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The 2084 Report

An Oral History of the Great Warming

This vivid, terrifying, and galvanizing novel reveals our future world after previous generations failed to halt climate change—perfect for fans of The Drowned World and World War Z.

2084: Global warming has proven worse than even the direst predictions scientists had made at the turn of the century. No country—and no one—has remained unscathed. Through interviews with scientists, political leaders, and citizens around the globe, this riveting oral history describes in graphic detail the irreversible effects the Great Warming has had on humankind and the planet.

In short chapters about topics like sea level rise, drought, migration, war, and more, The 2084 Report brings global warming to life, revealing a new reality in which Rotterdam doesn’t exist, Phoenix has no electricity, and Canada is part of the United States. From wars over limited resources to the en masse migrations of entire countries and the rising suicide rate, the characters describe other issues they are confronting in the world they share with the next two generations. Simultaneously fascinating and frightening, The 2084 Report will inspire you to start conversations and take action.

Morocco in Switzerland MOROCCO IN SWITZERLAND
Christiane Mercier is the longtime global-warming correspondent for the French newspaper Le Monde. In this interview, she speaks to me from several different locations in Europe. Our first conversation in the series took place at the former Swiss ski resort of Zermatt.

I am making this tour to take stock of what global warming has done to different locations in Europe. I’m standing at the heart of the former Swiss tourism industry, where skiing is no longer possible. Zermatt once had world-class ski slopes and a fabulous view of the Matterhorn. As I look around now, there is no snow to be seen anywhere, not even on the summit of the Matterhorn itself.

To prepare for this interview I did some research on the history of global warming in the Alps. Even fin de siècle, there were ominous signs. In those days the snow line extended down 9,940 feet [3,030 meters], but in the deadly hot summer of 2003, for example, it rose to 15,100 feet [4,600 meters], higher than the summit of the Matterhorn and almost as high as the summit of Mont Blanc, the highest peak west of the Caucasus. The permafrost that held the rock and soil on the Matterhorn melted, sending debris tumbling downhill. You can still see the debris piles resting against, and even inside, the shuttered ski lodges and restaurants.

I could give the same report from Davos, Gstaad, St. Moritz, or any of the once-famous ski resorts in Switzerland, France, and Italy. The Alps have not had permanent snow and ice since the 2040s. I understand that the Rocky Mountain ski slopes have met the same fate.

Meteorologists tell us that the climate of Southern Europe today is the same as it was in Algeria and Morocco when the century began. As measured by temperature and precipitation, Southern Europe is now a desert and the Alps are well on their way to resembling the Atlas Mountains of those days.

Several weeks later Ms. Mercier was in Nerja on Spain’s Sun Coast, once host to expatriates and seasonal visitors escaping the cold winters of Germany and the United Kingdom.

Looking south from the waterfront at Nerja, spread before me is the vast, blue Mediterranean. Looking north, stretching seemingly forever is a sea of abandoned buff and ocher condominiums, thousands, tens of thousands—an incomprehensible number, most of them decayed and crumbling. It is not hard to understand why: The countryside is parched and dead. At 2 P.M. in the afternoon in front of the ruins of the Hotel Balcón on the Nerja waterfront, the temperature in the shade is 124°F [51°C], and there is no sea breeze to be felt. I seem to be the only person about, and I do not plan to be about for long.

On the way to Nerja from Córdoba and Granada, I saw the charred remains of tens of thousands of olive trees, the monoculture that used to dominate southern Spain. As the region warmed, olive trees dried out, making them susceptible to fire and disease. Today, olive growing has shifted from Spain and Italy north to France and Germany and even England.

From Nerja, Ms. Mercier traveled to Gibraltar.

I had a great deal of trouble finding transportation to get down here and back. What used to take half a day’s drive took me four. Gibraltar used to be one of the British Empire’s crown jewels, guarding entrance to and exit from the Mediterranean. But only a few miles away by sea lay Morocco, a proximity that made Gibraltar a natural mecca for climate migrants.

In my research preparing for the trip, I found a report from the 2010s noting that migration to the EU had already risen due to increasing heat and drought and the social disorder that resulted. One study projected that the annual number of migrants would rise from the 350,000 of the tens to twice that by 2100. But this study, like so many from that period regardless of topic, projected the future based on the past and the past was not a good guide when there was a “new normal” every year or two. These projections almost never took into account global warming and its ancillary effects. Now, no one knows how many migrants have managed to arrive in Europe from Africa, the Middle East, and what we used to call Eastern Europe, but certainly the number is in the hundreds of millions, maybe half a billion. And still they come.

By 2050, so many migrants had swamped Gibraltar that England announced it was ceding the territory to the country that had long claimed it. Spain then made a half-hearted effort to govern Gibraltar. But when the desalination plants on which it had depended for water failed, Spain was in no position to replace them. In 2065 it gave up and declared Gibraltar an open city. Since then it has been known by its original name: Jabal ?ariq, Mountain of Tariq.

It was clear to me that Gibraltar is a hive of smuggling and other criminal activities and to go there is to take your life in your hands. I had to enter disguised as a man and accompanied by armed mercenaries. I did not stay long—but long enough to see that when some said global warming would bring hell and high water, they were not far off.

When next I speak with Ms. Mercier, she has moved up the Mediterranean coast to the Spanish province of Murcia.

From Jabal ?ariq I hired a boat to take me northeast to Murcia, stopping at places on the way that my captain said were likely to be safe. If you had visited Murcia in the early years of the century, you would have passed fields full of lettuce and hothouses of ripe tomatoes. You would have seen the new vacation homes and condos springing up everywhere. On the way to the beach, you would have found it hard to avoid passing a green golf course. In such a dry land, where did Spain get the water for all this?

As you know from my reports, before I visit an area, Je fais mon travail—I do my homework. I study the history of a city or country so I can understand what I am seeing. Murcia is a case study in how impotent people and governments were to prevent this tragedy of the commons from ruining their lives and their land.

Murcia was always dry, but a lack of rain did not prevent people from behaving as though there would always be plenty of water. If water did not fall from the sky, people found it underground or transferred it from distant snowfields. At the turn of the century, they refused to believe that the day might come when none of these strategies would work.

Until the latter part of the last century, Murcia’s farmers grew figs and date palms and, where they had enough water, lemons and other citrus. Then the government arranged to transfer water from less-dry provinces, which allowed the farmers to switch to thirsty crops like lettuce, tomatoes, and strawberries. Developers built as fast as they could, and every new building had to have its own swimming pool. Vacationers needed villas, condos, and enough golf courses so they did not have to wait to tee off. Keeping each of Murcia’s golf courses green took hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per day. Someone figured out that to allow a golfer to play one round took 3,000 gallons [11,356 liters] of water. Today, golf has gone the way of hockey and skiing and sports generally.

Had Spanish officials taken global warming seriously and studied Murcia’s temperature records, they might have been more cautious. During the twentieth century, Spain warmed twice as much as the Earth overall, and the amount of rainfall declined. Scientists projected that rainfall would drop a further 20 percent by 2020 and 40 percent by 2070. The forecasts turned out to be accurate, though at the time they were made no one had paid any attention. When northern provinces had to cut back their water transfers, Murcia’s farmers and towns had to turn to groundwater, causing the water table to drop sharply. A black market in water from illegal wells sprang up, and soon the water table was so deep that pumps could not lift the water to the surface. Scandals were uncovered, with corrupt officials caught taking payoffs in exchange for building permits in areas where there was no water. Unbelievably, gullible people in Britain and Germany continued to buy condos and villas in Spain. They would arrive at their new home or condo, turn on the tap, find that no water emerged, and then look for someone to sue. Then they found out that the fine print on their contract had given the builders and the government an escape clause if an act of God caused a water shortage. Global warming an act of God? Ne me fais pas rire; or, as you say, Don’t make me laugh.

As the water dried up, farmers switched back to figs and date palms. But as the century went on and the scientists’ forecasts proved correct or, more often, conservative, even those desert crops could not be grown economically in Spain. By the 2050s, agriculture in Murcia had essentially ended and the vacation homes and condos stood empty. Today, except for its derelict buildings, Murcia is indistinguishable from the North African desert of a century ago.

