Categorized | Climate Change

Book Review: Finding Higher Ground, by Amy Seidl, 2011

Amy Seidl hit a home run with her recent book, Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming.  She not only talks about climate change and adaptation, but also draws helpful parallels with the natural world and how it adapted to various changes current and past.  Without ever losing sight of the science, Seidl manages to bring a down-to-earth message that resonates with the reader on a personal level.

She starts by explaining what she means by the age of warming.  In a succinct and straightforward manner – without jargon or gloom-and-doom – she lays down the facts about a “carbonated atmosphere” and what it can mean in terms of future climate.  She then goes on to describe examples of how plants and animals in nature have changed themselves in response to changes in their environment – how they adapted and eventually developed the traits they needed to survive.  Examples of phenology changes and phenotypic plasticity in plants, of natural selection in action of responses to warmer weather in squirrels, and of co-evolution of insect species and their food plants, all add up to a solid groundwork that leads to her human-oriented musings and stories.

Slowly, she introduces changes – in the environment, the food supply, crop yield limits – that are relevant to humans and are related to climate, and before you know it, she is talking about adaptation and energy savings and how individuals and communities can influence the outcome of global warming – if nothing else by adapting themselves.

In a trip that takes us through permaculture, solar panels, rain barrels, community farming, and wind mills – and let’s not forget the “laundraire”, a laundry airer that her family uses in lieu of a clothes dryer – she eloquently describes the various ways in which each of those strategies can influence or at least help one cope with global warming.  More importantly, she uses them to show that self-reliance can be key to adaptation, even if it is at a small level.  Homesteading, growing one’s own food, CSAs, all lead to an overall feeling of being part of nature and doing one’s share.  She is not naïve though – she does realize that the task at hand is immense and will require sizable changes.  However, people can get started with small steps, small savings and experiments, and should keep going to see how far that will take them.

She concludes with the thought that the use of fossil fuels is morally wrong, and we must seek new sources of energy.  Our industrial -consumer society is behind climate change and global warming; it can also be tapped to solve it.  If culture took us to where we are now, can it also be a selective agent, which could be used to help us adapt to new environmental conditions?  If so, how?  Humans are persistent and can endure through great losses and adapt.  Higher ground means finding ways to adapt, physically or figuratively.  The world we knew will no longer exist, and “solastalgia”, the feeling that your home place does not feel like your own anymore, like when Inuit cannot predict the ice, or farmers cannot count on rain seasons, will be haunting us.  Adaptation will be the basis of human persistence.  We must be allies with the natural world, and global warming may be showing us that – we just need to see it.

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Astrid Caldas is the Climate Change & Wildlife Science Fellow for Defenders of Wildlife. Astrid provides scientific support for Defenders, including providing technical assistance for integrating climate adaptation into programs, doing synthetic research, and publishing papers and reports on climate and wildlife issues.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.