Climate Change, the Long Emergency, and the Way Forward
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Farewell, beloved planet.

In this laundry list of the world’s many maladies, Orr (Emeritus, Environmental Studies and Politics/Oberlin Coll.; Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse, 2009, etc.) observes that we’re almost certainly heading for a time of woe thanks to climate destabilization, projecting 50-50 odds that we’ll somehow figure out a way around the worst of the physical and social effects. “For perspective,” he writes, “no sane person would get in a car with those odds of a fatal accident.” Yet we’re all riding on the same planet, and there’s work to do. The author’s prescriptions are seemingly scattershot, but it’s perfectly in keeping for a professor at a small liberal arts college to wish for a curriculum more oriented toward describing the world as a system and that prepares the rising generation “for a rapidly destabilizing ecosphere for which we have no precedent.” Talk about a trigger warning. A little Consciousness III stuff goes a long way, and there’s a lot of it here. Occasionally, it works, as when Orr ponders why we might feel some duty to coming generations “on the unverifiable grounds of my own feelings and experiences such as they are”—i.e., we know that we enjoy the feel of a cool breeze and the sight of flowing water, so why should we not protect them on the off chance that future people will enjoy them, too? Alas, that’s not the way of our time. As the author notes, though throughout most of history, “each generation left things more or less as they found them,” we live in a more fraught time of uncreative destruction. Scientists are rushing to document the extent of our damage, and while humanities scholars ought to have something to say about this, it seems a touch unhelpful to suggest wistfully that we need to be more thoughtful citizens who “broaden and deepen the local conversation on sustainability.”

A well-meaning but diffident treatise. Read Lewis Dartnell’s The Knowledge (2014) for a more useful take on what comes next.

Pub Date: Nov. 22nd, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-300-22281-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2016


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