When next I talk with Ms. Mercier, she has reached her home in Paris.

On the way home, I passed through the Loire Valley, a region that used to produce some of the most outstanding wines in the world: Chinon, Muscadet, Pouilly-Fumé, Sancerre, Vouvray, and others. All are gone. The problem was that as temperatures rise, grapes mature earlier, raising their sugar content and lowering their acidity. Such grapes produce a coarser wine with a higher alcohol content. If temperatures had only risen a degree or two—had we stayed below the point de rupture of carbon dioxide levels—then, though Vouvray might not have tasted the same, it still would have been drinkable. Possibly an expert might even have recognized it as some variation on Vouvray. But the temperature has gone up by 9°F [5° C]. Wine grapes will not grow in the Loire Valley now and the industry here, as in the rest of France, is defunct. If you want wine today, go to the former UK or Scandinavia.

Right now I am standing in the shade of the Arc de Triomphe at midafternoon on July 1, 2084. It is a good thing I am in the shade, because the temperature is 115°F [46°C]. To stand in direct sunlight in this heat for more than a few minutes is to guarantee heatstroke. Looking around, I see only a handful of vehicles moving. Few people are on the street. Even at night it is too hot to sit outdoors, as the heat absorbed during the day by the steel and concrete of Paris is released. The City of Light has become, like so many, the City of Heat, and her sidewalk cafés are just a memory.

From Paris our reporter travels to Calais on the English Channel.

On the way here, travel was so difficult that I almost gave up and returned to Paris. Before long no one will be able to make a trip like this safely. Just as Gibraltar was the natural entry point to Europe for Africans trying to move north to escape the killing heat, so Calais, only 20 miles [32 km] across the channel from Dover, has been the natural exit point for those trying to reach the cooler climes of the former United Kingdom. In the 2020s, Britons wanted to reduce both legal and illegal immigration. For a while they got their wish, but by the late 2030s, the number of illegal immigrants arriving in the former UK began to rise and has kept on rising. Calais’s main function now is to serve that illegal migration. Just as I saw few Spaniards in southern Spain, most of the people I see and talk with in Calais are not French or British, but Arabs, Africans, Syrians, and Slavs. The only thing they have in common appears to be that they come from elsewhere and are determined to reach the White Cliffs of Dover. Some migrants try to swim the Channel, but few survive it. The tumult here reminds me of a scene I remember from old newsreels showing the chaos at the Fall of Paris as the Germans approached and Parisians scattered to the winds.

At the port of Calais, I see a reenactment of another scene from World War II: the escape of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in hundreds of watercraft of every description. Now the water is filled with another mélange of vessels, crowded to their railings with people headed for the promised land of England, where the smuggling operators wait to receive them—or so they hope.

I had thought I would get passage on one of those vessels and report from England, but I am utterly defeated and depressed at what I have seen. Je me rends.
This reading group guide for The 2084 Report includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author James Lawrence Powell. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


This vivid, terrifying, and galvanizing novel reveals our future world after previous generations fail to halt climate change—perfect for fans of The Drowned World and World War Z.

2084: global warming has proved worse than even the most dire predictions scientists had made at the turn of the century. No country—and no one—has remained unscathed. Through interviews with scientists, political leaders, and citizens around the globe, this riveting oral history describes in graphic detail the irreversible effects the Great Warming has had on humankind and the planet.

In short chapters about topics like sea level rise, drought, migration, war, and more, The 2084 Report brings global warming to life, revealing a new reality in which Rotterdam doesn’t exist, Phoenix has no electricity, and Canada is part of the United States. From wars over limited resources to the en masse migrations of entire countries and the rising suicide rate, the characters describe the issues they are confronting in the world they share with the next two generations. Simultaneously fascinating and frightening, The 2084 Report will inspire you to start conversations and take action.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. Though all the climate science in The 2084 Report is based on real climate models, the book is, in fact, a novel, characterized by a series of fictional interviews with scientists, scholars, world leaders, and soldiers, among others. Why do you think the author chose to present the information in this fashion? Do you think this structure is more or less effective in delivering a message about climate change than a more traditional work of nonfiction might have been?

