H is for hope Climate change from A to Z

Elizabeth Kolbert

Book - 2024

"In 26 connected essays, Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter Elizabeth Kolbert takes us on an illustrated journey through the landscape of climate change and the stories we tell ourselves about the future"--

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SCIENCE / Global Warming & Climate Change
New York : Ten Speed Press [2024]
Main Author
Elizabeth Kolbert (author)
Other Authors
Wesley Allsbrook (illustrator)
First edition
Physical Description
159 pages : color illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 158-159).
  • Arrhenius
  • Blah, Blah, Blah
  • Capitalism
  • Despair
  • Electrify Everything
  • Flight
  • Green Concrete
  • Hope
  • Inflation Reduction Act
  • Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
  • Kilowatt
  • Leapfrogging
  • Math
  • Narratives
  • Objections
  • Power
  • Quagmire
  • Republicans
  • Shortfall
  • Temperatures
  • Uncertainty
  • Vast
  • Weather
  • Xenophobia
  • You
  • Zero
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the Contributors
  • Further Reading
Review by Booklist Review

Kolbert, New Yorker staff writer and author of such commanding environmental works as The Sixth Extinction (2014) and Under the White Sky (2021), joins forces with illustrator extraordinaire Allsbrook to brilliantly and unnervingly subvert the usually upbeat alphabet-book format. Twenty-six pithy and piercing essays draw on history, science, statistics, fieldwork, politics, ethics, and social observations to present the jarring facts about the climate crisis. Kolbert's tone is exemplified in this statement in "A," which is for Nobel laureate Svante Arrhenius, who, at the close of the nineteenth century, created the first climate model: "Here we all are, watching things fall apart. And yet deep down, we don't believe it." "B" is from Greta Thunberg's lament over "thirty years of blah, blah, blah" instead of actual climate action. Kolbert charts the obstacles to building a new clean energy grid and "climate change's many compounding injustices," stating that the "ethical challenge is as big, or perhaps even bigger, than the technical challenge." She continues, "But let's try to stay positive." Visually stunning and bracingly forthright, this is an invaluable climate primer.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A Pulitzer Prize--winning journalist explores the climate crisis in 26 short essays. In this book, Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction and Field Notes from a Catastrophe, adapts articles she wrote for the New Yorker and organizes them alphabetically to offer a brief historical account of climate change. At the beginning, the author tells the story of Svante Arrhenius, the 19th-century Nobel Prize--winning physicist who first deduced that humans were altering the Earth's climate through carbon-emitting activities. Kolbert then moves to the present day with the letter B, which she uses to reference climate activist Greta Thunberg's infamous 2021 "blah, blah, blah" speech, which critiqued empty political calls to preserve the planet. The pieces that follow explore many elements of the current global situation and its effects. Scientists all over the world are making strides in the development of green technologies that will "electrify everything" using renewable resources like the wind. Major contributors such as the U.S. have passed legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act, which has authorized more than $350 billion to go to climate initiatives--but not everyone is willing to act. Those who defend corporate interests or are unwilling to end fossil fuel dependence (i.e., Republicans) stand in the way of much-needed progress. In the meantime, increasing damage to the environment is creating a new class of climate refugees who may increasingly be met with xenophobia from their more fortunately situated counterparts. Illustrated throughout with vivid pen-and-ink-style drawings by graphic artist Allsbrook, the book both informs and disturbs us about the climate uncertainties facing humankind, but never without offering glimmers of hope. Its accessibility, readability, and thoughtfulness will undoubtedly appeal to a wide audience. Other entries include "Green Concrete," "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs," and "Quagmire." An intelligently provocative and well-presented look at the world's most pressing issue. