Terms such as "global warming," "greenhouse effect," and "ozonelayer" tend to have soporific associations: more lullaby than wake-up call (think Al Gore). You know these are important issues; you know you should care. But you don't. Or perhaps you do care—but enough to change the way you live? Maybe you don't know where to start. Read this book and you will.
Author Tim Flannery has given us a smart, cogent, passionate treatise on how we are harming the planet and what must (urgently) be done about it. This might sound like nothing new (Earth in the Balance redux? yawn), yet Flannery writes about the Earth as a dear, fragile, and aging friend, in prose that reads like a great novel: full of awe-inspiring moments, drama, and suspense. His book is utterly compelling and, moreover, accessible.
To be fair, the environment has been a darling cause of baby boomers for years. Many boomers have long understood that the federal government is not only apathetic to environmental change but actively causing permanent damage as well. Even so, those SUVs aren't driving themselves, and McMansions are not a scourge limited to a particular demographic. We are all culpable, the United States more than most countries. In Flannery we are lucky to have a stern but patient and idealistic teacher explaining how to effect climatic change on both a global and personal level.
An Australian scientist and conservationist, Flannery is transparent and candid about which side he's on, but he didn't always see green. He renounced his own skepticism about dire environmental warnings only after years of his own careful research. His conclusion? Things are bad, getting worse, and the time to fix them is running out. Whether we like it or not, the author notes that "we are the generation fated to live in the most interesting of times, for we are now the weather makers, and the future of biodiversity and civilization hangs on our actions."
The author isn't out to scare; he wants to inform. (The facts seem alarming enough on their own.) Terrorism may indeed be a very real threat, notes Flannery, but he argues that a lack of change in environmental policies could prove just as deadly—and perhaps even more colossal in scale.
One of the central ideas of his book, emphasized repeatedly, is the notion that all life forms are connected, interdependent, and therefore doomed unless we act together. Signing the Kyoto Protocol instead of paying it lip service would be a start, he believes, because even though scientific data remains incomplete, there is no excuse for inaction. "We know enough to act wisely," he writes.
This means that extinct species, damaged coral reefs, increasingly deadly hurricanes, rising sea levels, and excessive carbon dioxide emissions are all related in the grand scheme of things. And because people are living longer, the footprint we leave behind carries even greater consequences.
The Weather Makers offers an education on climate history, evolution, and biology, as well as vivid personal anecdotes from the author's many worldwide adventures. It's a how-to book and a do-it-now book: buying a Prius means refueling only every 600 miles, using energy-efficient appliances can reduce household electricity use by up to 50 percent, and so on. You might even call this book inspiring.
As Flannery makes clear, ignoring the impact of human life on the natural world is no longer an option.
Carmela Ciuraru is a writer and editor in New York City. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, ArtNews, The Washington Post, and other publications, and edited six anthologies of poetry.