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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