Climate change is now ingrained in our daily lives. Newscasts almost always have a climate-related segment, whether it's about a new science report on the status of the world's temperatures or about natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and droughts. Most of today's children will not know what life was like before the world began to change so drastically, but for now, many still remember the world as it used to be.
There are a huge number of books on the scientific aspects of global warming, from pleading calls to action to sustainability guidebooks. But what about essays and memoirs from everyday people? Stories about how climate change is personally affecting us and about its emotional impact on our lives? In their new book, The World As We Knew It: Dispatches From a Changing Climate, editors Amy Brady (executive director of Orion) and Tajja Isen (editor of Catapult magazine and author of Some of My Best Friends) have pulled together a diverse, impactful set of essays that explore the climate crisis from these more intimate angles. Kim Stanley Robinson, Melissa Febos, Lacy M. Johnson, Omar El Akkad and 15 other writers from around the world share how familiar landscapes are becoming unrecognizable and how the rhythms of their daily lives are being forever altered.
Each author brings a unique style and focus to their topic, with prose that is in varying degrees lyrical, reflective and urgent. Some relay extreme weather events, such as Mary Annaïse Heglar in “After the Storm,” about the blatant systemic racism that emerged in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “Structural racism and inequality collide with fearsome extreme weather to reveal the grotesque unnaturalness of disaster,” she writes. This concept is continued in Rachel Riederer's “Walking on Water,” which covers the displacement of people, usually people of color, that's happening more and more as sea levels rise.
It's not only deadly weather events that are highlighted in The World As We Knew It. Chronicling the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, “How Do You Live With Displacement” by author Emily Raboteau discusses the parallels between COVID and climate change. In “Leap,” journalist Meera Subramanian writes wistfully about how the nature she loves most keeps changing, especially as ticks carrying Lyme disease keep multiplying in the Northeast as temperatures and carbon dioxide levels climb.
As Subramanian writes in her essay, “We used to be a story in nature. Now we are the story.” This statement reverberates throughout all the essays in The World As We Knew It, providing one example after another of the ways climate change has affected every region of the Earth. It is a warning that commands the full attention of every reader.