Book review: Greta Thunberg aims to educate with 'The Climate Book'

  • "The Climate Book" by Greta Thunberg.

    "The Climate Book" by Greta Thunberg. Courtesy of Penguin

Posted2/14/2023 10:06 AM

"The Climate Book" by Greta Thunberg (Penguin Press)

Skipping school to sit outside the Swedish Parliament in 2018 with a sign reading "School Strike for Climate" at the age of 15, Greta Thunberg promised she would never stop calling out leaders and governments for refusing to take strong enough actions to mitigate climate change.


Fast forward five years and while Thunberg is no longer a teenager, she is as blunt as ever. "Leaving capitalist consumerism and market economics as the dominant stewards of the only known civilization in the universe will most likely seem, in retrospect, to have been a terrible idea," she writes in "The Climate Book."

Divided into five parts -- How Climate Works, How Our Planet is Changing, How It Affects Us, What We've Done About It and What We Must Do Now -- the book features 105 guest essays covering everything from "ice shelves to economics, from fast fashion to the loss of species ... from water shortages to Indigenous sovereignty, from future food production to carbon budgets." Thunberg's goal is to raise public awareness by sharing the best available science to shine a spotlight on what we've done to the Earth and what we must do to keep it habitable by humanity.

Stuffed with charts and graphs and photos spread across two pages (all in black and white, a curious design choice), the book is sure to educate anyone who gives it an honest reading. Yet it's difficult to shake a feeling of doom as you turn the pages. The current way of life in the "Global North," as Thunberg calls the leading Western democracies responsible for most of the world's carbon emissions, is not sustainable. If we continue to insist on flying around the world, eating authentic Japanese sushi in New York, driving our SUVs, and on and on, we will eventually change planetary systems to such a degree that life as we know it won't be possible.

Some of the book's contributors manage to balance the gloom with glimmers of hope. Writing about the remarkable events of the last few years, Canadian public policy researcher Seth Klein finds comfort in the global response to COVID-19: "We witnessed governments ... creating audacious new economic support programs with a speed that few would have predicted." If governments would take a similar approach to electrifying everything with green power, he argues, Homo sapiens might survive. As other essayists point out, however, it's impossible until the largest governments in the world start treating the climate crisis like a true crisis.

And so hopefully billions of people read "The Climate Book" and enough of them rise up to demand change. 3.5%. That's the magic number mentioned by Harvard political science professor Erica Chenoweth in her essay, "People Power": "Among nonviolent movements attempting to overthrow their own governments, none has failed after mobilizing 3.5% of their population to engage in mass demonstrations." And in the end, that's Thunberg's ultimate prescription, too: "I would strongly suggest that those of us who have not yet been greenwashed out of our senses stand our ground."

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