise of greenhouse gases through the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord (this book was already in production during the 2015 Paris agreement), and optimistically takes the position that humans have the ingenuity and much of the technological knowledge and enterprise to slow global warming to more manageable levels while we are switching to non-fossil sources of energy.  She establishes the case that the evidence is clear that we must have the will.

With a glossary, a bibliography of books, primary sources, and articles, and the necessary index, this book is quite accessible as an invaluable source for secondary students as supplementary reading for environmental science classes and is a necessary purchase for middle, high school, and public libraries. "Well-researched and comprehensible, it’s an alarming, but never alarmist, examination of a critical topic," says Publishers Weekly's starred review.

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