Losing Earth | Nathaniel Rich

Summary of: Losing Earth: The Decade We Could Have Stopped Climate Change
By: Nathaniel Rich


In ‘Losing Earth: The Decade We Could Have Stopped Climate Change’, Nathaniel Rich reveals how key figures in science, politics, and environmentalism tried to stop climate change between 1979 and 1989. The book takes readers through the challenges faced by these individuals as they attempted to bring attention to the threats of global warming, formulating potential solutions, and persuading lawmakers to take appropriate action. Along the way, the book also uncovers the indifference, indecision, and corporate pushback that stymied these efforts. Ultimately, ‘Losing Earth’ paints a vivid picture of a crucial, yet failed opportunity to address climate change before it became an urgent crisis.

The Frightening Report that Warned us About Climate Change

It is not news that the world’s climate is in peril. What may surprise some readers is that scientists have warned about the dangers of man-made climate change since 1979. That fateful year, Rafe Pomerance, an environmentalist, and Gordon MacDonald of the Jasons scientific think tank discover a report that predicted that human activity would cause greenhouse gas emissions and widespread ecological damage. MacDonald and Pomerance used their connections to push for action on climate change and succeeded in gathering politicians, meteorologists, and top scientific minds at a conference where NASA scientist, Jim Hansen, presented computer models confirming the report’s predictions. The conference led to a final report referred to as The Charney Report- Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment. This critical document outlined the consequences of inaction, which led to disastrous results, including a three-degree increase in the world’s average temperature. Despite reports and warnings that date back to 1979, we have failed to make necessary changes to prevent a catastrophic outcome.

A Failed Attempt at Environmental Action

In October 1980, a team of politicians, energy experts, and environmentalists met at the Pink Palace in Florida to discuss policy proposals for tackling climate change. However, the conference ended with no consensus or policy formed due to disagreement over urgent and decisive action. The conference attendees were divided between those who advocated for strong and immediate action and those who favored a more moderate approach. Despite the urgent need for action, the inability to agree on recommended policies resulted in delayed legislation. The inability to bridge the gap resulted in fossil fuel companies utilizing their economic resources to delay action. The conference served as a reminder that the transition to a greener future requires significant unity and decisive action.

Making Climate Change a Political Issue

This summary tells the story of how activists leveraged congressional hearings to make climate change a popular political issue in the early 1980s. The article highlights how the election of Ronald Reagan, an aggressively right-wing president, put environmental regulation at risk and how activists like John Pomerance saw an opportunity to build public support for legislation by leveraging the work of NASA scientist James Hansen. Hansen and other scientists testified before Congress on the urgency of reducing carbon emissions, but despite some initial momentum, no policies or regulations were passed. Nonetheless, the hearings marked a turning point in bringing climate change to the public’s attention and paved the way for future advocacy efforts.

Ozone Crisis and Climate Change Movement

In 1983, The National Academy of Sciences warned about the dire consequences of climate change, but the Reagan administration downplayed the threat. However, the discovery of a hole in the ozone layer in 1985 brought the issue to the forefront, leading to the passing of the Montreal Protocol. The quick and effective action taken by governments in response to the ozone crisis served as a positive model for environmentalists who believed that a similar approach could be used to mitigate carbon emissions and slow down climate change.

Want to read the full book summary?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed