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Losing Earth: A Recent History

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  283 ratings  ·  58 reviews
By 1979, we knew nearly everything we understand today about climate change--including how to stop it. Over the next decade, a handful of scientists, politicians, and strategists, led by two unlikely heroes, risked their careers in a desperate, escalating campaign to convince the world to act before it was too late. Losing Earth is their story, and ours.

The New York Times
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published April 9th 2019 by MCD (first published August 5th 2018)
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4.31  · 
Rating details
 ·  283 ratings  ·  58 reviews

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Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2019, nonfiction
while I'm familiar with the science obviously and the political situation of the recent past, this was a clear-eyed and thorough investigation of the period between roughly 1979 and 1989 when the science was accepted and policies were being considered and we actually could have kept warming below 1.5C and absolutely nobody did anything, as per usual, I'm screaming endlessly into the void

that was the main body of the book, which was very good, but the reason it's getting five stars is the afterw
Michael Hicks
Apr 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
In 1979, scientists learned everything we needed to know about Earth's changing climate and the human factors that have led to it. Not much has changed, scientifically, in the intervening years. Our predictive models have gotten better, and, if anything, we've learned that the original estimates offered by scientists regarding warming trends were too generous.

Nathaniel Rich explores the decade of 1979-1989, when global warming first came into the public purview and scientists and some politicia
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am one behind on my commitment to read 12 science books this year, so I need to catch up.

This is a short book based on a long-form piece from The New York Times Magazine earlier this year, and it captures a brief period of time--20 years or so--when taking on climate change was a possibility. From Carter, through Reagan, and into Bush the First, climate change (then called The Greenhouse Effect) was a widely accepted phenomena in the halls of government and the boardrooms of American corporati
Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, sciences
This book has an amazing quality of presenting what would normally be quite boring(apart from the fact that it's the fate of the planet involved) board meetings in the 80s as these mega cool superman vs batman events. Well written, short and bittersweet.
Apr 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
I need to stop reading Global Warming books because they’re depressing the fuck out of me. But, this is an incredibly important subject and I’d rather be existentially depressed than ignorant.

Anyway, this was a nice political counter to the apolitical Uninhabitable Earth I read recently. While that one focused on the science and the environmental consequences, this focused on the political machinations that will be our undoing. It took us back to the beginning of the climate crisis, when the oz
May 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: environment
This may be the best book I've read yet on climate change, which is odd since most of the narrative is set around the time period of 1979 through 1989 when several individuals on Capital Hill began to understand the repercussions of a warming world. But that's the point of the book - nothing since then has really changed regarding the science of what a warming world looks like, but there had been initial progress on doing something that unfortunately morphed into the "do-nothingism" that the Ame ...more
Linda Higgins
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book that everyone should read. We definitely need a call to action on climate change. This book will leave you with little doubt. Sadly, we have know about climate change since the 1970's and we have done little about it. Our government, the scientific community and the fossil fuel industry have failed us. As Nathaniel Rich states, this is a humane and moral issue, not a political or economic one. To make it a political or economic issue fails the real price, that of humanity.
May 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The New York Times reported scientists claiming that the earth was warming in 1953 (66 years ago.) In 1979, scientists, industrialists, and politicians knew pretty much what we know now about climate change. Generations have been screwing their descendants over and over. The haves have benefitted from the use of fossil fuel to the detriment of the poor who are dispropotinately harmed by floods and droughts. Mike Pompeo recently said that the Arctic ice melt is good because it makes it easier to ...more
May 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A quick but eminently readable summary of the last 40 years of climate change debate, which basically led to absolutely nothing being done. The last part relieves no one of any guilt. I think we’re too far into it to really change anything, and the future is a little more than scary.
Apr 17, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bettie, Wanda
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the week:
Nathaniel Rich tells the story of how climate change could have been stopped in the 1980s and why it wasn't.

In 1979, the science of climate change was known – what was happening, why it was happening, and how to stop it. In the US, over the next decade a variety of activists, scientists and politicians worked tirelessly to safeguard the environment but despite their efforts they couldn't. Losing Earth is American novelist Nathaniel Rich’s account of the decade
Bonnye Reed
Losing Earth is a precise, concise study of the last forty years of waffling over and denial of important environmental truths that we as Americans have simply refused to look at, or to do anything about. Global warming is not a simple problem, but it is one that could be addressed and handled in a timely manner if cooler heads prevailed in government. That was at least true forty years ago. We are fast approaching that point of no return. Do we really want to watch humans disappear from the Ear ...more
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exceptional read and photographs in 5 August 2018 NYT Magazine
Editor’s Note by Jake Silverstein
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 ba
Jeffrey A Grenz
May 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Summary of Thoughts

There is and has been and continues to be a decades long literary and journalistic hand-wringing narrative regarding the environmental damage wrought by humankind upon the Earth. While this is narrative is true as far as it goes, I believe it emphasizes the wrong criteria for concern.

What is seldom mentioned, let alone absorbed as the one true cause for human activity related climate change is simply overpopulation. Any species (but I will limit my analysis to Sapiens) that be
Richard Thompson
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
From the Goodreads review:

By 1979, we knew nearly everything we understand today about climate change--including how to stop it. Over the next decade, a handful of scientists, politicians, and strategists, led by two unlikely heroes, risked their careers in a desperate, escalating campaign to convince the world to act before it was too late. Losing Earth is their story, and ours.

The New York Times Magazine devoted an entire issue to Nathaniel Rich's groundbreaking chronicle of that decade, which
Susan Paxton
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you take one thing from this short but powerful book (expanded from an issue-length article Rich wrote for The New York Times Magazine), it's this quote:

"More carbon has been released into the atmosphere since November 7, 1989, the final day of the Noordwijk conference, than in the entire history of civilization preceding it."

