Under the Sky We Make: How to Be Human in a Warming World By Kimberly Nichols

Review by Janet Mitchell

Many books inform us about the climate issue, but few do so with the compelling combination of science and memoir. Nichols is an American currently living in Sweden and a professor of sustainability. Her personal efforts to reduce her carbon emissions weave among the studies she cites. Essentially, her message is, “It’s warming. It’s us. We’re sure. It’s bad. But we can fix it.”

Science provides the information we need to do so, and our personal choices in the next decade will be crucial. Nichols’ grandmother immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine in 1904, and the carbon emitted in the journey is part of her legacy. We are all leaving a carbon legacy for many generations to come. The book is dedicated “to 2030. I hope we did right by you.”

At a climate conference, a colleague of Nichols made a presentation and was approached afterward by a participant who said that although the message was disturbing, the presenter did not seem disturbed. Scientists are taught to be clinical and dispassionate, but now it is time to convey the passion many scientists feel. Another colleague, doing biodiversity research in Africa, lamented that his career “has turned into a decades-long funeral” as he watched habitat loss. Each new generation of people has a view of “normal” that is degraded compared to previous generations. It is hard to realize the enormity of the loss.

We can fix it. A study of U.S. consumption patterns shows that people in the poorest fifty percent of households generate about eight tons of carbon pollution per year. Median income households (about $69,000) produce sixteen tons, and the wealthiest ten percent ($201,000) about fifty tons. Dramatic reductions in air travel, miles driven with fossil fuels, and meat consumption are the most productive personal strategies. Still, it is also essential to support responsible journalism, public policy, and agricultural practices.

Nichols concludes with eight pages of bullet points for those who find a book TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read). If you have time for nothing else, read them. But the book deserves your attention because the situation is urgent, and the time for remediation is slipping away. Your children will thank you for taking action.

Review courtesy of Northfield Public Library
210 Washington St. | Northfield | guides.mynpl.org

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