Author: Melanie Lenart
Publisher: The University of Arizona Press
ISBN: 978-0-8165-2723-6.

Click Here To Purchase Life in the Hothouse: How a Living Planet Survives Climate Change

Award-winning ex-journalist turned academic, Melanie Lenart sets out in Life in the Hothouse to see what lessons from the past, including from the two especially hot periods of the Cretaceous and the Eocene, can teach us about our present-day situation and about how we can prepare ourselves for our future on what promises to become an increasingly hot planet. Her intention is to show how we can work with the planet to limit some of the potentially disastrous impacts of global warming. Though she is convinced that life on Earth will survive, no matter what humans do to it, Lenart’s key concern is that many species and individuals might not.

True to her previous role as an investigative reporter, Lenart relates personal experiences of those affected by natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina. She includes quotes from interviews conducted with leading experts in the field, as well as excerpts from relevant e-mail exchanges. Her skill in expressing the most scientific and complex phenomena enables her to convey her message so clearly that even someone with only a very basic knowledge of how the planet functions will be able to understand what she has to say. No surprise, then, that Lenart also teaches environmental writing at the University of Arizona (check out her webpage on their site, which contains details of her schedule), as well as conducts workshops in her field. 

In this comprehensive and entertaining text, Lenart helps to bring contemporary thinking in America in line with the age-old thinking of the Native American people, citing many of the latter’s strongest voices. She shows her humane side as a scientist by revealing anecdotes of how her own life has been affected by climate change, whether it has meant cowering under an overturned couch during a hurricane or sweating profusely on an unexpectedly muggy July day.

Though she refers to leading bodies that are concerned with monitoring climate change, such as to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), she does not overwhelm one with countless names. After all, this is not an academic treatise, but rather a text that sets out to explore the implications of global warming for the average person. In straightforward, jargon-free prose, Lenart simply and objectively tells of life-threatening climate changes, such as that of rising winter temperatures in Alaska, which is leading to the need to relocate entire river-side towns.

By assuming that the average reader has sufficient intelligence to be able to understand the implications of what she has to say, Lenart establishes a certain rapport with her audience, which makes her arguments all the more convincing. She contextualizes the writings and work of those researchers to whom she refers, citing many popular articles than can be found in such magazines as Science and the New Scientist, which are widely available. Those who find that they wish to read further on the topics that she covers can, therefore, easily do so.

Life in the Hothouse does have some failings. The chapters could have been better signposted with subheadings, replacing the curlicues that currently are used between the subsections of each chapter. The text might appear daunting, as it contains no illustrations, which are always a powerful way of communicating any message, but specifically one that is scientific in nature. (Witness, for example, the transformation of the once print-dense National Geographic magazine over the years into a medium that is currently dominated by illustrations. In an age in which sound bites have become the desired mode of communication, it would be wise to follow their venerable example.)

I also found the index not to be as comprehensive as it should be. For example, it omits any reference to the Tribal Lands and Climate conferences and to the MIT, as well as to some of the researchers whose research is briefly described in the body of the text.

However, overall this work is highly relevant, especially given the chaos that can occur due to the onset of unanticipated and unprecedented climate-related events. Witness the five-day grounding of all air traffic throughout Europe that occurred in April 2010, due to the clouds of volcanic ash spewing from a volcano that erupted under one of Iceland’s larger glaciers. The publication of Life in the Hothouse could not have been timelier.

 Click Here To Purchase Life in the Hothouse: How a Living Planet Survives Climate Change