Review: Hot

HotIn Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, journalist Mark Hertsgaard painstakingly details what the next 50-100 years of climate change will bring on earth and the best steps to adapt to our changing world. Hertsgaard repeatedly stresses the need for immediate action. Even if emissions were completely ended tomorrow, the inertia of the climate system already ensures global warming of at least 1.4 degrees Celsius. In the face of up to a three foot increase in sea level over the next 50 years, Hertsgaard devotes the bulk of his book to cataloguing successful adaptation techniques, including strategic levee construction, alternative energy sources, organic farming techniques, drought preparation, and more.

Drawing inspiration from King County, Washington, The Netherlands, and African farmers in the Sahel, Hertsgaard prioritizes successful adaptation techniques rather than dwelling on the hard science behind climate change. For the most part, Hertsgaard takes global warming as a given, only occasionally taking time to refute “the deniers’” deeply flawed arguments. He also stresses one of the more unsavory aspects of combating climate change: not everything can be saved. Following the Dutch example, Hertsgaard argues for immediate federal protection of all swamps and wetlands, as they serve as an excellent “inner ring of defenses.” Hertsgaard demonstrates how vulnerable communities will often unfortunately need to be relocated behind strategic levees. Using Hurricane Katrina as a potent example, Hertsgaard attacks the failure of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent the disaster, arguing for an end to their monopoly on the strategic levee construction.

Hertsgaard also positions climate change as a moral issue that falls squarely on the backs of rich, developed states. Railing against the failure of the Copenhagen climate conference and the “lost decade” under George W. Bush, the author contends that the problem is one created by the developed world, so it must be primarily their burden to solve. Hertsgaard challenges President Obama and other world leaders to initiate a “Green Apollo Project” to limit global warming to only two degrees Celsius within a decade. Instituting global per-capita carbon rules, as well as implementing cap-and-dividend programs to put a price on carbon emissions would both help limit emissions and raise money for necessary adaptation techniques.

Although Hertsgaard makes the compelling case that global warming is real and worse than previously imagined, he makes an effort to avoid doomsday prophecies. Echoing Obama’s “Yes we can” mantra, Hertsgaard presents climate change as both the greatest danger and the greatest opportunity facing humanity. Effectively combating it, he contends, will transform economies from engines of pollution to green machines, producing millions of jobs, social justice, and global development in the process. Bringing to light the virtues of such practices as no-till farming, climate-change insurance, and eco-forestry, Hertsgaard provides a coherent, practical path toward “avoiding the unmanageable, managing the unavoidable” of the climate change that is already upon us.

Derek Lyndes is an intern with Foreign Policy In Focus.