Climate Change Literature that Made Waves in 2018

What were the books, reports, articles, etc. that that made waves in the arena of climate change in 2018? Find out what made my recommended reading list this year.

In 2018, climate change was constantly in the news…for all the wrong reasons. A slew of reports pointed out the need for dramatic actions to address climate change’s causes and impacts. And the fearsome effects of climate change were on full display. Hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones rampaged across the Atlantic and Pacific throughout the Fall. Wildfires in California wreaked havoc that exceeded the fearsome 2017 fire season. And…I could go on and on.

Suffice it to say the volume of climate change literature that came out in 2018 far surpassed my ability to keep up with it. I’m carrying around a whole bunch of books, reports, and articles from the past twelve months that I just never got around to reading, but that may have warranted inclusion on this year’s list.

Because my work at NRDC revolves around the impacts of climate change, particularly the relationship to flooding along our rivers and coastlines, my 2018 reading list reflects that as well. It includes academic articles, policy papers, and even works of fiction from the increasingly popular climate fiction sub-genre.

So here it is…

Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, Elizabeth Rush

This beautifully written book tells the stories of communities, both human and ecological, that are already living with the reality of sea level rise. Elizabeth Rush takes the reader on a very personal journey into these people’s lives, and we get to look over her shoulder as she goes on her own journey to write Rising. The people highlighted all have compelling narratives and the writing draws you in with its lyricism and Elizabeth’s amazing use of language. This book is making a whole bunch of “best of 2018” lists (far more prestigious than this one) and deservedly so. A highlight of my year was a book event I got to do with Elizabeth in October, which you can listen to right here.

Takeaway: “Not a data dump, policy paper, rhetorical screed or even journalistic explainer, but the book on climate change and sea levels that was missing” –Chicago Tribune

Burning Worlds: Climate Change in Art and Literature, Amy Brady

Climate change news appeals to the logical left side of your brain that absorbs all the science-y facts, figures, charts, etc. Meanwhile, Burning Worlds gives the creative right side of your brain the climate content it’s been craving! What started in 2017 as a monthly column on climate-fiction, or cli-fi, for the Chicago Review of Books went to a whole ‘nother level in 2018. This monthly eNewsletter shares the amazing ways that artists, writers, and other creative types are exploring the issue of climate change in their own way. And, let’s face facts, the news on climate change can be a downer, but Burning Worlds is a far more entertaining and stimulating (and dare I say hipper) downer.

Takeaway: Every month I get one email that I eagerly click to open and it’s the new edition of Burning Worlds. Always fun, always thought-provoking, and never dull. It’s a must read, so subscribe today! Like right now! Why aren’t you clicking?!

Surrendering to Rising Seas, Scientific American, Jen Schwartz

Sea level rise is going to happen in the future, right? Well, yes, but it’s also happening right now, and this excellent feature article took a hard look at how people, communities, and governments are dealing with that reality. So far, we aren’t dealing particularly well with this growing problem. Individuals as well as local, state, and federal officials are waking up to the fact that everyone isn’t going to be able to keep living where they currently live…at least if they’re on the coast. But most people can’t simply pick up and leave. Even if you can get government assistance to relocate to higher ground, it’s a difficult and years-long process to complete, and many don’t make it to the end of the laborious process.

Takeaway: Like a bartender at closing time, rising seas are telling us, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” Except, of course, we are talking about people’s homes—millions of people’s homes. We need to give people better options that enable them to move out of harm’s way. Preferably before they run out of options.

How States Stack Up on Flood Disclosure, NRDC, Joel Scata

With climate change fueling increased flooding and rising seas, home buyers increasingly worry whether the property they’re buying is going to go underwater, or has already been underwater. In many states, when you buy a home, you may never be told the property’s flood history. That’s unacceptable. This handy flood disclosure report card tells you which states require that a property’s flood history be disclosed. Buying in Florida, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, or one of 24 other states with little or no disclosure requirements? Good luck. You may need it.

Takeaway: There’s a dangerous and costly game of musical chairs being played, as people purchase flood-prone properties, tire of rebuilding, and then sell to the next unsuspecting buyer. Congress may require states to adopt better disclosure laws…if they ever pass flood insurance reform…which they’ve punted on 8 times as of November 30th 9 times as of December 7th. Ugh.

2017 Hurricanes and Wildfires, Government Accountability Office
2017 Hurricane Season After Action Report, Federal Emergency Management Agency

“What gives? These aren’t about climate change,” you say. But they are about the difficulties the nation, and FEMA in particular, faced in responding to 2017’s record breaking year of climate-fueled disasters. As multiple simultaneous disasters unfolded in the fall of 2017, FEMA’s response got progressively worse and assistance more difficult to deliver. Think 2017 was a fluke year? Think the United States won’t have another year where multiple disasters happen at the same time? Well, you haven’t been paying attention in 2018.

Takeaway: As President George W. Bush once said, “fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can't get fooled again.” Okay, the saying our former President flubbed is actually, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” and is apropos in this case.

We’re Doomed. Now What?: Essays on War and Climate Change, Roy Scranton

Looking for a hopeful book about how we’ll beat climate change and the world will go on to a bright prosperous future, like a Steven Spielberg blockbuster? Well, this ain’t it. But this book isn’t as doom-and-gloom as the title implies either. Roy Scranton’s essentially saying that things are going to be very different in the future and we’re only fooling ourselves if we think we can beat climate change and keep everything else the same. The sooner society accepts that our future looks much different than the past, the sooner we’ll start making better decisions that nudge us in the right direction.

Takeaway: I’d say he’s more of a realist than a nihilist. You’re not going to agree with everything he says, or how he says it, but take the time to think it over and you’ll often find yourself agreeing with him…or at least you’ll have to think about why you disagree with him.

Global Warming of 1.5 degrees C, International Panel on Climate Change
Fourth National Climate Assessment, U.S. Global Change Research Program
Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change, The Lancet Journals

This trio of reports all came out in the last few weeks and all emphasized a similar message. First, time is running out if we are to have shot at limiting warming to some manageable level, whether that’s 1.5 deg. C, 2.0 deg. C, or some other number. Second, the pace and scale of climate change impacts is already exceeding our current capacity to adapt, so we need to get going on climate adaptation efforts as well.

Takeaway: Remember those days when we thought we only had to worry about limiting emissions and the impacts would be pretty easy to deal with? Those days are long gone.

New Climate Debate: How to Adapt to the End of the World, Bloomberg, Christopher Flavelle

If you thought the findings of the IPCC report, National Climate Assessment, and Lancet report were bad, well, you ought to read what the pessimistic climate scientists think. They think the future is pretty grim and that we may already be dangerously close to what’s called the “hothouse trajectory,” where global average temperatures exceed 4-5 deg. C, territory where it’s difficult to even project the scale and magnitude of impacts. But we know they would be far, far worse than the optimistic 1.5 or 2 deg. C agreed to in Paris in 2015. Some scientists think that we are perilously close to the hothouse trajectory, or that we may already be too late to avoid it. We better hope they’re wrong.

Takeaway: With 1 deg. C of warming already in the rearview mirror, we can see what the world looks like now. 1.5 deg. C isn’t going to be better, nor is 2 deg. C. We have a whole lot of work to do just to be able to adapt to those optimistic levels of warming. And we really, really, really don’t want to find out what anything higher is going to look like.


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