Losing Earth: A Recent History

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By 1979, we knew nearly everything we understand today about climate change—including how to stop it. Over the next decade, a handful of scientists, politicians, and strategists, led by two unlikely heroes, risked their careers in a desperate, escalating campaign to convince the world to act before it was too late. Losing Earth is their story, and ours.

The New York Times Magazine devoted an entire issue to Nathaniel Rich’s groundbreaking chronicle of that decade, which became an instant journalistic phenomenon—the subject of news coverage, editorials, and conversations all over the world. In its emphasis on the lives of the people who grappled with the great existential threat of our age, it made vivid the moral dimensions of our shared plight.

Now expanded into book form, Losing Earth tells the human story of climate change in even richer, more intimate terms. It reveals, in previously unreported detail, the birth of climate denialism and the genesis of the fossil fuel industry’s coordinated effort to thwart climate policy through misinformation propaganda and political influence. The book carries the story into the present day, wrestling with the long shadow of our past failures and asking crucial questions about how we make sense of our past, our future, and ourselves.

Like John Hersey’s Hiroshima and Jonathan Schell’s The Fate of the Earth, Losing Earth is the rarest of achievements: a riveting work of dramatic history that articulates a moral framework for understanding how we got here, and how we must go forward.

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About the author

Nathaniel Rich is the author of the novels King Zeno, Odds Against Tomorrow, and The Mayor’s Tongue. He is a writer at large for The New York Times Magazine and a regular contributor to The Atlantic and The New York Review of Books. He lives in New Orleans.
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Additional Information

Publisher
MCD
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Published on
Apr 9, 2019
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Pages
224
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ISBN
9780374721138
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Modern / 20th Century
Science / Global Warming & Climate Change
Science / History
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Content protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Climate change is real but it’s not the end of the world. It is not even our most serious environmental problem.

Michael Shellenberger has been fighting for a greener planet for decades. He helped save the world’s last unprotected redwoods. He co-created the predecessor to today’s Green New Deal. And he led a successful effort by climate scientists and activists to keep nuclear plants operating, preventing a spike of emissions.

But in 2019, as some claimed “billions of people are going to die,” contributing to rising anxiety, including among adolescents, Shellenberger decided that, as a lifelong environmental activist, leading energy expert, and father of a teenage daughter, he needed to speak out to separate science from fiction.

Despite decades of news media attention, many remain ignorant of basic facts. Carbon emissions peaked and have been declining in most developed nations for over a decade. Deaths from extreme weather, even in poor nations, declined 80 percent over the last four decades. And the risk of Earth warming to very high temperatures is increasingly unlikely thanks to slowing population growth and abundant natural gas.

Curiously, the people who are the most alarmist about the problems also tend to oppose the obvious solutions.

What’s really behind the rise of apocalyptic environmentalism? There are powerful financial interests. There are desires for status and power. But most of all there is a desire among supposedly secular people for transcendence. This spiritual impulse can be natural and healthy. But in preaching fear without love, and guilt without redemption, the new religion is failing to satisfy our deepest psychological and existential needs.

From the author of Losing Earth, a deeply reported and beautifully told exploration of how we live in a post-natural world

We live in a world in which scientists are actively trying to bring back prehistoric beasts, in which our most essential and complex ecosystems demand monumental engineering projects to survive, in which immortal jellyfish threaten to fill and overrun the oceans, in which iconic companies that have long been at the cultural and economic center of their communities are poisoning the very people who make up those communities. We are obsessed with words like "organic" and "sustainable," but the fact is that the separation between natural and artificial is obsolete, too intertwined to mean anything. It's not science fiction; it's not the future. It's not dystopia; it's not utopia. It's the world we live in. It's time we reckoned with it.

For years now, Nathaniel Rich has been reporting ecological stories for The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Harper's Magazine, Rolling Stone, and other publications. From Losing Earth to the story that became the movie Dark Waters (which is one of the chapters in the book), his stories have come to define the way we think of contemporary ecological narrative. But as Rich takes on a series of adventures and explorations and schemes with the scientists and activists, engineers and naturalists at the forefront of these issues, what comes into focus is a world that has left the traditional notion of ecology behind.

There is obvious tragedy in what we've lost, but there is undeniable wonder in what we can do, and Rich captures both with unmatched energy and eloquence. At this point, we have no choice but to accept it, embrace it, revel in it. This is The Artificial Forest.
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “The Uninhabitable Earth hits you like a comet, with an overflow of insanely lyrical prose about our pending Armageddon.”—Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New Yorker • The New York Times Book Review • Time • NPR • The Economist • The Paris Review • Toronto Star  • GQ • The Times Literary Supplement • The New York Public Library • Kirkus Reviews

It is worse, much worse, than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible—food shortages, refugee emergencies, climate wars and economic devastation.

An “epoch-defining book” (The Guardian) and “this generation’s Silent Spring” (The Washington Post), The Uninhabitable Earth is both a travelogue of the near future and a meditation on how that future will look to those living through it—the ways that warming promises to transform global politics, the meaning of technology and nature in the modern world, the sustainability of capitalism and the trajectory of human progress.

The Uninhabitable Earth is also an impassioned call to action. For just as the world was brought to the brink of catastrophe within the span of a lifetime, the responsibility to avoid it now belongs to a single generation—today’s.

LONGLISTED FOR THE PEN/E.O. WILSON LITERARY SCIENCE WRITING AWARD

“The Uninhabitable Earth is the most terrifying book I have ever read. Its subject is climate change, and its method is scientific, but its mode is Old Testament. The book is a meticulously documented, white-knuckled tour through the cascading catastrophes that will soon engulf our warming planet.”—Farhad Manjoo, The New York Times

“Riveting. . . . Some readers will find Mr. Wallace-Wells’s outline of possible futures alarmist. He is indeed alarmed. You should be, too.”—The Economist

“Potent and evocative. . . . Wallace-Wells has resolved to offer something other than the standard narrative of climate change. . . . He avoids the ‘eerily banal language of climatology’ in favor of lush, rolling prose.”—Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times

“The book has potential to be this generation’s Silent Spring.”—The Washington Post

“The Uninhabitable Earth, which has become a best seller, taps into the underlying emotion of the day: fear. . . . I encourage people to read this book.”—Alan Weisman, The New York Review of Books
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