2. The novel reiterates many times that there has been an overwhelming amount of evidence in support of climate change for decades. Still, many people, especially politicians, have chosen to explain this data away by claiming that climate change is a conspiracy perpetuated by “liberals.” As one climate scientist in the book puts it, “By the 2020s, lies had come to replace truth not just in regard to science, but in many areas. People preferred to accept a lie that supported their prior belief rather than a truth that undercut that belief” (page 5). Why do you think this is? How, specifically, do you think present-day American culture supports this kind of simplistic bipartisan thinking?

3. Some of the first landscapes we see suffer as a result of climate change are those frequented by people of means on vacation. One such example occurs in the south of Spain. Despite a perpetual shortage of rainfall, developers work to ensure that all luxury homes have swimming pools and golf courses, taking water away from farmers and citizens for their basic needs. What are some other examples that the book gives of inaction or destructive action motivated by greed? And what is it about certain land that makes it more desirable? Do you agree with this assessment?

4. This novel is divided into different types of disasters, including “Drought and Fire,” “Flooding,” and “War.” However, every chapter incorporates or mentions the collapse of another area or resource—water being the major one. What have you learned about the processes that amplify or diminish the effects of climate change and how they relate? How might you apply this understanding to your own conservation habits?

5. How do age, ability, and socioeconomic class affect one’s experience of climate change, both physically and mentally? One engineer in The 2084 Report discusses how older family members might not be able to leave their homes in quickly disappearing regions because of the financial and emotional stress. Where else do you see these factors playing out in the book?

6. Some of the disasters cited in The 2084 Report were predicted at the time that the novel was originally written, in 2011, but ended up coming to fruition, including the devastating Australian fires that lasted from the final months of 2019 into 2020 and burned tens of millions of acres. Did you notice any other examples of natural or political disasters that Powell predicted that have since made the news?

7. Do you think that some countries should bear more of the responsibility in slowing down or attempting to reverse climate change? Powell often reminds us that all countries’ behavior affects others’ stability (for example, the destruction of the Amazon “caused less rain to fall in Central America, in the midwestern United States, and even as far away as India” [page 28]). However, there is a core group of more “developed” countries that is repeatedly called upon either to settle political disagreements or curb their carbon emissions; this includes the United States. What is our current global role, and how do you think this should change?

8. In conversations about climate change, the visible physical consequences are discussed more frequently than the psychological ones—the effect of seeing culturally significant cities, such as New Orleans, disappear or the overwhelming existential dread of a vanishing future. (“For the first time in modern history, the hope of every parent that their children will have a better life than theirs was over” [page 96].) Why don’t you think this is talked about as much, and what might this say about our aversion to change? What can we do to face this fear head on?

9. Across the novel, we witness the disintegration of many core tenets of society as we know it—government, due to a complex combination of disappearing borders and apathetic, argumentative, and greedy politicians; higher education, as “science” becomes a dirty word and reason is not enough to explain current circumstances; and international aid, due to a global lack of resources, among many others. In the present day, we live in a society heavily skeptical of “the establishment.” Is there anything to be gleaned from these specific breakdowns that we can use to enhance and improve these forces in the meantime?

10. One climate scientist in the book says, “We can save some people and some areas, but we cannot save everyone, everywhere, every time” (page 55). How have different countries’ governments demonstrated what (or who) they find most valuable in the actions they have (or haven’t) taken in response to climate change? Who benefits most from these decisions? How do we contend with the idea that some entire cultures, especially those that are island based, might be lost forever?

11. The 2084 Report predicts a mass migration of climate refugees and highlights the futility, and adverse effects, of attempting to control borders and further endangering refugees’ lives. Does the book offer a responsible, commendable solution to this inevitable exodus? How might we begin preparing and shifting our present populations? How can we inform our decisions using current cultural and political contexts?

12. Time and again, The 2084 Report revisits the idea that “Geography is destiny.” In reading this novel, did your interpretation of this phrase change? How much do you think geography shapes culture, or that culture ultimately shapes geography?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. The documentary An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006 and is often credited with raising global awareness of climate change in the 21st century. With The 2084 Report in mind, watch this film and compare the crisis as it is presented in each work. If you saw the film when it first came out, think about how it made you feel at the time versus how you felt reading The 2084 Report. What predictions have or haven’t come true? Is the seriousness of the climate crisis conveyed differently now?

