The Fragile Earth

| Big Jump Book Reviews |

The concept that, across the world, people suddenly care about global climate change is more improbable than you might think.


The Ancient Greeks coined the word ‘Klinein’, which means ‘to lean’, because they believed that the Earth sloped from the equator to the North Pole, and this sloping caused different weather in different regions. ‘Climate’ then became the term to describe regional weather and, although people over the centuries noted the similarities and connections between different regions, there was never an understanding of a global climate. Global climate could only be understood because of the technology, modelling, research funding, and expertise that came out of the twentieth century.


The way of life which came about from the process of the industrial revolution produced the world's biggest plot twist: global warming. In 1988 NASA climatologist, James Hansen, testified to the Senate Committee of the United States arguing that ‘global warming has begun’. Not only was the Earth warmer than it had ever been in recorded history, but it was our fault. The burning of fossil fuels and led to an unimaginable amount of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere, and it was changing the very air we breathe. Despite this testimony, the idea of global warming wouldn’t dramatically affect public opinion until decades later. Such a change would demand international cooperation, political conventions, environmental campaigns, and individual action.


The Fragile Earth, edited by David Remnick and Henry Finder, is a comprehensive catalogue of all the key articles about climate change published in the New Yorker magazine from the time of Hansen’s ground-breaking testimony to the present day. It tells the story of climate change through fascinating and detailed articles, written by experts for the public audience. With each article only twenty pages, each in chronological order, it is a fantastic overview for understanding how our ideas, knowledge, and concerns about the climate have changed over time.


Climate change is only one part of the big environmental narrative, it is linked to the need for biodiversity, sustainable development, green investing, wildlife conservation, and a mass of other priorities. But for anyone wanting to get a broad understanding of how climate change specifically has affected the world, and how the idea of global warming has entered our hearts and minds, this is a great place to start.