Today I am sharing my views on the book Words of Change: Climate — Powerful Voices, Inspiring Ideas by Christina Limpert which I have received for review. This book is a collection of quotes by climate activists from different walks of life and is purportedly meant to encourage and motivate people to think seriously about climate crisis and to join the movement demanding necessary action. Before I give my opinion about this book, I would like to say few words which should help you in appreciating the motivation and scope of this book. When we talk about climate change, a question arises in nearly everybody’s mind — If climate crisis is such a big problem, why aren’t governments doing anything in that direction? Why such widespread and general apathy towards the biggest problem of our times? Yes, I do mean it — one single climate calamity can erase years of development and progress, pushing us several decades into the past.
Though the question demands an elaborate answer due to the various complexities involved, I can mention few points which may help you in understanding why the governments (read politicians) seem to be helpless and why climate activism is so much needed. Climate effects are observed in long term. With this I mean that if some policy changes are implemented today with a view to mitigate climate change, their effect would be visible only several years and even decades later. However, the governments are elected for only maximum 5 years or so, and within that period they have to show results and output which would ensure that their political party returns to power in the next elections. As a result, their focus lies in policies which would show quick and short-term results, and climate change is definitely not such an area.
Secondly, one of the primary steps which governments can take is emission control and regulations. Note that it is these firms which provide funding to political parties to run their election campaigns. The result is easy to guess — reluctance of politicians to upset their corporate well-wishers by imposing regulations.
Lack of awareness about the processes and parameters is a bigger problem here than in any other crisis. Though climate change is accepted and understood, the exact nature of interaction between different variables and parameters (e.g., different atmospheric constituents or species) is not completely understood. Hence, scientists talk in terms of uncertainties and errors as the research in this direction is an ongoing process. The climate sceptics put misplaced stress on these uncertainties to assert that scientists cannot confidently tell that climate change is indeed taking place and that it is a hoax. Note that the uncertainties are in the understanding of the processes involved, and not in the overall existence of climate change.
Yes, definitely there are politicians and officials who do take genuine interest and strive to take action. However, they are so few in number that even their collective voice is hardly audible. In such a scenario, the best way out for citizens is to unite and put pressure on their governments to take action by looking beyond their narrow political ambitions and conflicting interests.
Now coming to the book under review, as I glanced through the author names, I was looking for anyone with scientific background. I was disappointed. The contributors range from climate activists, sociologists, presidents, actors and people from diverse field, and only very few from science. This is surprising and unfortunate because it is on this issue that the society certainly needs to listen to scientists. Only they would tell the gravity of problem and suggest ways to handle the issue. They need to be listened to. Certainly.
I place a part of the blame on scientists themselves. They need to be good communicators, and speak out on the issue aggressively and convincingly in simple words that a layperson can understand. If they do not do it, someone else would, and most probably someone without credentials and expertise on the subject — like the contributors of this book.
On the other hand, I am not entirely against politicians, writers, actors and such celebrities speaking out on a subject that concerns everybody — even if without any deep understanding. The immediate objective while dealing with climate crisis is to draw the attention of citizens and even more importantly politicians towards recognising this problem and pushing them towards necessary action. And if these individuals use their celebrity image to direct their fans and followers to think seriously on the issue, then I don’t see any harm. After all, our governments have depended mainly on movie stars and cricketers for communicating social messages and welfare schemes, be it polio eradication or literacy movement or general hygiene. However, even then, the exclusion of scientists cannot be justified and afforded.
Now coming back to the purpose of the book. I can think of two primary motivation or rather application of this book. We have witnessed a general lack of political will to address climate issues; at the same time, we do not see any other way out. So there seems to be no other way than to put pressure on governments worldwide to take climate change seriously and do whatever it takes to mitigate the effects. This is what climate activism is all about. The more activists joining the movement, the better. And for that the movement needs slogans, advertisements, quotes, banners, to excite people, motivate them and churn action. In my personal opinion, this seems to be the primary motivation for such a book — to bring neutral people into the fold of the movement, to convince them of the severity of the crisis and the urgent need for a drastic and immediate action. And from this perspective, the contribution from celebrities is perfectly justified. After all, di Caprio and Obama are saying so, it must be true! Up to this point, everything is understandable; however, the content, the quotes themselves do not justify such a motivation. In other words, the quotes lack shine, energy, and all of them sound unconvincing. None of the quotes has any effect or impact on the reader/listener. And I seriously doubt if anyone would feel inspired after reading this collection. Merely increasing font size and printing in red colour does not increase the weight of any sentence. The quotes should contain content and in this particular case, facts.
Another possible purpose of this book could be to function as a resource for science communication. While starting the book, I thought that I would come across good quotes that I can put on my presentation slides or include in my general articles. However, I did not find any quote which I could consider useful in this way.
This book may decorate your bookshelf to impress your visitors particularly if you are a climate activist yourself or working in climate change research. Otherwise, this book has limited practical use. While the book cover, pages, colour, print and photographs are splendid and excellent for which the corresponding artists need to be commended; in terms of content, the book is lacking.
Title: Words of Change: Climate — Powerful Voices, Inspiring Ideas
Author: Christina Limpert
Publisher: Spruce Books
Print Length: 163 pages
What does it mean?