2. In The 2084 Report, one scientist discusses which endangered species make better “poster animals” for disappearing environments. Craft your own public service announcement about endangered ecosystems in the form of a clear, bold, eye-catching poster and choose one animal less frequently cited to feature.

3. Check out the Peoples Climate Movement website ( After reviewing their storybook and videos, take a look at their discussion questions and prompts with your book club. Whose activist stories inspired you the most? Is there anyone you might be able to emulate by educating and organizing your own community around climate justice?

A Conversation with James Lawrence Powell

1. The 2084 Report was first published as an ebook, in 2011. When did you start writing this novel, and what inspired you to try your hand at fiction?

In the early 2000s I was focused on my own work, like most scientists. I had no reason to doubt that climate scientists were right about man-made global warming, but I had not directly confronted the theory and its implications. Writing about the origin of the Grand Canyon and the future of Lake Powell made me aware that every drop of the Colorado River is already spoken for, yet climate scientists were predicting that global warming would reduce the river’s flow significantly, with drastic consequences for the American Southwest.

In 2007, I attended a conference on the future of the river at which one of the speakers, Niklas Christensen, gave a PowerPoint presentation. He noted that global warming due to increasing atmospheric CO2 was just “elementary physics.” He presented one slide that brought me up short and made me decide to focus my work on global warming. It showed that for the period of 1800–2004, the record high temperature for each of the twelve months had occurred since 1997. Moreover, January 2007, the year we were in, had broken the previous January record by an amount that ran above the top of the slide! I was convinced.

I began to read up on global warming, which soon made me aware of the denialist movement and that most members of the public did not regard man-made global warming as a problem. People did not seem able to imagine or comprehend just how bad it would be if we did not stop it. The attitude of many was captured in the silly phrase “Don't worry: we'll just wear T-shirts.”

I thought for months about how to get across to people that unchecked global warming would destroy the future of their children and grandchildren, and hit on the idea of writing from the future, after it is too late to stop it.

2. Can you give us a sense of how much research went into this novel? What in particular went beyond the scope of what you already knew from your own studies and teaching?

I had already done a lot of reading about global warming and how much it was predicted to rise by the end of the century, so I had that background. Most of the work beyond that went into deciding on whom to focus and where to set my vignettes, and how to give them realism.

People have asked me: Is your book fiction or nonfiction? I reply that the vignettes are fiction now, but by the time your grandchildren are your age, unless we change direction, the extreme consequences of global warming will be nonfiction.

3. As a highly respected geologist, how do you contend with people who deny science as a valid basis for public policy?

I have learned that no amount of evidence will ever cause them to change their minds. Some say that the coronavirus is a hoax even after scores of thousands have died. They say the same about man-made global warming even though scientists are unanimous, the positive evidence is overwhelming, and there is no evidence against it. The only way out is to vote science-denying politicians out of office.

4. The 2084 Report cites the 2020s as a point of no return when it comes to mitigating the effects of climate change. Are there particular pieces of legislature in the U.S. right now that could set us on a productive path in the coming years?

The U.S. should rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, put a stiff and growing price on carbon emissions, and subsidize and accelerate nuclear power production.

5. Were the characters in the novel inspired by colleagues of yours, and what breadth of experience were you trying to capture? Which perspectives did you think readers would be most surprised by?

I modeled “The Climate Scientist” after the great Jim Hansen, the family in “The Other Side of Paradise” after a friend who is a retired professor at UCSB, and the person in “Pearl of the Mediterranean” after an Egyptian I used to know.

I believe most readers would be startled to realize that the value of coastal real estate will start declining well before the worst damage from sea-level rise. It is already happening.

6. The 2084 Report demonstrates that existing natural resources will not be enough to sustain us on our current consumption track. What is your preferred alternate energy source? Do you think the U.S. could realistically develop Sweden’s nuclear power model?

Not until I read the book A Bright Future, referred to in the last two chapters, did I come to believe that nuclear power not only represents the best way to bridge the several decades it will take to get to 100 percent renewables but that it may be the only way.

