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Fire and Flood

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Member Reviews

Alarmed by the recent spate of wildfires in the West and massive floods throughout Kentucky? We have FIRE AND FLOOD by Eugene Linden on our shelves. This non-fiction work deals with the impact of our failure to confront the ongoing climate crisis. Linden is an award-winning journalist and writer of numerous books on science, nature, and the environment. He subtitles his latest "a people's history of climate change, from 1979 to the present." In it, he divides the text so as to recount events and missed opportunities from the 1980s, 1990s, and first two decades of this century. The final chapter ("A Narrow Path to a Livable Future") argues that "stronger measures than far-off dates for carbon neutrality are needed to avert calamity" and advocates for the use of universal climate tariffs that would be imposed if a nation did not meet its emission targets. Linden comments extensively on economic incentives ("business as usual has enormously powerful momentum in our society") and disincentives for corporate action. Imagine his reaction to a recent – and shocking – New York Times investigation by David Gelles (who reviewed more than 10,000 pages of documents and emails in preparing the article, "How Republicans Are 'Weaponizing' Public Office Against Climate Action." FIRE AND FLOOD received starred reviews from Library Journal ("should be on every person's bookshelf") and Publishers Weekly (an "urgent look at the causes and progression of climate change"). An important quote is one from F. Sherwood Rowland (from his speech accepting the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1995) with which Linden opens his book: "What is the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions, if, in the end, all we're willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?"

Link to New York Times Story:
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Fire and Flood is a GREAT primer for the catastrophic environmental (and more so, politically charged) situation we find ourselves in now. The historical points this book makes will come as surprising for many, the realization of bi-partisan interest in addressing, followed by inaction until it has come to a precipice of “is it too late?” I also really enjoyed Linden’s acknowledgement of our (humans) disconnected way of living with (or more so, controllers of) nature. The combination of the reality of climate change occurring before our eyes, the science behind it, along with the private financial and political pieces, makes for a REALLY great climate starter option for readers. It has been added to my bookshop lists for this reason.
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Imagine four clocks bearing an asymmetric relationship to each other. The first clock represents the ‘reality’ of climate change. In other words, this clock is Mother Nature herself. The second clock is the barometer for the state of Science. Whether ewe like it or not, Science will always lag behind reality in decoding, deciphering and deciding on the occurrence, impact and consequences of reality in the form of climate change. The penultimate clock is public awareness. This is the most ‘malleable’ of the four clocks, susceptible to contradictory messages fusillading from the chambers of various vested interests. The final clock is made up by the world of finance and industry. An unrelenting machine of capitalism who levers are greased in perpetuity by the ever improving lubricants of profits, growth and earnings. The clocks of Science, public awareness and business always lag behind (invariably and at times conveniently) vis-à-vis the clock of reality.
Eugene Linden has been covering seminal issues dealing with global warming, climate change and its attendant environmental impacts for the Time magazine since the 1980s. In what arguably has to be his most hard hitting work till date, Linden in “Fire & Flood” lambasts the head in the sand approach that seems to be adopted by a majority of stakeholders in combating the pernicious evil of climate change, an evil which to a large extent, and unfortunately, has been birthed by man himself. 

As Linden illustrates, climate change is not a novel concept that has reared its ugly head in the new millennium. In the late 1970s President Jimmy Carter commissioned a blue-ribbon panel to investigate The Carbon Dioxide Problem. Even before such a study was commissioned, committed environmentalists of the likes of the immortal Rachel Carson had spawned a veritable movement/awakening on the evils of climate change. Carson’s “A Silent Spring” a work that laid out in eviscerating terms the impact of the chemical DDT on sentient beings. 

The report presented to Carter by renowned scientists Roger Revelle and George Woodwell warned about induced climate change as a result of increased greenhouse gas emissions. This alarm was followed up by James Hansen’s passionate testimony in 1988 to a US Senate committee. However, both these reports represented a mere blip on the horizon of consciousness and conscientiousness. The Reagan administration that stood for furthering the interests of business, cut back on funding for climate management as industry and commerce ran amok to obfuscate all potential moves to battle global warming. 

Linden takes his readers decade by decade beginning with the late 1970s to illustrate both awareness on rampant climate change, as well as concerted attempts to sabotage such awareness. For example, Charles Keeling, an American scientist who assiduously recorded carbon dioxide at the Mauna Loa Observatory thereby confirming the possibility of anthropogenic contribution to the greenhouse effect and global warming saw a cut in funding because his painstaking method of observation could not be classified as ‘research’. 
The 2000s, represented the zenith of climate denialism. As Linden writes, merchants of doubt peddled and triggered heated deliberations over the ‘hockey stick’ graph (showing an abrupt rise in temperatures over time) and whether global warming had ‘stalled’ after the powerful 1997–98 El Niño event. These purveyors even fueled the 2009 Climategate scandal over scientists’ internal discussions. 

As linden illustrates in chilling terms, it is not that the industry is unaware of the ramifications of climate change. An insurance broker’s honest assessment observed that  weather-related disasters cost the world US$1.8 trillion between 2000 and 2010, and $3 trillion between 2010 and 2019. In 2021, according to the insurance giant Swiss Re, natural disasters around the world cost insurers $111 billion, on overall economic losses of $270 billion. Wildfires in Australia in the years 2019 and 2021 resulted in close to 2 billion animals being killed. 
Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina warned the world about the untrammeled release of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the ozone layer. While this finding resulted in the duo bagging the Nobel Prize, it took a lackadaisical world almost two decades after the finding to take some form of concrete action. Renewable energies are still in an exploratory phase despite solar power being the cheapest in terms of cost, as fossil fuel subsidies reach a burgeoning $400 billion, in the United States alone. 

But as Linden tries to assure us, it is not all doom and gloom, and it need not be either. Using a mix of innovative technologies and designs, we can still save the only inhabitable Planet – yet. For example, taking advantage of satellite based remote sensing technologies, green house gases can be monitored at the point of their origin. This can pave the path for establishing a baseline and tariffs adjusted based on success or failure in adhering to such baselines. 

Introduction of a Carbon Tax regime and simply curbing illegal deforestation are two other areas that are ripe for ecological reform. 

Fire & Flood – An urgent choice to either preserve or perish.
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I received a free copy of this book and am voluntarily leaving an honest review.

This book traces the current climate crisis through the last four decades of history. For each decade, the author looks closely into four areas - the FACTS of climate change, the SCIENCE of climate change, POPULAR OPINION towards climate change and the sometimes reactionary responses of BUSINESS and GOVERNMENT towards climate change.

By doing this, Linden makes it clear how many chances we have already passed up and how much harder our desire to ignore climate change has made our future.

The book isn't entirely without hope, but it's a very narrow hope.

Ultimately, this book is terrifying and disturbing. It's also important, since climate deniers still exist and companies all over the world are still trying to push forward on fossil fuels even though renewable fuels are just as easy and just as cheap.

I learned a lot from this book, and I recommend it to anyone who lives on this planet and cares about the future.
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