The Climate Book

by Greta Thunberg

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Last Updated on May 11, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 859


The Climate Book is a handbook collected by Greta Thunberg that draws from the knowledge and wisdom of a diverse group of experts consisting of scientists, journalists, specialists, and activists. It initially details the effects and origins of climate change, then shifts pace to describe the various shifts in the ethics of our behavior and the economic organization of society that must occur if humans are to stand a chance and prevent an irreversible global climate catastrophe.

Part one discusses the basic mechanics of climate change. It covers the role of the carbon cycle in the formation and nourishment of life and describes how it maintains the Earth's temperature and the ocean's acidity, warning what might happen if this equilibrium is disturbed. Human beings, she explains, have a legacy of warping ecosystems wherever they appear. Mankind has changed the environment significantly, responsible for numerous mass extinctions and endangered species. 

Industrialization and capitalism only exacerbate the problem, continually razing animal habitats in the interest of land expansion. Additionally, energy needs are met primarily through the burning of fossil fuels, which generate an obscene amount of carbon that contributes to global warming. The examples of human interference in the environment are unending and terrifyingly so; mankind’s presence has been damaging and disruptive throughout history, but the long-suffering equilibrium is reaching a breaking point.

Part two covers the changes happening around the world as a result of climate change. As the average temperature of the planet rises, several things happen. One, the severity and frequency of deadly heat waves increase. In turn, this causes more ocean evaporation, which leads to stronger rainfall and storms. Together, this results in an increasingly polarized weather pattern, cycling between deadly extremes of droughts and floods. 

Secondly, Arctic ice is melting at unprecedented rates. That ice once played a mitigating role by reflecting sunlight into space; therefore, its gradual disappearance means that these reflective surfaces are shrinking, leading to more heat and melting and, thus, the creation of a vicious cycle. Such feedback loops are what worry scientists when they talk about tipping points. At a certain point, the sum effect of these loops will be so strong that they can neither be lessened nor controlled. Thunberg includes information about other feedback loops, such as the warming and acidification of the ocean, the occurrence of wildfires, the release of permafrost and emissions from soil, and the loss of biodiversity.

Part three deals with how climate change has affected human life. In sum, it has increased human mortality in a variety of ways. Rising temperatures mean more frequent and deadlier heatwaves and, thus, more heat-related deaths. It has impacted water sources, agriculture, and fishing and, in doing so, has increased cases of hunger and nutrition-related deaths. The increase in rainfall and humidity has helped facilitate the spread of vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue. Finally, as more and more regions become uninhabitable—whether due to droughts, ecological collapse, or rising sea levels—more populations are displaced and become climate refugees. All of this makes for fertile ground for geopolitical conflict. The lives of many people are threatened, some more than others.

Part four traces how the world has tried to deal with the climate crisis. So far, these efforts have not only been inadequate but have also been built upon unabashed dishonesty. Emissions reports reveal that about 16 to 24 percent of global emissions are unclaimed, constituting a wide gap between the statistics used as the basis of official reports and the amount of actual emissions. This gap is well-known but continues to exist as part of the mainstream sleight-of-hand for minimizing one’s responsibility. 

On top of that, many countries reduce their emissions by offloading their manufacturing to other countries. This allows them to lower their numbers without consuming less or lowering the global total. Some concepts like carbon footprints and recycling—concepts now accepted uncritically in the public consciousness—were first popularized by PR firms working for the fossil fuel industry. This was part of an effort meant to shift the burden of responsibility in public discourse from corporations to individuals. The truth is that the majority of emissions originate from the activities of companies, and most plastics either cannot be recycled or go unrecycled. In 2020, over half of the plastics reported in the UK as “recycled” were dumped in other countries.

Part five maps out what it would take to reach our climate targets. This means making fundamental changes to the long-accepted way of life: vast regions of land and ocean must become protected “rewilding” areas; consumption habits must change and diminish; and corporations and nations must reevaluate their greed. As this effort will require the participation of as many people as possible, it will become necessary to empower as many diverse populations to rise to the challenge of this campaign as possible. This effort might include financial reparations for ecological damage or providing access to renewable energy. Regardless of how it might look, the closing message is ominously clear: the climate crisis is knocking at the door, and it will take the united efforts of the whole world to stay its destructive power.

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