This article is adapted from Mark Hertsgaard’s HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, published in January by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my daughter was born at a momentous turning point in history. She arrived on a sunny San Francisco afternoon in April 2005. All the nurses kept remarking on how alert this baby was, so her mother and I decided to name her Chiara, which means "clear and bright" in Italian.
I had been covering the climate story for fifteen years by then, and when Chiara was almost six months old, I went to London to interview Sir David King, then the British government’s chief science adviser. The interview changed my life. King, who had done as much as anyone except Al Gore to awaken the world to the dangers of climate change, helped me understand that the climate problem had undergone a profound, largely unexpected paradigm shift that carried the gravest of implications for little Chiara and all the world’s children. No longer was climate change a preventable future threat; it was now a punishing current reality, one that was guaranteed to get worse, perhaps a lot worse, before it got better.
My interview with King led me to write HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, which has just been published. My hope was to find a way for my daughter and her peers around the world to cope with all that lies in store for them. After four years of investigation that took me across the United States and around the world, I’m heartened to report that there are many practical steps we all can take—as individuals, as communities, as countries—to protect our societies and our young people from the changes in our climate that are unavoidable over the coming decades.
Still, I am saddened and angry that we find ourselves in this position in the first place. After all, humanity’s failure to take action in time against global warming was a conscious decision, a result of countless official debates where the case for reducing greenhouse gas emissions was exhaustively considered and deliberately rejected. Much of the blame for this unfortunate outcome belongs to people I have come to refer to as climate cranks—the corporate lobbyists and right-wing ideologues who for twenty years have done all in their power to keep this country, especially the government, from seriously addressing the problem.
In my journalism I have frequently pointed out the nefarious role the climate cranks have played in our national politics, but I confess I have often wondered how much good this did. I revere the profession of journalism and have long believed that it is best kept separate from activism; each of these callings has its own role to play in the endless struggle to make a better world. But I am not only a journalist. I am also a father. And as a father who during all of my now 5-year-old daughter’s life has been watching governments, especially my own, do next to nothing about the climate catastrophe hurtling toward us, I have come to feel obligated to reach beyond the tools of journalism, vital as they are. Like my colleagues Bill McKibben and Mike Tidwell, two journalists and fathers who have also come to embrace climate activism, I now feel compelled to take more direct action. If Chiara and her peers around the world are to have a decent chance of inheriting a livable planet, the status quo cannot stand. We need transformative change, above all in Washington, and we need it quickly.