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A Plan of Action

4 minute read
Richard Stengel

Svante Arrhenus was a little-known Swedish chemist who in the 1890s issued a remarkable warning: Keep pumping carbon dioxide into the air the way humanity has been doing since the dawn of the industrial age (around 1750), he said, and you can double the level of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, raising temperatures dramatically.

Few people listened to Arrhenius then, as few people listened in the next century to others who issued the same warning, a little louder each time. TIME came late to global warming by the standards of the Swedish chemist, but early by most measures. We published our first cover story on the topic in October 1987. “It is too soon to tell whether unusual global warming has indeed begun,” wrote Michael D. Lemonick. But if the climate did begin to change, we could expect “dramatically altered weather patterns, major shifts of deserts and fertile regions, intensification of tropical storms and a rise in sea level.”

TIME has now published six covers and hundreds of separate stories addressing the steadily worsening climate crisis. Last spring, in the April 3 issue, we made the case that at long last the debate was over, the verdict was in and the world was irrefutably warming. This year, for our seventh cover on the subject, we wanted to be more proactive, and so we posed a different question: What can scientists, lawmakers, corporations, communities and all the rest of us do to fix the problem? Our 44-page package, overseen by senior editor Jyoti Thottam, begins by looking at the big picture. Science editor Jeffrey Kluger, with reporting from the U.S., Asia and elsewhere, writes about what’s going on in the labs, in the boardrooms, in Congress, state capitols and city halls, even in the architects’ studios, where new generations of green buildings are being designed. “This is the year to put away the old uncertainty and acrimony,” Kluger says, “and collectively turn to what must be done next.”

The second part of our package considers the role we all have in that effort. Thottam marshaled a team of reporters, led by Tokyo bureau chief Bryan Walsh, who canvassed the experts to determine the 51 things we can do–here, today–to begin setting the broken climate right. The solutions range from changing your lightbulbs to checking your tire pressure to planting a bamboo fence. We tell you what the impact of each initiative is, when it can start to produce results and when the feel-good factor outweighs the real value. Thottam began to feel the pressure to act even before she started to work on this issue. “My daughter is almost 9 months old,” she says. “I am aware in a way I wasn’t a year ago of what climate change can mean for the future.”

Environmental reporter Mark Hertsgaard, who has covered the climate story for more than 15 years, rounds out the package, telling us a bit of hard truth about how we’ll have to adapt to a warmer world before even the most aggressive steps can start to turn the thermostat down. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we have an excellent chance of surviving climate change,” Hertsgaard says, “though there will unquestionably be losses along the way.”

As always, it’s TIME’s art department that gives a project like this shape and life. Janet Michaud designed the package, Crary Pullen researched and selected the sweep of photos within it, and Jackson Dykman executed the maps and graphics. We’ll keep covering the global-warming story as long as there’s a story to cover. Scientists tell us we’ll be at it for a while, but this year we may have begun the long road home.

Next: Angela Belcher

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