The Heat Is On

Climate change and social justice in Joseph Romm’s latest book

Talk of “Global Warming” and “Climate Change” are all over the place, with prominent politicians and government officials questioning its veracity, while scientists and thought leaders warn that we must act now to stave off its effects on mankind.

Because of these conflicting proclamations, the book, “Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know”, by Joseph Romm, seemed an ideal read to get a handle on what was going on. Besides having access to current information, Romm has impressive credentials, both as a scientist and a former acting Assistant Secretary of Energy. The final chapter of the book, entitled “What you can do,” was a further enticement to dig in.

Our book club, which reads a combination of novels, memoirs, and other nonfiction on social justice topics, discussed this book and issue at our April 2019 meeting. We left our meeting more educated and willing to change some of our own habits.

Romm lays out the case for the reality of Climate Change in a logical Q&A format that runs throughout the book. In Chapter 1, “Climate Science Basics”, Romm explains the greenhouse gas effect, and tackles why scientists are certain our climate is warming and why they are sure that we (humans) are the primary cause. This chapter also covers how deforestation has contributed to warming and how warming has increased sea levels. The subsequent five chapters discuss “Extreme Weather and Climate Change”, “Projected Climate Impacts”, “Avoiding the Worst Impacts”, “Climate Politics and Policies”, and “The Role of Clean Energy.” In a nutshell everything relevant to a comprehensive understanding of this issue is addressed.

The Social Justice Connection

So what does climate change have to do with Social Justice anyway? Below are some thoughts:

  • The countries responsible for the majority of the CO2 emissions that contribute to global warming are not the same countries that initially experience the brunt of its effects. While developed countries are significantly contributing to the problems and have the resources to make a difference, they are instead questioning the reality of climate change. Meanwhile, smaller countries are experiencing these realities. Rising sea levels and pollution are destroying countries, fishing industries and culture, specifically in The Marshall Islands and The Philippines.
  • As of 2015, the United States was the second largest emitter of CO2 in the world (after China). While China is actively engaging in activities to significantly reduce its CO2 emissions, our current administration is being counterproductive. By pulling us out of the Paris agreement we stand alone with Russia as the only two developed countries not to participate in lowering global emissions.
  • People within the U.S. also are experiencing the devastating effects of climate change on their health and economic well-being. Residents of economically disadvantaged towns, whose only employer may be the local coal plant, are practically on their own in trying to get assistance for their conditions, as politicians tend to support tax-paying business interests.

Getting a Visual

For me, reading a book on climate change was not nearly as impactful as “seeing” the effects of climate change first hand. Luckily, for those that want to see climate change around the world, Romm is the Scientific Advisor on a documentary television series: “Years of Living Dangerously.” The Emmy winning series pairs celebrities and scientists in affected environments to show visually what scientists are finding. Each segment focuses on very specific issues and places. For example, one episode focuses on damage done to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and how similar circumstances have devastated a portion of the Filipino population. I found it heart wrenching to see beautiful coral reef and its robust ecosystem transition to what basically looks like garbage.

What We Can Do

Our club discussions include how we can respond to our raised awareness of the issues we encounter. Romm’s last chapter gives us some ideas. While he acknowledges the critical necessity of U.S. government action, he also suggests individual actions. One of the most impactful individual actions he recommends is investing in solar energy for our homes.

Several of our group are attempting to reduce our carbon footprint in a variety of ways, including bicycling to work or errands, shopping locally, and signing up for CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares. As a community we can join campaigns that support issues and candidates that recognize the gravity of climate change.

I would recommend this book and its accompanying documentary series as a start to understanding the scope and challenges of climate change, as well as the potential outcomes of ignoring it. For me, this book provides a strong impetus to do more.

Join the Club

The East Falls Social Justice Book Club meets monthly to discuss readings over wine, seltzer and cheese. All are welcome to join us. We discuss the varied elements of our readings, and then make action plans to impact our community based on our learning. Information will be available by emailing, or by following our instagram at ef_socialjustice.


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