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Losing Earth: A Recent History

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  1,438 ratings  ·  249 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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 ·  1,438 ratings  ·  249 reviews

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Sean Barrs
Climate change is not a new phenomenon. We have known for decades that it’s happening. And to put it quite simply, we have not done enough about it.

Considering the scope of what we face, we have done absolutely nothing to prevent it.

As the years have passed, the problem has got progressively worse. We burn more fossil fuels and we cut down more of the rain-forest to accommodate our ever growing and longer living population. We live in the now, engaging in the same circular petty politics that o
"It is not yet widely understood, though it will be, that the politician who claims that climate change is uncertain betrays humanity [sic]. It is not yet widely understood, though it will be, that when a government relaxes regulations on coal-fired plants or erases scientific data from a federal website, it is guilty of more than merely bowing to corporate interests; it commits crimes against humanity."

Losing Earth is a stunning book to read in the middle of 2020. Not stunning as in
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, read-2019
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
May 22, 2020 rated it did not like it
Before I start my review let me say this. This book is very easy to read and does a great job at showing that the whole World has had it's head stuck up its ass regarding global warming and to an extent, we still do. I believe in global warming, environmentalism, and the Republican Party purposefully spouting lies in order to confuse the American People.


I am a librarian and as a librarian I absolutely require authors to include sources, bibliographies, and PROOF to back up what they are
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
Jan 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Enlightening but depressing. We knew everything we needed to know in 1988 to make the decision to start taking action to avert the global warming catastrophe, but oil companies banded together to block action and support Republicans who did their bidding to oppose action. So now we will get at least 3 degrees C warming when it might have been held to 1.5C, which, in terms of ultimate effects is a huge difference. I voted for Reagan, in ignorance of his anti-environmentalism. I vowed after 2000 n ...more
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars-- If you need a historical non-fiction read to reinforce your bitterness against the boomers, this is it :D. A little lacking as a book in terms of the narrative drive, but the history it recounts is incredibly important & will be an important story to remember as our planet faces the challenges ahead ...more
The truth is:
Humans are selfish
Humans are stupid
Humans are ignorant
101st book for 2019.

Covering a period roughly between 1979 and 1989, Nathaniel Rich's book chronicles the rise of the political awareness of the dangers of global warming and early attempts to create legislation to fix the problem. What's really stands about from this book is that all the basic facts and arguments about global warming were already present by the mid-1980s.

Definitely worth a read.

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
Feb 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is an explicit account of the extent of human selfishness and stupidity. Learning about our history should give us an incentive to avoid the mistakes we have repeatedly made in the past: that of denying the bleak future that all of humanity is clearly facing. We need to stop with our self-delusions, stop worshipping politicians and act now before it’s too late. A decade has already been squandered. Let us not ruin another one.
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
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
Aug 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
simultaneously one of the most enthralling and TOTALLY FRUSTRATING books i have ever read. made me both hopeful and completely and utterly enraged at the world at the same time. the fact that we had all the knowledge to deal with our climate crisis back in the 1980s only to be brought down by fewer naysayers than can be counted on one hand is, in a word, horrifiying. have times changed? hard to say. i just hope that we don't keep going round in circles for another 40 years.

this book should be a
Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sciences, politics
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.
Austin Hahn
One of the most hopeless and also hopeful books I've read in a long time. The conclusion is worth reading on its own, on the imperative of reframing climate change as a moral issue to stop the end of civilization, not just a political issue to be solved.
Sep 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: environment
Summary: An account of the lost opportunity of the 1980's to address climate change and the birth of the polarized dialogue that exists to this day.

