Motivating climate action: Last Chance – Preserving Life on Earth

Posted on November 5, 2009

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In the introduction to Last Chance – Preserving Life on Earth, author Larry J. Schweiger, the CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, comes right out and says that he’s not trying to change minds with this book. Instead, it’s his hope that the book will motivate millions of people to transform their concerns over global warming into activism.

There are three sections to the book that can be summarized as follows. First, the latest science says that disruptions due to climate change will be worse and happen faster than the best estimates of even a couple of years ago. Second, there are a few global ecosystems that are more sensitive than even average, and there are people who don’t want you to know that and who actively work to keep you ignorant of the facts. And third, there are a few things we can do to help ourselves and the Earth.

People who are familiar with the state of climate science will not read much new in the first section of Last Chance. It briefly recounts key moments in the history of climate science – the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and it’s four Assessment Reports, the discovery of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) by Scripps Scientist Charles Keeling, the concern over climate “tipping points.” As a result of global warming, Schweiger points out that we are likely facing an irrecoverable loss in Arctic sea ice, the potential for massive methane hydrate releases, and the loss of millions of acres of forests to insects like the pine beetle and to massive drought-induced forest fires. Furthermore, Schweiger points out that the increasing global temperatures are causing massive losses in Greenland ice and, as a result, raising the global sea level.

And Schweiger supports all his claims with references to peer-reviewed papers, sections of the NASA, NOAA, and EPA websites, and media reports.

In recounting the devastation that has already happened, and thus is representative of what will likely happen in the future, Schweiger focuses on invasive species in Lake Erie and the political machinations that polar bear supporters have endured in the process of trying to get the bears listed as an Endangered Species. And he calls out to the outdoorsmen in all of us with his descriptions of changes in the life cycles of horseshoe crab, sea turtles, and pronghorn antelope, all of which are seriously threatened by global warming.

But he doesn’t stop there. Schweiger fingers journalists and the mainstream news media as being complicit in the world’s unwillingness to address global warming. He believes that advertising dollars and short-term-profit hungry media companies are making editorial decisions about what stories to run based on perceptions of whether the ensuing controversy is worth the loss of advertising revenue. In addition, Schweiger suggests that newsroom cuts to experienced journalists and expensive investigative reporters are coupling with a loss of “public interest” reporting to essentially dumb down media just as global warming is heating up to a level that calls out for experienced communicators.

Schweiger wraps up his book with a detailed call to action. Support electric cars powered over a smart grid from renewable sources of electricity. Make your homes and workplaces as energy efficient as possible. And support those politicians who act on these issues with money and your vote. Schweiger also condemns industrial farming as being destructive to the topsoil and recommends that people support local, small and mid-size farms that farm using sustainable agricultural practices that keep soil nutritious and alive. And finally, he calls for the reader to educate themselves and those around them – family, friends, coworkers, media sources, even political representatives – about the real dangers of global warming.

Last Chance isn’t a catastrophe tale, even though Schweiger makes it clear that catastrophe will very likely be in our future if we don’t address global warming. Instead, it’s a call to action for those readers who recognize how much global warming will change their lives and the lives of their descendants for many generations to come. And Schweiger provides recommended action plans to ease implementing the various recommendations that he makes throughout Last Chance.

All in all, Last Chance is a good book for those readers who are already convinced of the seriousness of global warming, want to have their understanding reinforced, and who want to take more action but don’t know how. But it’s not a book to convince anyone to do something they weren’t already inclined to do.

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