A Climate Interpreter Book Review

Sarah Mae Nelson is a climate change interpretative specialist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril

Kathleen Dean Moore & Michael P. Nelson, Editors

This book of 80+ essays on the moral and ethical issues surrounding climate change—its impacts on humanity as well as the environment—changed the way I interpret climate change to my audiences. The pieces are authored by people from various backgrounds: from the Dalai Lama to E.O. Wilson, from Bill McKibben to Tri Robinson. The essays helped me realize that it is not so much about explaining the science behind what is happening, but sharing stories about people and traditions being forced to change as a result of our changing climate. Some essays shocked me. Some essays made me laugh. Some essays made me cry. Some essays made me want to share the story in them with every single person I know.

So much of how we live our lives is about belief, and I have come to understand that belief is the foundation on which we must build interpretation. People will act based on what they believe to be right, good, ethical, moral. In the introduction, editors Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson speak to this directly: “An act is right if it increases or enhances what we value, wrong if it reduces or destroys what we think of as good.” As interpreters, we must discover the values that underpin personal beliefs and translate the language of climate science into the language of the values behind those beliefs.

The Rough Guide to Climate Change: Symptoms, Science, Solutions

Robert Henson, Author

This is my number one choice for a simple “rough guide” to climate change. I recommend that all climate interpreters read this book even if they have a background in climate science. Over the years I have read many books that try to cover the range of topics that are involved in the complexity that is climate change, and this is hands down the best.

It begins with the basics and moves into the symptoms and science. It presents the debates and a range of solutions. It wraps up with what you can do on the individual level as well as provides further resources for study and community involvement. There are three editions of this Rough Guide, each edition is very similar to the previous version but the most recent (2011) reflects the most current scientific data available.

This book is extremely accessible and is a wonderful starting point for people with no background in climate science (or really any science). It makes a good tool to begin training and I have used it with staff and volunteers as a foundation on which to build advanced insight, in terms not only of the science, but also in terms of framing, developing analogies and simplifying models, and teaching about interpretation through causal chains.

In the words of author Robert Henson, “Whether you’re alarmed, skeptical or simply curious about climate change, this book will help you sort through the many facets of this sprawling issue.”

Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why we need a green revolution and how it can renew America

Thomas Friedman, Author

I must admit this wasn’t the easiest book to start, but once I got into its groove it pulled me along and revealed incredible truths that I would never have discovered on my own. Tom Friedman talks about how technology has “flattened” the world—giving us easy access to information and resources globally that were difficult to gather previously, how rapidly increasing population has “crowded” the world and how fossil fuel energy use has “heated” the world.

From social freedoms to civic issues to biological diversity, this book reviews the last few decades of the industrial revolution and outlines two possible futures. One is the future of continued fossil fuel energy use and its ultimately dismal outcome. The other is the future of the energy technology revolution where energy that is carbon dioxide free allows us to grow, adapt, survive and thrive.

Time and again, Friedman points out simple issues that have become part of our everyday lives that we must begin to think of in new ways. One of the examples that struck home with me is when he talks about the idea of “green.” He says to name an issue is to own an issue, but “green” was named by its enemies. Those of us fighting in this “green” revolution in America need to take control of it and “make ‘green’ the new red, white and blue.”

This book, full of sharp reality, ends with equally keen hope. This is summarized beautifully in the words of Dana Meadows in the last few pages of the book, “We have exactly enough time, starting now.”

All reviews by Sarah-Mae Nelson, Climate Change Interpretive Specialist at Monterey Bay Aquarium.