‘The Atlas of a Changing Climate’ Puts the Idea of Warming Into Images
“The future is a moving target,” Brian Buma writes in The Atlas of a Changing Climate. Temperate latitudes are expected to dry, while everywhere else will get wetter. Freshwater supplies will change; this may not be obvious, as water is underground. Trees will be affected; this happens slowly and then all at once. The disappearance of the mylomys, last sighted in 2009, is the first known extinction of a mammal to have been caused by climate change in our era. Species today are going extinct at an increasing rate — at least hundreds, maybe thousands, of times faster than they have in the past.
The Atlas of a Changing Climate explains the science of the systems that support life in a “relatable and understandable” way, admitting that readers may react with “wonder” or “despair.” It is gorgeously illustrated with maps and diagrams, old and new, that explain the issues.
The Size of the Planet
As far as the eye can see is not very far at all. At an average adult height, standing in an unobstructed area, turning in a circle, we can see about 30 square miles in panorama. But the surface of the globe is 6.5 million times that area. Thus, Buma writes, “it is hard to overstate the difficulties this scale mismatch causes in understanding the world and global climate change; it is a scale wholly disconnected from our individual lives.” This is part of how we end up endorsing the fallacy that “the weather where I am is unseasonably cold, therefore global warming is a hoax.”
For air and water, though, a journey across the globe is easy. Microscopic particles of combusted carbon — air pollution — are swept up in the ocean’s jet streams and deposited thousands of miles away. There, it can cause problems like “the acceleration of glacial melt (because it darkens the snow’s surface),” and, as the poles are no longer white, they will no longer reflect heat away from the planet, which further accelerates global warming. We may have a hard time visualizing the size of the planet, but the parts of the system connect.