Friday, April 22, 2011

Gaia Warriors

By Nicola Davies
Afterword by James Lovelock
$14.99, ages 11-14, 192 pages

Earth's climate is changing fast, but don't be gloomy about it because the fight is on to slow it down and all you have to do is join in, says author Davies in her guide.

Inspired by scientist James Lovelock's theory that Earth is a living system, the guide is a no-nonsense look at how and why the climate is changing, and what readers can do to keep it from getting warmer.

Is the problem big? Davies asks. "Yes. Scary? Maybe. But let's do it anyway." Why? Because we have to, she says.

Davies calls on kids to be warriors for change, and begins and ends the book with quotes that drive home the idea that only people can make the changes happen and if they're to succeed, they can't get bogged down by doubts.

Spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi once said, "We must be the change we want to see in the world," she writes, while South Africa's first democratically elected president Nelson Mandela championed perseverance: "It always seems impossible until it's done."

"It won't be a picnic," she writes. "…But if we cut our emissions, we stand a chance of keeping civilization together and holding on to some of our most important ecosystems, like the Amazon rain forest."

"If we don't, we risk taking all the fun there is right out of the world."

A zoologist and author of the award-winning Extreme Animals, Davies doesn't try to coax readers to care. In fact, she's even a little brusque: "We can carry on as usual or fry," she concludes in her introduction.

Yet, it's refreshing to know that she says what she thinks and holds nothing back.

She even confides that as she began the guide, she was in a funk about the future, just like many of the people she's hoping to reach. "I didn't think I, or anyone else, could make a difference," she wrote. But as she researched what's being done to save Earth and met activists, she became excited and hopeful.

"…I've started to hear a sound, sometimes like a distant rumble of thunder, sometimes like a raindrop close to my ear. It's the sound of people changing. It's there in all the conversations I had with the people in this book," she writes. "…It could be the sound of our species finally growing up."

Davies starts off with the basics -- what is climate change, how we know it's occurring, how today's climate change is different than climate changes in the past -- and even takes on the biggest bugaboos:

One chapter is titled, "What if scientists made a mistake and we've wasted money preparing for something that never happens?" and another is, "It's All Too Big and Scary, and There's Nothing I Can Do About it!" 

Davies is convinced that many people are frustrated about global warming because they don't understand how a life form as small as a human being can affect something as vast as the whole atmosphere.

She believes, if those same people looked at the world as the first moonwalkers did forty years ago, from far away, they'd be able to appreciate how vulnerable the planet really is and appreciate that there are billions of humans just like them putting it in peril.

"From the moon, the earth looks small enough to hold in your hand, a beautiful blue-and-white globe floating in the dead blackness. The atmosphere isn't vast and huge now; in fact, it's barely visible, just a wisp of blue, as thin as a layer of plastic wrap. Looking at the atmosphere like that, as a see-through veil that's almost not there at all, it's easier to understand how fragile it is and how it might be damaged by what humans do."

Then she asks readers to imagine they're back on Earth, and tells them to stretch out their arms and picture a column of air as wide as a picnic table resting on their arms and rising seventy miles above them. It seems weightless because it's pressing on them equally from all directions, she writes, but it actually weighs 20 tons.

"Which is just a little bit less than the weight of the CO2 and other greenhouse gasses that you -- and all you do, eat and buy -- put into the atmosphere every year: 27 tons," she adds. "…Now scale it up, and imagine everybody in your family, then your school, then your town, each with their own columns of greenhouse gases above them. Tons and tons and tons of it, all going into the fragile, wispy atmosphere."

Though it adds up fast, every one of those people have control over the size of their own column, and reducing it isn't hard, she says. Every time people turn down the heater or unplug the TV, their column shrinks. "And you can shrink other columns too -- just tell people about their columns and how to shrink them. …You have a lot more power than you think."

"Yes, it's a real drag that we should be alive at just the time when everything is starting to go wrong and yes, it is scary, but sticking our fingers in our ears and saying, 'La-di-da, it's not happening!" isn't going to help," she concludes. "Neither is going around being gloomy and telling everyone you meet, "We're doomed, all doomed."

"Climate change is happening, but we're not doomed. We can't stop it, but we could slow it down and we could prepare for its effects."

Then, Davies shares interviews with real-life Gaia warriors and provides ways for readers to get aboard the cause and be a warrior too: from biking to school, eating foods in season (so they don't have to be trucked in or grown in heated greenhouses) and washing clothes in cold water to joining a Students on Ice expedition to the Arctic and Antarctic.

"Be a sponge," advises Emma Biermann, co-founder of the environmental network U.K. Youth Climate Coalition. "Read, watch, listen -- soak up anything that makes you angry, passionate, and fired up for action." Then, she adds, "do what you're good at," use the skills you have and have fun. "You'll get through to people better if you work with friends and enjoy your campaigning."

Two viral movements, Greenfinger and Footprint, take that idea to heart. They not only encourage kids to voice their concerns to world leaders, but to express themselves in quirky, creative ways. Kids who visit Greenfinger can upload pictures of their fingers painted green, while those at a Footprint can share pictures of their feet painted to symbolize the footprint they want to leave on the planet.

Saving the planet "isn't going to be easy," Davies tells readers, "but it isn't going to be boring, either. In fact, we might all be about to participate in the most exciting period in human history. Forget Xbox and Wiis, orcs, Sauron and Voldemort: this is the REAL battle, the battle to save ourselves and our planet" -- a battle that relies on "ideas, energy and determination."

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