Not Too Late: Book Review

Summer/Fall 2023

Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility

By Monica Allard Cox

When I was a kid, very few people had solar panels on their roofs, and those who did, we suspected, had been swindled. 

Today, 8% of U.S. homeowners say they’ve installed solar panels. Costs have dropped 90% in the last 10 years, according to Leah Cardamore Stokes, political science professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara.

“In 1957, if we wanted to run an American household on solar power for a month, it would have cost around $300,000. Today, it’s just $30,” she writes in her essay “From Destruction to Abundance” in Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility. 

She is one of several contributors in the book who highlight the strides that have been made worldwide to reduce carbon emissions and stem rising global temperatures. These gains have not been made, the writers emphasize, by individuals “opting for a vegan meal” or other independent activities, but rather by joining in collective actions that persuade leaders from governments to financial institutions to change policies, laws, and investments.

Often the gains have been nearly invisible, such as “the trees that weren’t cut down or the drilling permits that weren’t issued,” as Not Too Late editor Rebecca Solnit writes in her introduction, and often the failures of the climate movement have received more attention than their successes.

The U.S. failed to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol calling for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, killed the Green New Deal in 2019, and left the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2020. 

The prominence of these setbacks can lead people to believe that activism is futile because their climate goals are not widely shared. In fact, Solnit writes, citing an article in Nature Communication, Americans believe that less than half of other Americans are concerned about climate change. The real number, however, is up to 80%.

Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility. Edited by Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua

The book’s contributors assure us that the collective actions of those who care drive change, even if most people are not participating in United Nations climate negotiations or organizing hunger strikes outside the White House, as are some of the essayists.

Grassroots activists, writes Mary Ann Hitt, senior director of Climate Imperative Foundation, in her essay, “A Love Letter from the Clean Energy Future,” have “stopped new oil and gas pipelines, won fracking bans, and beat back attempts to drill for oil and gas in iconic and sacred landscapes.” 

Their efforts have moved the highest levels of U.S. government. As Solnit points out, the U.S. rejoined the Paris Agreement in 2021, and elements of the Green New Deal, which had once seemed radical, were enshrined in the Inflation Reduction Act. The book cites other climate victories internationally, from the canceling of oil and gas exploration permits and nixing of coal-fired power plants to the building of offshore wind farms and election of leaders who promise to further tackle climate change.

If we work together to continue this momentum, Hitt writes—from an imagined 2030—we will be able to say, “We now know that we’re going to keep global temperature rise below the most dangerous tipping points … We can look our kids in the eye and tell them we didn’t let them down.”

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