In 1903, civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois wrote that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” One-hundred-and-three years later, the essential problem of the 21st century is becoming clearer and clearer: global warming and climate change pose a threat to the very existence of mankind.
Though global warming is an acknowledged scientific fact, most Americans hold either skewed or incomplete views of this phenomenon; even scientists do not fully understand all of its causes or ramifications. However, with the publication of eminent Australian scientist Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers: How Man is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth, all the information that scientists do have about global warming is finally available in a form accessible to people from all walks of life.
Debate about global warming in the United States is often clouded by the political agendas of the various parties involved. The power of Weather Makers lies in the calm rationality of Flannery’s words. Abstaining from the fear-mongering of Sierra Club liberals and the blatant denial of conservative lobbyists, Flannery roots his unbiased arguments only in hard, scientific data-and proves his point all the more successfully.
Initially skeptical about the global warming phenomenon himself, Flannery is the first to admit that much early evidence of human-induced climate change is uncertain at best. However, as technology has advanced, predictions have become increasingly accurate-and increasingly consistent. More and more, writes Flannery, hard scientific data supports the theory “that all around the world the delicate web of life is being torn apart.”
Obviously a scientist first and a writer second, Flannery’s prose does not always crackle with brilliance; indeed, his analogies often border on the absurdly corny. The true punch of Weather Makers is packed in the chilling statistics that fill the book.
“If we carry on with business as usual,” writes Flannery, “in all likelihood three out of every five species will not be with us at the dawn of the next century.” As one continues to read such dire predictions, a creeping suspicion develops that humans may be lucky to find themselves among the remaining two.
Tim Flannery’s Weather Makers may well be the most influential science book to be popularly published since Silent Spring. Ranging from rapidly-warming Antarctica to Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, the book details the devastating effects of global warming on earth’s climate. However, as Flannery assures us, all is not lost. Weather Makers offers possible solutions to the climate change problems, and counsels that: “The transition to a carbon-free economy is eminently achievable because we have all the technology we need to do so. It is only lack of understanding and the pessimism and confusion generated by special interest groups that is stopping us from going forward.”
The publication of books such as Weather Makers may engender enough understanding of climate change to avert such barricades to progress; if not, then the world may be damning itself to global tragedy before the century is out.
Peter Chomko can be reached at email@example.com.