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.

Dr. Lenart is an award-winning journalist, environmental scientist, teacher, and researcher for the University of Arizona. (2010, inside back cover) She has conducted extensive research in the areas of forestry, forest policy, hurricanes, and climate in China, Colorado, and Puerto Rico to determine how plants respond to elevations in carbon dioxide, which is the basic component of greenhouse gasses and global warming. While conducting this specialized research Dr. Lenart was able to piece together how soil and tree ring analysis can help date logs and their decay. She has also been instrumental in researching the affects of forest fires and climate change. Currently she resides in Tucson, Arizona.

I believe the timing of the writings in this book are critical to conversations taking place around the globe on the topic of global warming and what we can do about it. Dr. Lenart states that “The U.S. West has been warming faster than the continent as a whole….1 degree a decade, on average, since the mid-1970’s.” (2010, p.4) As further evidence of this scenario she [Dr. Lenart] uses research from wildfires stating that the number of wildfires has risen “…sixfold in the years after 1985 compared to the previous fifteen years.”  (p.5) Taken in context these number and incidents should be alarming and would represent solid reasoning based on timely and credible research as to why we need to act globally to lessen the effects of climate change sooner rather than later.

Because I live in Florida I especially found Dr. Lenart’s research on hurricanes of interest. Dr. Lenart says that “Hurricanes have a regulatory reason to exist when it comes to planetary cooling, both physical and biological reasons.” (2010, p.12) Hurricanes act as a cooling component to the tropical heat by changing the rising heat into energy in the form of wind, ocean currents, and rain. According to Dr. Lenart and others, hurricanes form in waters in excess of eighty degrees. Where there are deeper pockets of warmer water this combustion of energy acts much as a fuel injector in ones automobile. “The deeper the warmth penetrates, the more potential it has to rev up hurricanes.” (p.13) A typical hurricane can influence waters as deep as three hundred feet, and in some instances as deep as one thousand feet.  This churning motion associated with hurricanes can cool the waters after a hurricane has past for nearly a week. Potentially this cooling during active hurricane seasons can help thwart the formation of other hurricanes and the disasters that occur in their wake. Dr. Lenart points to research conducted by Peter Webster of Georgia Institute of Technology’s findings on hurricanes where he states that in the fifteen years preceeding 2004 there were 269 powerful hurricanes and that number of storms was a dramatic increase from the fifteen years prior to that. (p.22) Dr. Lenart does not only take her stance on climate change as positive proof of its existence, but she also points out what the critics of global warming say in response to these upticks in hurricane activity, terming it “….natural variability of the ocean currents….”.  (p.23) She does not dismiss these naysayers entirely, but adds key research to combat that line of logic. Furthermore, Dr. Lenart juxtaposes that “…hurricanes could help restore balance once we have our fossil fuel habit in check.” (p.37)

Hurricanes are not the only component that Dr. Lenart researched and wrote about in this book. She also talks about volcanic activity and ash that can block rays of sunlight from reaching the earth’s surface making things cooler at the surface of the sea, but warmer elsewhere. (2010, p.25) For translation of how this creates a warmer earth Dr. Lenart uses research from a number of other credible scientists who’s research on earth core and soil samples has spanned thousands of years into our history and across various locales. Results and findings, especially in the areas of decay or preservation, have been consistent with other hothouse periods in our earth’s history making the seriousness of this issue hard to dispute.

Some level of greenhouse gas is necessary to keep the earth temperate enough for human, animal, and plant life to exist. (2010, p.53) Greenhouse gasses stay in our atmosphere for decades. (p.57) Clouds, trees, plants, snow, ice, and water also act to trap or radiate heat from the sun. Rising levels of carbon dioxide can melt ice sheets in our poles and raise the level of seas around the globe. It is just a matter of how fast and how high these things are changing due to increases in our levels of carbon dioxide. (p.63) Changes in ice and snow patterns, and earlier warmer temps, over the more recent years have been positively linked to the increases in wildfires and increase in moisture coming back to the earth in the form of floods, hurricanes, etc.., making this an endless circle of devastation that we desperately need to get a handle on. (p.79) Understanding the complexity of all things that can influence climate change and what we can do about it is not an easy process or prospect for the lay person. The opposite side of this environmental coin is that plants and trees grow faster in environments where there is more carbon dioxide, from a warmer planet, than otherwise and these increases in growth, in turn, help feed our people and collect up more greenhouse gasses lessening the effects of global warming. (p.96)

I found the topics covered in this book compelling to read. It was a learning progression that I truly enjoyed. While I believe the target audience for this particular book is more doctoral level persons or persons affiliated with the science of global climate phenomena I think there is something contained therein that all can learn from.  I highly recommend it as a text for any academic programs closely aligned with this subject. Thank you Dr. Lenart for a very well written and researched read that is certain to keep the dialogue of climate change open and growing around the world.

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