7. Name one work of nonfiction and one work of fiction that either directly or indirectly inspired The 2084 Report. What were your takeaways from each? Do you have another gold-standard book on climate change that you would recommend everyone read?

I spent a long time figuring out a way to get across the fact that unless we curtail carbon emissions now, no nation and no corner of the world is going to escape the effects of global warming. Max Brook’s World War Z showed me a way to have a narrator tell the story of a global calamity through interviews, after the event. Spencer Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming made me realize just how strong and long-standing is the science of man-made global warming.

8. One of the book’s final chapters concludes: “Why then didn’t those whose grandchildren’s future was at stake, alongside possibly that of civilization itself, not rise up and demand government action to reduce CO2 emissions, and, if the government refused, take to the streets and put their lives on the line to shut it down? Where they sheep or human beings?” (page 224) In light of mid-pandemic antiracist protests, do you feel more optimistic about the power of citizen demonstrations to create change?

Of course, we all wish the coronavirus had never appeared. But since it did, we can hope that it will bring across to people the fatal cost of denying science and inspire them to trust scientists when they say that global warming is real and dangerous. The difference between the pandemic and man-made global warming is of course their timetables: one is here now, the other has begun but has decades to go.

9. Your novel paints a bleak picture of the world in the year 2084. Is there anything in your more recent research or readings that has provided you with unexpected hope? Do you feel that people are listening any more now than they were when you first wrote the book?

I find that the scientists who denied global warming and received a great deal of publicity from media obsessed with being “fair and balanced” have fallen mostly silent. I have the feeling that over 2019, before the pandemic, more people were accepting the reality and danger of man-made global warming. I and others sensed that real change had begun. I believe that if we can elect a government of people who accept science, they can use the pandemic as a platform for change. If we miss that opportunity, I fear the worst.

10. What is the most important thing that we can all be doing on an individual basis to educate ourselves and others on the topics of climate change and environmental justice?

I hope my book helps—that is why this grandfather wrote it. There is much else to read: the New York Times, which had been part of the problem, has begun to have some excellent articles. My final piece of advice: do not vote for anyone who does not openly profess that they believe in science. The future of civilization depends on it.

Thank you, readers, for this opportunity.
Photograph by Phil Channing

James Lawrence Powell graduated from Berea College with a degree in geology. He earned a PhD in geochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has several honorary degrees, including Doctor of Science degrees from Berea College and from Oberlin College. He taught geology at Oberlin College for over twenty years and served as Acting President of Oberlin, President of Franklin and Marshall College, President of Reed College, President of the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, and President and Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. President Reagan and later, President George H. W. Bush, appointed him to the National Science Board, where he served for twelve years. Asteroid 1987 SH7 is named for him. In 2015, he was elected a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI).

"If the existential threat of climate chnage keeps you up at night, James Lawrence Powell's The 2084 Report will make you want to do everything in your power to elect leaders who will combat global warming and save our planet."

– Marie Claire

“This is a sobering and scary (and fascinating) book—a look at where we're going if we don't quickly get our act together. And it's replete with clues about how we could indeed make the changes that would make this fiction, not prophecy.”


– Bill McKibben, New York Times bestselling author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

"These postcards from the future—dozens of them, as told to a historian in 2084 by scientists, a doctor, a priest, an ambassador, several politicians, a general, the last person ever born on Tuvalu, and others—demanded my full attention. They reminded me that every day counts. We have much to accomplish."  

– Edward Maibach, George Mason University Center for Climate Communication

“As the devastating impacts of climate change now become ever-more apparent, historian and expert storyteller James Powell delivers a vision of the planetary nightmare we face if we fail to act now on the defining challenge of our time, the challenge to avert catastrophic climate change. Read this book and be inspired to make a difference.”

– Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor, Penn State University and co-author of The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy

“Fans of climate apocalypse fiction will be chilled by this convincing work.”

– Publishers Weekly

"[A] riveting oral history... Simultaneously fascinating and frightening, The 2084 Report will inspire you to start conversations and take action."


"Remarkable....probably the most important literary work on climate change."

– The Herald Glasgow