Did you know that much of the scientific understanding of the greenhouse effect and global warming traces back to the nineteenth century? That in the 1950's and throughout the Sixties and Seventies, scientists were already warning of global warming and contending that warming connected with higher carbon dioxide levels was already evident? Did you kn
May 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
Not much longer than a feature length New Yorker article, this is a must read both for its recent history of the science and politics of climate change, and because it lays what's at stake right on the line. Today's adults will face difficulties, our children will see real hardship, their children will fight for survival in a devastated world. Our current path into the future will take us to extreme ugliness - need, war, disaster, collapse. Perhaps Greta Thunberg (not mentioned in the book) and ...more
Varsha Ravi (between.bookends)

Losing Earth is a clear-eyed, timely, and incredibly well-researched piece of investigative journalism focussing on the decade roughly between 1979-1989 when efforts to effectively counteract climate change could have been done. But instead, the backlash from corrupt politicians, hugely influential oil and gas industries, all played the devil's advocate, leaving us in the dire circumstances we've found ourselves in today. The only criticism I have of this book is that it does get a little
L.G. Cullens
May 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
With all the propaganda and distractions, do you really know what humanity is up against and how we got to this reckoning of human existence?

This book tells it as well as most any I've read, at least the more recent history.

Not a lively read, but an important one if you value your future.
Dec 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Short and impactful. Should be mandatory reading.
Eric Shapiro
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
5/5. I'm blown away by this achievement, even though this book's brevity constrains it from being a "textbook" or all-inclusive account of humanity's relationship to climate change and our (in)action with respect to it. Nathaniel Rich provides an insightful and fascinating account into the origins of climate science and the attempts of several scientists and policy-makers, as early as the 1960s, to create a worldwide treaty, or to get any political leader to give a shit, to curb carbon emissions ...more
Richard S
Aug 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
It's amazing to think, as the world is sent barreling along like an out-of-speed locomotive to environmental catastrophe, that there have been moments when the political power existed to actually accomplish something - Bush in 1992, Obama in 2012, presidents with the desire and ability to enact change - but nothing happened. Now Trump actually jokes about it in his Twitter feed every time there's a cold day, an astonishing level of ignorance, and one that gives no chance or hope - even a glimmer ...more
Feb 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: eco
The most common takeaway from Nathaniel Rich's Losing Earth: A Recent History seems to be that the USA could have addressed climate change in the 1980s. But it didn't. That common takeaway is fine, but today we should highlight this conclusion after reading Losing Earth:
Nearly every conversation we have in 2019 about climate change was being held in 1979. That includes not only the predictions about degrees of warming, sea level rise, and geopolitical strife but also the speculations about geo-
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
Nathanial Rich also writes fiction and it makes his non-fiction very easy to read. This entire book reads like a long-form journalism article in The Atlantic and is a clear history of what happened in USian politics between 1979-1989 in relation to climate change. The book is enraging, depressing, and has a focus on the USA that isn't always helpful.

First fact: There have been no major findings in climate science since 1979.

Rich indicates that, as a society, we can allow ourselves to understand
Muneeb Hameed
Aug 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'm moved.

"Nearly every conversation that we have in 2019 about climate change was being held in 1979. That includes not only the predictions about degrees of warming, sea level rise, and geopolitical strife but also the speculations about geo-engineering technology, the appeals to help developing nations overcome starvation and disease without relying, as we did, on massive increases in coal consumption, and the cost-benefit analyses that always seem to favor inaction. Forty years ago, the poli
Feb 19, 2020 added it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
My earliest, possibly apocryphal, memory of hearing about climate changes is when I was in elementary school (homeschooling, that is) and my mom tore the page out of the workbook and said I didn't need to learn about that garbage.

So even when I think of climate change, there's always that voice of denialism at the back of my mind. The idea that it isn't a settled thing is attractive, very "both sides have points" kind of thing.

I didn't know that limiting emissions was part of Bush Sr.'s candidac
May 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Humankind is inevitably doomed to suffer. Thank you, Nathaniel Rich, for illustrating our collective unwillingness to avert the encroaching chaos to come with such a succinct accounting of the heroes of science and the villains of denialism & disinformation in this existential crisis in which we are all complicit and therefore guilty. Of course a warming world won’t affect everyone equally. Ajay Singh Chaudhary typed up a nice essay for The Baffler in April (2020), explaining how the global poor ...more
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
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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.

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