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Waking Up to Climate Change: In Depth Review by Devora Neumark

Collating a linear publication from 15 years of climate change-related web-based entries on ClimateYou.org is not a simple or straightforward task. To account for the need for a coherent organization of the vast array of material, the author George Ropes opted to categorize selected online writings into five discrete sections, which he refers to as “Dimensions”. These are: 1) Energy; 2) Weather and Climate; 3) Consequences for Nature and People; 4) Laws and Leaders; and 5) Finance. Additionally, the book includes an Introduction, a Conclusion, and the following three Appendices: Appendix 1: ClimateYou.org Sources (a compilation of the original sources for the book’s contents, complete with title, date and URL for each reference); Appendix 2: International and U.S. Timeline Tables (one table listing COP events from 2009 to 2015 and another table chronicling U.S. Presidents who engaged with climate change from 1993 to 2022); and Appendix 3: a world-wide compendium of climate change organizations (broken down by country and detailing each organization’s mission statement, founding date, and URL).

World Scientific, the book’s publisher, has identified the following readership groups as the target audience: “Advocates, Policymakers, and Government officials for institutional and governmental policies that mitigate or adapt to climate impacts; general readers interested in obtaining a deeper understanding of the crisis and impact of climate change and what individuals can do to change our course.” What is apparent here is that the book is intended to provide information and insights to a wide range of individuals who have varying degrees of familiarity with the subject matter.

After having thoroughly read Waking Up to Climate Change, I have been able to identify several salient points and came away with an even greater understanding of the interconnectivity and extant challenges of addressing climate change in and across different social spheres (ex: science, economy, government, law, education, and the media). There are several highlights that would lead me to recommend Waking Up to Climate Change, most notably the comprehensive overview of the interconnected themes, all of which are implicated in understanding the complexities of climate change impacts, mitigation strategies, and potential adaptation mechanisms, policies, and legislative priorities. By communicating such a broad array of issues, readers are left with a sober appreciation about what’s required for full and deep comprehension and integrated response to the seemingly intractable problematics of human-induced climate change.

The inclusion of material about climate change migration, which is a subject of particular interest to me – having focused my PhD research-creation and dissertation on the nexus between forced displacement and the aesthetics of the built environment in the rehoming process – is both judicious and well thought-out. Inserted under the third dimension, Consequences for Nature and People, the background information and analysis about climate migration includes data on Puerto Rico, Central America, and the U.S.

Amongst the other observations, reflections, and studies that I particularly appreciated are the biographies of climate change leaders such as the youth activist Greta Thunberg and James Hansen, a leading scientist of the climate crisis. The inclusion of information about Thunberg’s neurodiversity is significant because it points to the skills and competencies necessary to see and respond to the current world in new ways with wholly different perspectives. The attention given to Hansen provides the reader with an appreciation of the compound proficiencies required of scientists who take on activism and the role of a public intellectual.

I was glad to see the inclusion of finance as the 5th dimension: all too often climate change is addressed at the consumer level. With the inclusion of an overview about the role of corporations, the reader is made aware of both the fallout from business practices that have ignored and exacerbated the climate emergency, as well as efforts that companies are making to become responsible actors (for ex: the sections titled “NYC Hotels Take up the Carbon Challenge”). Within this section – and elsewhere in the book – Ropes offers some preliminary political analysis. Personally, I would have liked to see that type of treatment expanded, particularly in addressing government policy setting and international relations.

As an interdisciplinary artist, I appreciate the addition of visuals in the form of colour photographs by Andrew Dillon Bustin that are distributed throughout the book. These offer another layer of information and pictorial associations that go beyond symmetrical interaction (in which the words and images explain and illustrate the same content and meanings). Instead, many of the visuals included create enhanced interactions that offer readers a more complex dynamic than simply having the text and the photos explain each other. The variety of images is also welcome (ex: the 2009 Costa Rica skyscape associated with the book’s Introduction; a 2014 closeup of Chef Yaowadee Chookong in Chiang Mai accompanying the Famine and Food Security section; and the 2020 Maine landscape of the Portland Head Light complementing the Oceans and Coasts section).

It is useful to have access to the information in the three appendices, though I can imagine that keeping the information updated, particularly in the third appendix focused on climate change organizations would be more easily accomplished online. I could also see the use value of updating the second appendix in order to provide a more recent international and U.S. timeline (ex: from 2016 to the present).

One of many photographs by Andrew Dillon Bustin in “Waking Up To Climate Change.”

Having identified these highlights that would have me suggest this book, I think it is relevant to also articulate three challenges that I see as being associated with the transposition of the online posts into a book format.

I would refer to the first of these challenges as inconsistencies related to the length and level of detail in the coverage of any given topic. While some entries are of sufficient length to provide enough context and content (ex: nuclear energy and the section on climate change and food), other passages are so brief as to be hardly informative (ex: climate change and species extinction and the bit about fracking).

The second concern that I have can be summed up as the sometimes-awkward ordering of material making it difficult to follow threads in the disposition of ideas. While the overall organization of the book into five dimensions does provide a workable structure, there are instances where the material is not grouped together in logical sequences or wherein information about a certain topic shows up under different headings. This can lead to a fragmented read.

Finally, the third of these issues is what I would point to as assumptions about the base knowledge of the readers. While I appreciate how the publisher would want to cast a wide audience net, the needs of policymakers, analysts, government officials, students, and the general public  are as varied as their experience, familiarity, and fluency with the myriad of climate change-related subjects articulated in this book. While such an approach might be habitual online where people are accustomed to browsing and darting from one source to another, in the linear book format it could leave some readers in the dark – on account of the limited scope of the coverage – and others finding few new insights about material that is germane to their work.

In summary, and these challenges notwithstanding, this book covers a wide range of climate change topics with scientific accuracy and perspicacity. I can imagine readers coming away after having read Waking Up to Climate Change with a greater appreciation of  both the difficulties and especially the multiple  solutions – both current and nascent – that can be enacted both nationally and internationally to collectively embrace a more just and environmentally healthy way of being.

Devora Neumark, PhD, is an interdisciplinary artist-researcher, educator and community-engaged consultant with over 30 years of contemplative practice. They became a Yale School of Public Health-certified Climate Change Adaptation Practitioner in 2020 and was a Fellow in the 2021 Arctic Winter College. Currently, they are developing a body of work focused on environmental trauma, climate-related migration, and mainstreaming climate justice.


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