When I went online to look up “Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change,” a new book by Andrew Guzman, I quickly learned that there is another, apparently more popular book called “Overheated.” That other steamy little book (which I haven’t read) even made it onto Amazon’s “erotica top 50 bestsellers list.”
So there you go. Sex sells, and climate change doesn’t. I knew it all along!
It’s very easy for many of us to read a book like Guzman’s and then start judging or dismissing or haranguing all the folks who ignore climate change and would rather be entertained, by erotica or videos or sports or whatever.
But elitism sucks, and it’s not helping. The mostly middle-aged or old white guys who have been the public face of climate change awareness (with Al Gore being the poster child) usually come off as arrogant, know-it-all scolds.
We don’t have to choose between personal entertainment and global awareness. There’s room for both. We can enjoy life and have fun, but we can also put time and energy into considering the future and planning for it. Taking the future seriously is what climate-change awareness and action is all about, and Guzman’s book explains why we should care about a changing, warming climate.
A law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Guzman is also a middle-aged white guy (as am I), but he’s not an admonisher. He serves more as a tour guide for a bleak future. Plenty of books explain the science of climate change, but what will it really mean for people’s lives?
Clearly, if not always concisely, Guzman lays out the situation: Human-caused climate change is happening. Climate change deniers are full of crap and need to be ignored. Climate change leads to rising seas, flooding, droughts and water shortages. Millions of people will be killed or displaced. Effects of climate change will also lead to more wars and disease. We need to act now to try to slow down climate change, and in the U.S., the actions most likely to make a difference are a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, which allows large emitters to trade emissions permits.
Those potential solutions get only a few pages at the end, since Guzman mostly leaves them to other experts and other books. With this book his primary goal is to raise awareness, and he effectively makes his case with real-world scenarios, historical background and insightful analysis.
Some of his observations are truly sobering: “By 2030, it is expected that 500,000 people will die each year as a result of climate change, and 660 million people could be negatively affected.”
Here are a few more of Guzman’s dark, well-researched predictions: Many island nations “face the threat of losing all or much of their land to rising seas.” These include the Maldives, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Tonga, Fiji and Samoa. Bangladesh may lose nearly a fifth of its land, which would displace 20 million people. A water war in the Middle East or North Africa appears increasingly probable, since that region is “home to 4.4 percent of the world’s population but only 1.1 percent of total renewable water resources.” The people of Africa will likely suffer most from climate change due to that continent’s poverty, lack of resources, its predisposition to drought and its dependence on agriculture.
This book does wear you down after a while. By the time I got to the chapter near the end about the increasing threat from diseases, I barely had any empathy left.
But I continued reading, and at the end of the book I did not throw my hands up in despair.
Like Guzman, I believe the situation is dire but not hopeless. We Americans can help alleviate the worst effects of climate change by greatly reducing our carbon production and consumption and making a real commitment to renewable energy. We can help reduce the effects of climate change on people around the world (and yes America will be directly affected, too) by holding our politicians and governments accountable. Political leaders need to work together to figure out the best approaches so they can take action immediately.
“As is true with most important issues, our political leaders will act only when they see that the public wants them to do so,” Guzman writes.
If you think reading Guzman’s book will help spur you to action, you should read it. If you think it will just make you feel guilty, don’t read it. Feeling guilty is the enemy, along with climate change, because feeling guilty or harshly judging others rarely results in effective action.
Take some action, make a difference, and then take a break and read that other “Overheated” book if you want.
I hear it’s hot.