I picked up Global Weirdness on a whim while browsing at my local bookstore, Malaprops, in Asheville, NC. Which is oddly apropos, because this bookstore is a mere half mile away from the National Climatic Data Center, a NOAA entity tasked with the lofty responsibility of being our nation’s weather-data keeper. (The NCDC preserves climate and weather records, and monitors and assesses weather and climate globally. Not a small job.) Ever since moving to Asheville 2-1/2 years ago, I’ve wanted to write a climate-related story or two that involves the NCDC. But I’ve felt thwarted by my lack of expertise on climate change (where to start?); and as the scientific field snowballed I began to feel a bit left behind in understanding what it’s all about.
This book provided the perfect gateway for learning the basics of the science behind climate change. It’s authored by writers and researchers of Climate Central, which is one of the most reliable sources of information for communicating climate issues. The book’s back cover promised that it would “summarize the facts behind climate change … in clear language.” It fulfilled that promise, to the Nth degree. A good dose of that accessiblity is due to the involvement of one of the lead authors, Mike Lemonick. I’ve known of Lemonick’s work for awhile through my involvement with the NASW, and I’ve previsouly read many of his articles. He’s a veteran science writer and I could see his fingerprints and hear his writing voice thoughout the entire book. (Go here for a series of video interviews with him about making Global Weirdness.)
Global Weirdness offers strong explanatory writing, and it stays consistent throughout with its aim of reaching a truly general audience. Jargon is explained clearly when it’s used, but the authors did a skillful job of limiting technological terms. Part One of the book deals with “What the Science Says,” Part Two then segues into “What’s Actually Happening.” Part Three discusses “What’s Likely to Happen in the Future,” and Part Four asks “Can We Avoid the Risks of Climate Change?”
My favorite sections of the book occurred in the first half, where the authors discussed what climate science predicts will occur, versus what’s actually occurring. Some of the topics covered here included a great discussion of measurable sea level rise, the number of record high-temp days in the U.S. from 2000-2010 compared to record low-temp days, the mechanisms of how glaciers and ice caps melt, how ecosystems are affected globally, how species are affected and adapting (or not), the frequency of extreme weather events, and how warmer oceans are causing coral die offs.
My only critical point is how Global Weirdness is structured. The four parts mentioned above are comprised of a total of 60 chapters. Don’t let that number scare you — the book is only 214 pages long, including the epilogue and references! It’s hard to call these entries “chapters” however, since most are only two or three pages long. Truth be told, I found this format a little off putting at first. I like to curl up with a book in the evenings and read a chapter in a sitting. Breezing through these entries felt a little like cheating since they are so brief. But I began to enjoy the experience once I realized the authors were cleverly doling out important concepts one at a time, letting the reader build up their climate chops before progressing to a new concept or issue. You might think of this format as a textbook that’s been pulled apart, with all the sections and subsections of a particular textbook chapter reconstituted as a stand-alone chapter. In the end, I see the wisdom of their chosen approach.