Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change

Read the full story in the New York Times.

This narrative by Nathaniel Rich is a work of history, addressing the 10-year period from 1979 to 1989: the decisive decade when humankind first came to a broad understanding of the causes and dangers of climate change. Complementing the text is a series of aerial photographs and videos, all shot over the past year by George Steinmetz. With support from the Pulitzer Center, this two-part article is based on 18 months of reporting and well over a hundred interviews. It tracks the efforts of a small group of American scientists, activists and politicians to raise the alarm and stave off catastrophe. It will come as a revelation to many readers — an agonizing revelation — to understand how thoroughly they grasped the problem and how close they came to solving it.

See also The Atlantic’s The Problem With The New York Times’ Big Story on Climate Change.

Rich’s piece makes for vivid history. It alludes to plenty of real changes: the fracturing of a unified political elite, the breakdown of the alliance between high science and the national-security state. But it’s tempting, when revisiting the past, to assume that everything was better then. The history of just about every major American political issue is contested; it’s not surprising that climate change should be the same. But any sensible narrative of climate politics has to start and finish with the idea that opposition to climate policy grew in parallel with the scientific case for action. Telling the wrong story makes the case for action look easier than it is.

 

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