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Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth Hardcover – January 19, 2011
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Q: You write about your daughter Chiara quite a bit in Hot. In the prologue, you describe the moment when you came to understand just what climate change would mean for her. You had a kind of terrible epiphany while crossing Westminster Bridge in London.
A: Yeah, that was on October 18, 2005. Hurricane Katrina had struck seven weeks before, and Vanity Fair had sent me to London to report what became the cover story for its first "green" issue. I did an interview with David King, the chief science adviser to the British government, who was way ahead of the curve on this stuff. He shattered the conventional framing of the climate problem and made me see that we had entered a radically new era.
See, from the time global warming emerged on the world’s agenda in the late 1980s, public discussion had focused on two basic questions: Is global warming real? And if so, how can it be stopped before it gets really dangerous, which is to say before it triggers outright climate change, with stronger storms, deeper droughts, harsher heat waves, and so forth? But King told me that British scientists had shown that global warming had already triggered climate change. His specific example was the record heat wave that battered Europe in the summer of 2003, when corpses were piling up outside the morgue in Paris. About half of the excessive temperatures of the 2003 heat wave, King said, were attributable to man-made global warming.
Anyway, in essence David King told me climate change had arrived one hundred years sooner than scientists had expected. And that wasn’t the worst of it. He went on to explain that the physical inertia of the climate system—the laws of physics and chemistry—guaranteed that average global temperatures would keep rising for another thirty to forty years, even if humanity somehow was to halt all greenhouse gas emissions overnight. The upshot was that our civilization was locked in to a large amount of future climate change no matter how many solar panels, electric cars, and other green technologies we eventually embraced.
Q: Is that why you say your daughter belongs to what you call Generation Hot?
A: Not only my daughter. Every child on earth born after June 23, 1988, belongs to Generation Hot. Generation Hot includes some two billion young people, all of whom have grown up under global warming and are fated to spend the rest of their lives confronting its mounting impacts.
I date Generation Hot to June 23, 1988, because that’s the day humanity was put on notice that greenhouse gas emissions were raising temperatures on this planet. The warning came from NASA scientist James Hansen’s testimony to the United States Senate and, crucially, the decision by the New York Times to print the news on page 1, which made global warming a household phrase in news bureaus, living rooms, and government offices the world over.
Unfortunately, Hansen’s and countless subsequent warnings by others went unheeded. The U.S. government, under Republican as well as Democratic leadership, listened as much to corporate-funded deniers of climate change as it did to actual scientists. So instead of shifting to greener technologies, U.S. emissions have soared over the past twenty years. That, in turn, helped accelerate global warming to where it triggered outright climate change. And as David King explained, once climate change gets triggered, it can’t be turned off quickly.
As a result, my daughter and the other two billion young people of Generation Hot are destined to live with rising temperatures and stronger climate impacts for the rest of their lives. Which is why our new mantra in fighting climate change has to be “Avoid the unmanageable and manage the unavoidable.” On the one hand, we must redouble our efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions and stop global warming before it unleashes an unmanageable amount of climate change. On the other hand, we have to put in place better defenses against sea level rise, more effective water conservation systems, and many other measures to manage the climate change that is already unavoidable. In short, we have to live through global warming even as we strive to stop it.
Q: Where do you find hope for the future?
A: I’d like to underline that my feelings of hope are not merely a matter of philosophical outlook. In the course of researching Hot, I came across many concrete reasons for hope and quite inspiring examples of how individuals, governments, and nonprofit groups are facing up to these challenges.
The first two chapters of Hot explain the new realities of global warming and specify the kinds of impacts that are unavoidable during the lifetimes of today’s children. Members of Generation Hot who live in New York City, for example, will endure twice as many extremely hot summer days by the 2020s as they do today, which is no small thing if you recall how unpleasant the summer of 2010 was. By the time my daughter is my age, the snowpack in California will have melted to where shortages of drinking water will be a virtually permanent condition. And the projections for Africa, South Asia, and other poor regions of the world are often even more troubling.
Nevertheless, most of my book is devoted to solutions—to answering the question I posed that day on Westminster Bridge: What will it take for Chiara and her generation around the world to live through all this? And what I’ve found during four years of on-the-ground reporting is that a lot is already being done to prepare to fight against these gathering threats.
Some of the most encouraging steps are being taken here in the United States. In Seattle, the former chief county executive, an amazing guy named Ron Sims, directed everyone in government to "ask the climate question." That is, ask climate scientists what conditions the region will face in the year 2050 and then work backward to prepare for those conditions—by building stronger levees, improving freshwater storage, and building more resilient housing. Sims told me he championed this approach for economic as much as ecological reasons. He thinks people and businesses will move to his region because it is prepared for what’s ahead.
Overseas, the clear leaders are in the Netherlands, where the government has begun implementing a 200-Year Plan to cope with climate change. Planning that far ahead is almost inconceivable here in the U.S., but the Dutch plan is well funded and politically tough-minded. They are very serious about protecting their nation from stronger North Sea storms and other projected impacts, and there’s a lot we can learn from them.