In the 1980s we had a real chance to stop climate change. Rich tells you how the science came together and how one man - Bush I advisor John Sununu - played the prime ro
Hugh Atkins
May 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a good, quick read to get a history of climate change and how the United States has avoided dealing with this fast-moving disaster. If you are looking for hope that the U.S. can decide to change its approach and lead the world in reversing the rapidly rising temperature of the Earth, you won't find it here. Rich does an excellent job of breaking down the issue in layman's terms and getting down to the basics. Unfortunately, much of the book is filled with the history of those who have ig ...more
Apr 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is a quick summary of the "golden era" of climate change acceptance from the late 70s to the late 80s. One in which popular presses were reporting on well-established and continuously solidifying science. It outlines the principal players within and external to the US government, how they were interpreting the climate science, and how they were using that to raise public awareness and try to compel the government into action. And then, of course, the carpet is torn out from under every ...more
Well, that was depressing.

"Nearly every conversation that we have in 2019 about climate change was being held in 1979."

Pretty much everything we know now, we knew back then. No major scientific shifts have occurred in the last 40 years when it comes to climate change. Pretty much everything we knew then still stands. And pretty much nothing has been done about it.

The book is an account of the period 79-89 and the (American) politics that at that time seemed to working towards real solutions. It
Jason R. Gross
May 22, 2019 rated it liked it
It's not a great book it's ok read. I grew up in the 1980's and I knew about climate change and the greenhouse effect. I also knew just like tobacco companies back in the 1940's that smoking causes cancer, and just like carbon dioxide emissions cause the greenhouse effect in the 1950' s that companies like Exxon, GM knew and did nothing about climate change because it would hurt the bottom line which is making money. I blame the politicians most for doing nothing about climate change, I also mos ...more
Brian Cooper
Apr 12, 2019 rated it did not like it
I cannot believe this book! First we had Global Warming , then all of a sudden we have Climate Change after a bunch of scientist's get caught making up numbers to fit the decision's that Humans are the only cause & cure for (Warming/Change). The earth is a living system, yes we have to take care of it but we are not the only cause nor the only cure! Climate Change is a misnomer after all. The climate does change how else can you describe moving from a warm temperate climate to an Ice Age &am ...more
Peter O'Kelly
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Related resources to consider:




The last resource referenced above is a 30,000+ word New York Times Magazine article from August 2018 that was expanded into the boo
Excellent history of a confusing, ultimately disappointing period around the dawn of public awareness of climate change and its potential effects. There has been neither scientific nor political breakthrough in climate change since the late 1970s, only the infusion of more money on both sides. The science is more refined, evolved to the point of attribution, but still ineffectual at solutions. The politics... are exactly the same. The IPCC, active for more than 35 years now, has served as little ...more
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: climate-change
Critical recent historical context to understand failure to act on climate change

An easy read, engrossing. You won't be able to out it down. As a 36 year old, I was a child during most of the decade this book covers. It's fascinating to understand what happened. I know the names of the major players but not the parts they played in climate politics. I had no idea we had come so close to a global binding climate treaty in my youth. I had no idea that climate change was not a partisan issue in the
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
5 stars! The story of how 40 years ago the scientific community came to the conclusion that man’s use of fossil fuels and chemicals was changing the world’s climate. Then, decades of work to inform policy resulted in organized resistance by commercial interests, political reluctance to act, and only limited achievements which recognize the urgent need for wholesale government and international efforts to move to renewable energy sources, to limit harmful emissions, and to change our culture of e ...more
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a great review of the years leading up to today and what was done, or not done about global warming. This is a list of missed opportunities and failures by governments especially conservatives who refused to take the problem seriously, and many are still behaving irresponsible at this time. Very appropriate is the bible passage at the beginning of the book from Proverbs chapter 1, which talks about people "hating knowledge, " and presents it as the opposite of wisdom and a precursor to d ...more
May 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very depressing, but very interesting glimpse into climate change activism of the late 1970s and 1980s. This is very much an American focused book, with some mention of other nations, much of which was quite surprising. For example I don't think I ever believed I would be proud to read something about Thatcher, but evidently she used her Chemistry background to good effect.
This is divided into short chapters each covering a specific moment when things could have changed. This makes it easy to
Jeff Homick
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A brilliantly researched history, and now one of my all-time favorite books.

Rich's afterword frames a refreshingly compelling argument to approach climate change as the quintessential moral crisis of our time.

"The first argument," he writes, "is to speak about the problem honestly: as a struggle for survival. This is the antithesis of the denialist approach. Once the stakes are clearly defined, the moral imperative is inescapable."
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is an expanded version of a long piece which appeared in the New York Times. It is a little-told story of what might have been, when those in positions of power and influence should have been able to act to prevent much of what has occurred since then. In the late 70s and early 80s, scientists already knew of the incredible dangers of climate change, and they knew that doing nothing would be potentially catastrophic. We came close, and that is this book’s story.
Ed Marshall
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic narrative of the events surrounding the climate change politics of the late 1970s through the 1980s, told from the perspectives of the people most involved. This was a great chaser to "The Uninhabitable Earth"; much less a "everything is terrible" slog and more of a dramatized telling of history.

Same outcome, of course: we're still screwed.
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Nathaniel Rich is an American novelist and essayist. He is the author of two novels, Odds Against Tomorrow (FSG, 2013), and The Mayor's Tongue (Riverhead, 2008), as well as a nonfiction book about film noir, San Francisco Noir (The Little Bookroom, 2005). His criticism and journalism appear regularly in The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, and The New York Review of Books.