The Nobel for Gore and the IPPC is welcome news. Sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on a tipping point, but it sure feels like the climate crisis has tipped and then some. I suspect that for a long time to come we’ll read about the events, images and utterances of the past few years that have intensified the (American) public’s concern for global warming: Hurricane Katrina, March of the Penguins, An Inconvenient Truth, unexpectedly rapid melting in the Arctic and even Bush’s willingness to say the phrase “addicted to oil,” as late as those words were and as harmful as that guy continues to be.

About a month ago, I noticed that Alan Weisman’s book, The World Without Us, was on the New York Times Bestsellers List. I don’t know Weisman and I haven’t read his book. But the premise is straightforward: what would the planet look like without the pressures of humanity? It sounds a little dreary, but reviews say the science-minded take makes it an excellent read. I’m struck by its success, but in a good way. Five years ago, if you’d have asked me whether a book on this topic would be popular, I would have guessed no, and that it would be hard to get that book published. (That shows what I know about the publishing industry.) Yet now it’s a bestseller. Where did this wider interest in the state of the planet as ecosystem come from? Dying polar bears, hurricanes and the expanding range of tropical diseases are the types of climate-change issues that resonate with the public. Yet the success of the Weisman book says something different about the way people are thinking. I don’t know exactly what it is (and would love to hear what you think it might be) but perhaps it has something to do with a wider understanding that humanity has been lucky to live in such a hospitable habitat, and that that good fortune is not guaranteed.

AuthorDavid Wolman