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Arrhenius Svante Arrhenius was, by nature, an optimist. He believed that science should--and could--be accessible to all. In 1891, he got his first teaching job, at an experimental university in Stockholm called the Högskola. That same year, he founded the Stockholm Physics Society, which met every other Saturday evening. For a fee of one Swedish crown, anyone could join. Among the society's earliest members was a Högskola student named Sofia Rudbeck, who was described by a contemporary as "an excellent chemist" and "a ravishing beauty." Arrhenius began writing her poetry, and soon the two wed. Physics Society meetings consisted of lectures on the latest scientific developments, many delivered by Arrhenius himself. These were followed by discussions that often lasted well into the night. The topics ranged widely, from aeronautics to volcanology. The society devoted several sessions to considering the instruments that would be needed by Salomon August Andrée, another early member of the group, who had decided to try to reach the North Pole via balloon. (Whatever the quality of his instruments, Andrée's voyage would result in his own death and the death of his two companions.) A question that particularly interested the Physics Society was the origin of the ice ages. All over Sweden lay signs of the glaciers that had, for vast stretches of time, buried the country: rocks with parallel scrapings; strange, sinuous piles of gravel; huge boulders that had been transported far from their source. But what had caused the great ice sheets to descend, carrying all before them? And then what had caused them to retreat, allowing the rivers to flow once again and the forests to return? In 1893, the society debated various theories that had been proposed, including one linking the ice ages to slight variations in the Earth's orbit. The following year, Arrhenius came up with a different--and, he thought, better--idea: carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide, he knew, had curious heat-trapping properties. In the atmosphere, it allowed visible light to pass through, but it absorbed the longer-wave radiation that the Earth was constantly emitting to space. What if, Arrhenius speculated, the amount of CO2 in the air had varied? Could that explain the glaciers' ebb and flow? The math involved in testing this theory went far beyond what was possible at the time. Arrhenius didn't have a calculator, let alone a computer. He lacked crucial information about which wavelengths, exactly, CO2 absorbs. The climate system, meanwhile, is immensely complicated, with feedback loops nestled within feedback loops. Arrhenius, who would later win a Nobel Prize for an unrelated discovery, plunged ahead anyway. On Christmas Eve, 1894, he began constructing a climate model--the world's first. He assembled temperature data from around the globe and made ingenious use of a set of measurements that had been taken a decade earlier by an American astronomer, Samuel Pierpont Langley. (Langley had invented a device--a bolometer--for gauging infrared radiation and had used it to determine the temperature of the moon.) Arrhenius performed thousands of computations--perhaps tens of thousands--and often labored over this task for fourteen hours a day. He was still calculating away as his marriage fell apart. In September of 1895, Rudbeck moved out. In November, without having seen Arrhenius again, she gave birth to their son. The following month, Arrhenius finished his work. "I should certainly not have undertaken these tedious calculations if an extraordinary interest had not been connected with them," he wrote. Arrhenius believed that he had unravelled the mystery of the ice ages, a riddle that had "hitherto proved most difficult to interpret." He was at least partly right: ice ages are the product of a complex interplay of forces, including wobbles in the Earth's orbit and changes in atmospheric CO2. His model turned out to have another use as well. All across Europe and North America, coal was being shovelled into furnaces that were bellowing out carbon dioxide. By thickening the atmospheric blanket that warmed the Earth, humans must, Arrhenius reasoned, be altering the climate. He calculated that if the amount of carbon dioxide in the air were to double, then global temperatures would rise between three and four degrees Celsius. A few quadrillion computations later, vastly more advanced climate models predict that doubling CO2 will push temperatures up between 2.5 and four degrees Celsius, meaning that Arrhenius's pen-and-paper estimate was, to an uncanny degree, on target. Arrhenius thought that the future he had conjured would be delightful. "Our descendants," he predicted, would live happier lives "under a warmer sky." The prospect was, in any event, distant; doubling atmospheric CO2 would, he reckoned, take humanity three thousand years. It's easy now to poke fun at Arrhenius for his sunniness. The doubling threshold could be reached within decades, and the results of this are apt to be disastrous. But who among us is really any different? Here we all are, watching things fall apart. And yet, deep down, we don't believe it. Excerpted from H Is for Hope: Climate Change from a to Z by Elizabeth Kolbert All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.