What the layman thinks about climate change | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 10, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:55 PM, November 11, 2017

Book Review

What the layman thinks about climate change

Climate change, though felt ubiquitously across the globe ever increasingly, still remains a bone of contention, sometimes hard enough for many to sink their teeth into. Larger, industrialised economies that evidently contribute to human-induced climate change, as the popular discourse now righteously claims, tend to show nonchalance, if not outright disdain, for the issue. With sharper bites every year in the form of tornados, droughts, floods, avalanches and prolonged summers, the issue became a quotidian experience for almost everybody on earth, but appears as nothing beyond petty nibbling to the political juggernauts that hold real sway on the situation.

The debate on climate change, although not quite healthy as it might seem at first blush, now divides academia—from geographers, geologists, climatologists to other relevant professionals. Amid much fury and flailing between the scuffling parties, we need the saner brains to ponder on how the popular mind fares on these issues, since at the end of the day that will shape how the issues should be handled. Harun Rashid and Alan Bauld have just done that job. Drawn from their decades-long experience on a wide gamut of climatology and earth sciences, Rashid, Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and Bauld, an ardent educator on environmental issues, have come forward with a timely book on some familiar questions on climate changes.

Rashid and Bauld's book explores what climate change etches out in the current popular mind. Obviously, more common people are now becoming aware of the issue, as these touch their lives more directly and personally. Climate change is no longer a pet topic for arm-chair environmentalists and upstart NGOs. Newspapers, social media, television talk-shows and political debates now bustle with live discussions on shifty weather, mighty tornados, devastating floods and scorching droughts, as these rip through our daily lives. The book tries to depict the trajectory of both the development in and depth of the understanding of the issue by general people as revealed in popular media. 

The book dissects the recent discourse on climate change as a scientific phenomenon, rather than a cultural upheaval or political resentment, not from within, but from the edge through a dispassionate eye. Before going deeper into the study, which might otherwise have been a rather dry academic exercise, the authors took the trouble to familiarise readers with the core issues concerning climate change. Instead of depending solely on definitions, they discuss the topics with rich backyard examples, mostly drawn from their own first-hand research, as well as other scholarly sources. Straying from the usual pedagogic tone, the authors adopt a fluid prose that would reach the average layman. Although this part has taken up the bulk of the book, it successfully works as a cogent introductory guide for readers interested in climate change discourse.

The book introduces us with the varied terminologies on, factors contributing to, and stakes in climate change. As backdrops, they discuss the geographical and climatic details of a few chosen countries and regions, namely Canada, Bangladesh, India and Saudi Arabia among others, and with threadbare analyses, explain how nature and human civilisations are melding and crafting the contours of the global climate. It also quenches our curiosity in some ordinary but seldom-answered questions such as why there is no rain in desert areas or how seepage of seawater ruins habitats in the coastal regions of Bangladesh.

While assuring that we are really in an Anthropocene era, where a major part of climate change is anchored on our own economic activities, the authors show through data analyses that there were many natural couses that came full circle over an observable geologic period. Instead of trying to prove one side of the debate wrong, they take a composed position straddling on the middle ground, partly in order to be true to their research findings and partly, in my view, to subscribe to a pragmatic, economic view of the situation. 

The book will help the general reader grasp the subject with ease, as it is principally meant for the non-professionals. In particular, the first part of the book should come handy for a thorough understanding of the underlying elements of the core issues. The second part that deals with the discourse analysis will help students fathom the understanding of the popular mind on the subject. The study is academic, but at the same time illuminating for the curious common man. Most readers would of course treasure the first part as a necessary guide to discerning climate affairs.

The book may also intrigue environmentalists, who can get a glimpse of the entire pantheon of climate issues in one short compendium. Readers interested in delving more into the subject can take a look at Rashid's two other recent books—Climate Change in Bangladesh: Confronting Impending Disasters (Lexington Books, Plymouth, New York) and Climatic Hazards in Coastal Bangladesh: Non-Structural and Structural Solutions (Elsevier, Amsterdam and New York), both co-authored with Professor Bimal K Paul of Kansas State University. Equipped with a wealth of their own research, they burrowed far deeper and wider into the climatic impacts on earth along with exploring the reasons behind these, with Bangladesh as a test case. 

Wasiq Asad is a financial analyst and freelance writer.

Readers interested in exchanging views on the topic may contact Professor Rashid directly at rasid.haru@eagle.uwlax.edu.

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