[Hari M. Osofsky is an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Law.]
Andrew Guzman’s new book, Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change
, does an excellent job of explaining in an accessible fashion the devastating consequences of climate change for people, especially the world’s poorest people. The focus of this book is on bridging the gap between expert knowledge and popular understanding in order to catalyze needed mitigation. Its great strength is that it does so without minimizing the complexity and intertwined character of the problem. Rather, it shows how the simultaneity of climate change’s impacts and of their interaction with underlying resource scarcity and political tensions will likely have devastating human consequences even in relatively conservative scenarios of these impacts.
Each chapter builds upon the previous one in portraying climate change’s human costs. The introductory chapter likens the problem of climate change to the game of “Kerplunk,” in which one removes sticks holding up marbles and tries to win by minimizing how many marbles fall during one’s turn. The difficulty is that the farther one gets in the game, the harder it is to prevent the marbles from falling and to limit the risks of the removal of each subsequent stick. The book proceeds to show how late we are in our game of “Kerplunk,” outlining the harm that climate change has already done and how that pales in the face of the harm that is very likely to come. After an initial overview of climate change science, chapters focus on the human consequences of impacts: (1) sea-level rise, severe storms, and forced migration of nation-states and populations; (2) current and future water shortages and our lack of capacity to address them adequately; (3) the risks of armed conflict arising from water shortages and other climate change impacts; and (4) the many resulting health consequences, from increases in known diseases to the growing risks of evolving pathogens and global pandemics. The book concludes with a discussion of solutions. It analyzes ways to set a carbon price effectively, and cautions against relying on solutions like geoengineering or waiting for an increased future capacity to address the problem effectively.
The book’s focus on the human face of climate change is an important contribution to the literature because it helps make the case for why we need to act to address the problem. It compiles a wide range of existing information on climate change and puts it together in an engaging way that a reader without a technical or legal background could understand. Each chapter interweaves geopolitics and historical examples with the problem of climate change and how it is likely to worsen. This approach helps the book contextualize its argument, showing how climate change fits within a complex global context.
This book is explicit in its primary focus on describing the human problems rather than on solving them. However, in this review, I would like to continue where the book left off by suggesting two implications of Guzman’s exposition for potential solutions.