Climate Change Comes for Rich Countries

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I wrote an article over the weekend about the rich world facing extreme weather disasters intensified by climate change. Since then, the skies over New York City, where I live, turned an ominous shade of red because of smoke from wildfires on the other side of the continent. One fire, the Bootleg, was messing with the weather out West. British Columbia declared a state of emergency as wildfires prompted evacuation orders.

Britain’s weather service issued its first-ever extreme heat warning. And in a measure of shock at the level of devastation in one German village particularly hard-hit by last week’s flooding, Chancellor Angela Merkel, said, “the German language has no words, I think, for the devastation.”

More than words, many countries around the world don’t have what it takes to adapt to the extreme weather events battering us. That’s a fact even in countries that have the means, like those in Europe and North America, and that also happen to be the countries that, for the last century, have pumped most of the greenhouse gases already warming the atmosphere and messing with the weather.

More recent emitters have not been immune, either. On Sunday, torrential rains poured down on the Indian megacity of Mumbai, toppling homes, killing dozens of people and shutting down the city’s water filtration plant, according to Indian news reports. On Tuesday came the heaviest rainfall on record in central China, sweeping away cars, inundating the subway, and shutting down power in Zhengzhou, a city of five million. China is currently the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

As I wrote, the world is “neither prepared to slow down climate change, nor live with it.” You can have a look here.

I’ve worked in public engagement around climate change science and policy for a long time. And what I’ve seen is that people get really turned off if they’re frightened, or if they feel hopeless. So thinking about it from an atlas perspective, using art and storytelling to talk about the science and policy, was a way to hopefully make the issue more accessible to a broader range of people.

Q. Why did you focus on the coastal areas?

The health of our oceans is really going to determine the health of our planet. Marine organisms made our atmosphere the hospitable place it is through millions of years of photosynthesis, and those tiny life-forms continue to provide half of the oxygen that we land dwellers use. So, we are literally dependent on the ocean for the breath we take.

Q. Your book is both scary and hopeful. Why is it important to strike that balance when discussing climate change?

There is a lot that can be done, and there is a lot that can be saved. And so, helping people move through the sort of shock and awe back to the wonder and the opportunities that there are, I think it helps people grapple with what’s happening and stay engaged for the future.

Q. What do you hope readers will feel or do after finishing your book?

Maybe grieve, because that is something we’ll have to do. We are losing species and places and ecosystems and people. There is loss, and there will be trade-offs. But it is not about shutting down. It’s about doing that grieving, and then seeing what there is to save and how we save it.

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