Finally an approachable account of a larger-than-life problem

So very many variables affect global climate change, the issue is practically incomprehensible to all but expert climatologists. We laymen have mostly heard the gist of it—that human activity, particularly greenhouse gas emissions resultant from our industrializing the world, is exacerbating the greenhouse effect and accelerating the death of our planet as we know it—but that’s all.  As for where to go or what to do with this knowledge, we’re clueless. The problem seems unapproachable.

In Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through The Science, Philippe Squarzoni makes the intricacies of this big issue more clear than ever before. The format—a graphic novel in which each panel contains only a small, easily digestible kernel of information—is more successful at communicating the many details to the general public than any essay, article, or even documentary film could ever be. Squarzoni has an excellent sense of the limits of his readers’ attention spans: as soon as I start feeling overwhelmed by a cascade of statistics or cold, dry science, he injects his narrator (himself) into the presentation, allowing me some time to absorb the essential info, every time. It’s refreshing, this technique.

What’s more, when he cuts from the science-y stuff to the anecdotal personal stuff, the anecdotes are often rather artfully selected. “Sometimes… in the middle… we need to take a break. […] As if to escape the march of time. We find ourselves immersed in our memories,” he writes, captioning a picture of himself as a little boy with an arm around his once-upon-a-time little puppy. “Memories that break your heart when they remind you of something you’ve lost” (96). The emotional implication here is that global warming is a threat by which we stand to lose a lot… a lot!

“How do we fight back? Where do we start?” Squarzoni asks again and again throughout the book, in sympathy with his average reader. As he puts it, “The economic objectives of our society are grounded in a continual increase in the amount of manufactured goods” (187). So how can we face the machine? What can we do? Of course, he does not provide a straightforward answer to this question, but let’s not think of this as a shortcoming. His mission with this book is not to solve the problem—he’s just a mortal man—but rather to express the real scope and urgency of the situation, to tell us what to expect in the years to come.

Besides, he offers suggestions at least, especially in the form of everyday lifestyle choices that we can each make as conscientious individuals; and he relays the experts’ opinions on what policymakers should do for whole societies. In between the lines of his interviews with experts, by the way, he inserts his own comments to supplement whatever they’re saying. These interjections are as effective as those of the most skilled documentarians. Taken altogether, this is likely the most comprehensive (and yet understandable) report on the status of climate change ever written.

In only two area do I feel this account is lacking.  One: sometimes, in Squarzoni’s personal narrative in between the science-y stuff, it seems to me that he is trying to hard to make me react emotionally.  (Whether or not he took that plane ride to Laos, I don’t care, but he keeps talking about it.)  Two: in his interviews with the experts—who, to his credit, do represent a variety of disciplines both directly and tangentially related to the climate change problem—there is a conspicuous shortage of suggestions for governments and policymakers. In other words, this work does not make as immense an impact as it could have made, had Squarzoni focused his attack a little more sharply.

All in all, highly recommended.

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