But the single most hopeful story I came across was in West Africa, where I saw large numbers of very poor farmers who are already adapting to ferociously hot temperatures with remarkable success. Their method sounds counterintuitive but is ingenious: they grow trees amid their fields of millet and sorghum. The trees provide shade for the crops, help the soil retain rainwater, and offer a range of other benefits, with the result that crop yields, in a land where hunger is a constant threat, have doubled and sometimes tripled.
These are the kinds of examples that all of us—as individuals, communities, governments, and businesses—can benefit from and apply in our own lives. In that sense, Hot is a good-news story about a bad-news predicament, and that gives me hope.
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
The author has done prodigious research into the topic, and presents it in a readable and convincing way, but perhaps the most important aspect of the book is the account of his travels in person to various areas. He gets a first-hand look at what the threats are, and what's being done (and not being done) in places such as Louisiana and Shanghai (doomed), the Bay Area and New York City (serious troubles ahead), Chicago, London, and the Seattle area (threatened but likely to pull through), and, ironically, the Netherlands, which seems to be in the best shape, thanks to serious planning efforts.
Climate change is taking place faster than expected and it's presenting much more serious problems. I hate to say this, but I feel some relief at the fact that I'm seventy years old with no children.
This book is about global warming. I personally do not know if we are going to be ok in the long run, I can only base my decisions on what I see. And what I see tells me that things are going to get worse over the next few decades.
My brother is a hard-core anti global warming type of person. Whenever we get together he goes on his rant about how "global warming is a scam perpetrated by Al Gore." It would almost be funny if he was the only person that thinks that, but he is clearly not alone. Denying the danger will only make things worse.
I have read that the 10 hottest years globally have all occurred since 1998. Obviously that only takes into account the last few hundred years since man started recording temperature, but the outlook is not a happy one. I do not believe man caused this all by himself. I believe we are in a naturally occurring warming cycle, but due to pollution, deforestation, etc, man is making this condition worse. So believe what you want about global warming, the fact is things are getting hotter around here.
The author has many years of experience visiting and talking to people all over the world. He has documented what he sees and his prediction is that things are getting worse. He says there are many things we can do to prepare for the coming changes. So, do I believe a person that has documented and traveled the world, or do I believe my brother, who has only talked to his neighbors in New Jersey?
The author talks about simple things each of us can do. Light colored roofs do not absorb as much heat. If everyone did this the change could be significant. Should you paint your roof white?Read more ›
As the author points out, even among those who are not in denial about climate change, there is still confusion about the difference between mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation is what we do to try to prevent man-made global warming from proceeding apace. Adaptation is what we do to live with the consequences: the climate change that, in complex and interconnected ways, already is threatening our very ability to survive. Both approaches are critically important.
Hertsgaard devotes much of this book to presenting problems already being caused by climate change and showing how communities, businesses, and governments are responding. Unlike in the U.S., where climate change is still cast in an if-then light or denied outright by corporatist politicians, much of the world is now facing up to the dire facts. Some mitigation and adaptation efforts are doing more harm than good, but some (such as pro-business green development in Seattle, farmer-designed natural regeneration/agro-forestry [FMNR] in Africa, and far-sighted 200-year flood planning in the Netherlands) show much promise.
I found it hopeful that the huge global insurance industry already knows what is coming and is making decisions accordingly.Read more ›
Altogether the message is clear. Climate change is going to have major impact and repercussions to how everyone on the planet lives (or doesn't) and acting to mitigate and plan is critical now. As the book notes, in the first 10 years of the century we've gone through 30 years worth of carbon damage if we want some modicum of hope to avoid catastrophe. We must act now.
The book is both a wake up call and a dirge, with very interesting concrete examples of what types of actions we can or shouldn't take, and the sad history of ignoring the problem.
The general voice the author takes is writing to his daughter. This is powerful at times, but to me at least, detracted heavily at the start of the book. But although I found the beginning a bit slow, the overall impact is very strong and a book i've bought for others to read.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed reading this book. It was the right amount of opinion, facts, stories, ideas, solutions, and beyond. Read morePublished 11 hours ago by Sandy
This was a book for school. I enjoyed reading it, however, it is not a subject matter that is particularly interesting to me. Good read though.Published 6 months ago by Emily Lodge
Very very good book, With an important message. We need to get the word out before it is too late.Published 7 months ago by Dave Howes
Thoroughly researched. The five years that have passed since publication have shown some progress in avoiding the author's worst fears of the future. e.g. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Richard Ford
I was in the process of disliking this book. First the author accepts uncritically the worst-case climate-change conclusions more or less completely but of course he must, as a... Read morePublished 14 months ago by David F. Mcginnis
This book is not about the climate "debate". Rather, the author sites numerous examples, backed by hard science and facts, of how climate change has already begun and the... Read morePublished 16 months ago by wesley r williams