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The message from National Geographic: "Cool it."

Posted by Barbara Gottlieb on November 17, 2015

"Cool it." That's the message on the front cover of November's National Geographic. Superimposed over an image of the Earth, its implication is clear: We have to address climate change now.

The entire issue is devoted to climate change. Nine articles address everything from Germany's renewable energy revolution, to a quick survey of animal species which will suffer in climate change. Here are a few key thoughts I took from the magazine's intriguing articles:

  • Rapid turnover from fossil fuels to renewables is possible. Germany has done just that over the past few decades – and last year generated over a quarter of its energy from wind and solar power. The Germans are in the process of closing all their nuclear reactors too, and according to the article, "renewables have more than picked up the slack." What has fueled this tremendous growth, especially in rooftop solar, has been citizen action, including creation of a highly favorable feed-in tariff. However, conventional utilities have not kept up with the energy transition – and they are pressuring Germany's government to slow the pace.
  • What does it mean when cultures die? People on Pacific island nations like Kiribati, and the dwellers on Greenland's Arctic west coast, face different climate impacts -- rising sea level in the first case, loss of Arctic ice in the second – but similar challenges to traditional ways of life. Two articles pose tough questions: Should people cling to places that are threatened by climate change? And what is lost when people have to abandon their homes, traditions and identity?
  • Some animal species will adapt to climate change. Others, not so much. Want a quick preview? Among those most threatened are specialized species whose climate needs are highly specific, and those needing ice to survive. Those that will thrive? Think kangaroo rats and ticks. Sorry.
  • It's time to "manage our changed reality." Large, detailed infographics summarize a series of threats – warming water, changes in crop yields, high heat, "wild weather," and health risks. In some cases, they suggest that protective steps can blunt the impact of the changes. For example, access to clean water and sanitation systems, and greater penetration of vaccinations and health care for children, are suggested to mitigate the risks to health. Indeed. These steps improve health with or without climate change. But the article fails to address other aspects of today's reality: the need for funding to make the necessary large-scale changes, and the need for political will.

All in all, the November issue provides a measured view, with some grounds for optimism and plenty of grounds for concern. If you haven't seen yet, you might want to. Share it with friends. Give it to folks who still question climate change – National Geo is not some liberal mouthpiece, so it may prove an acceptable source to doubters and deniers.

Most of all, read it yourself, ponder its stories, and decide what action you will take to push back and prevent the worst of climate change.

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