Tales from an Un­cer­tain World

What Other As­sorted Dis­as­ters Can Teach Us About Cli­mate Change

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews -

L. S. Gar­diner, Univer­sity of Iowa Press (MARCH) Soft­cover $19.95 (170pp), 978-1-60938-553-8

Tales from an Un­cer­tain World by ge­ol­o­gist and sci­ence ed­u­ca­tor L. S. Gar­diner de­tails var­i­ous nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, laced through with sci­en­tific ex­pla­na­tions, el­e­ments of a me­moir, and art­ful prose. It thought­fully, some­times med­i­ta­tively, ex­am­ines hu­man re­sponses to cat­a­strophic events from earth­quakes to vol­canic ex­plo­sions, as well as dif­fer­ing per­cep­tions of na­ture, risk, and how the world works. Gar­diner’s lively and fresh ob­ser­va­tions de­tail the ac­tions nec­es­sary to head off the im­pend­ing dis­as­ter of cli­mate change, show­ing why for­ward move­ment has been so slug­gish.

Gar­diner cov­ers a lot of dis­ci­plines, from be­hav­ioral psy­chol­ogy to chaos the­ory, neatly ex­plain­ing each in terms that are eas­ily un­der­stood. She re­in­forces her ideas with real-life ex­am­ples from around the globe, and from var­i­ous his­toric and pre­his­toric eras. She ex­plores on­go­ing and con­tem­po­rary nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, in­clud­ing the 2013 flash floods in Boul­der, Colorado; Cape Cod beach ero­sion; and the deadly erup­tion of Ve­su­vius in 79 CE.

Gar­diner’s thought­ful in­quiry is some­times play­ful, too; an ex­tended anal­ogy finds her con­sult­ing a Magic 8 Ball in a dis­cus­sion of how sci­en­tists com­mu­ni­cate with the pub­lic. The ob­ser­va­tion that peo­ple need to have a per­sonal con­nec­tion to the nat­u­ral world in or­der to fully com­pre­hend global warm­ing is re­in­forced by chap­ters about the ef­fec­tive ac­tions of scuba divers who vol­un­tar­ily fight in­va­sive marine species, and about the im­por­tant role of zoos, mu­se­ums, and aquar­i­ums in en­gag­ing the pub­lic. Fresh in­sights about sci­en­tific lit­er­acy and gen­er­a­tional shifts from techno-op­ti­mism to dystopian views of the fu­ture also cover new ground.

Gar­diner is not an alarmist. While re­lay­ing con­cern that in­ter­na­tional, gov­ern­men­tal, and cor­po­rate ac­tors need to do more—and quickly!—to pre­vent cat­a­strophic cli­mate change, she ends the book on an op­ti­mistic note, with con­crete ideas for mean­ing­ful in­di­vid­ual ac­tion.

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