The Weight of Nature: How a Changing Climate Changes Our Brains (Hardcover)

The Weight of Nature: How a Changing Climate Changes Our Brains By Clayton Page Aldern Cover Image
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A New York Times Editors' Choice

A Next Big Idea Club and Sierra Magazine Must-Read Book

A Behavioral Scientist’s Summer Book List Pick

A Financial Times Best Summer Book

A deeply reported, eye-opening book about climate change, our brains, and the weight of nature on us all.

The march of climate change is stunning and vicious, with rising seas, extreme weather, and oppressive heat blanketing the globe. But its effects on our very brains constitute a public-health crisis that has gone largely unreported. Based on seven years of research, this book by the award-winning journalist and trained neuroscientist Clayton Page Aldern, synthesizes the emerging neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral economics of global warming and brain health. A masterpiece of literary journalism, this book shows readers how a changing environment is changing us today, from the inside out.

Aldern calls it the weight of nature.

Hotter temperatures make it harder to think clearly and problem-solve. They increase the chance of impulsive violence. Immigration judges are more likely to reject asylum applications on hotter days. Umpires, to miss calls. Air pollution, heatwaves, and hurricanes can warp and wear on memory, language, and sensory systems; wildfires seed PTSD. And climate-fueled ecosystem changes extend the reach of brain-disease carriers like mosquitos, brain-eating amoebas, and the bats that brought us the mental fog of long COVID.

How we feel about climate change matters deeply; but this is a book about much more than climate anxiety. As Aldern richly details, it is about the profound, direct action of global warming on our brains and behavior—and the most startling portrait yet of unforeseen environmental influences on our minds. From farms in the San Joaquin Valley and public schools across the United States to communities in Norway’s Arctic, the Micronesian islands, and the French Alps, this book is an unprecedented portrait of a global crisis we thought we understood.

About the Author

Clayton Aldern is a neuroscientist turned environmental journalist whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, The New Republic, Mother Jones, Vox, Newsweek, The Economist, Scientific American, and Grist, where he is a senior data reporter. His climate change data visualizations have appeared in a variety of forums, including on the US Senate floor in a speech by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

A Rhodes Scholar and a Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow, he holds a master’s in neuroscience and a master’s in public policy from the University of Oxford. He is also a research affiliate at the Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology at the University of Washington, a grantee of the Pulitzer Center, and has contributed to reporting teams that have won a national Edward R. Murrow Award, multiple Online Journalism Awards, and the Breaking Barriers Award from the Institute for Nonprofit News. See or follow him on Twitter @compatibilism.

Praise For…

"This is your brain on climate change.... As Aldern demonstrates throughout this distressing yet urgently necessary book, climate change is affecting the very duration of our lives. This is a unique—and uniquely disturbing—addition to the literature. A lyrical and scientifically rigorous account of the emotional and physical toll climate change is taking on the human brain."Kirkus, *starred review*

"Aldern is the rare writer who dares to ask how climate change has already changed us." New York Times Book Review

“The Weight of Nature is science-based journalism at its zenith. Neuroscientist and environmental journalist Clayton Page Aldern has authored a powerful and portentous book about the impact climate change is having on our brains and behavior. This book is a must-read for those concerned about the implications of climate change on our personal and public health. . . . And it is filled with hope. While climate change has an adverse impact on us, we are beings with the capacity for empathy, feeling, embodiment, and awe. By seeing the magic that is around us, we can be motivated to respond to the climate crisis.” New York Journal of Books

"Research on the deleterious psychological effects of severe heat offers a unique perspective on how humans will be changed by a warming world. Readers will be troubled." Publishers Weekly

"​Aldern’s book — which, in spite of its author’s technical background, is immensely readable and literary — pushes far past the familiar, touching on topics as wide-ranging as brain-eating amoebas, language death, and free will. The common theme throughout, though, is that climate is our unseen 'puppeteer.'"​ Heatmap News

"Clayton Page Aldern’s writing is so engaging, his research so novel, and his inquiry into our brains and bodies so timely and revealing that this is a rare climate change book you’ll actually savor."—Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us and Countdown
"It's hard, at this late date, to write something profound and new about the overarching crisis of our times. But Clayton Aldern has succeeded—this book is a triumph, rigorous in its reporting but also in its thinking and feeling. I learned an awful lot."—Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature

“This important watershed book has powerful immediacy as it explains in a clear, warm voice precisely how climate change is making tiny incremental changes in our brains and bodies. Many believe that human brains and bodies can resist or adapt to a warming world. But we learn here that there are limits. Penetrating, intensely personal, and impossible to put down, this is a book you need to read.”—Annie Proulx, author of Fen, Bog and Swamp

“What a book! Profound, revelatory, exquisitely written – the Weight of Nature is an unnerving insight into the effects climate change is having on us, as human beings, right now. This is vital, urgent reading, a lifeline to lead us out of the labyrinth.” —Isabella Tree, author of Wilding

"The Weight of Nature is a funny, moving and extraordinarily necessary tour through an area of science that might be more important than any other. It is beautifully researched, fascinating and deeply awe-inspiring: showing how much more connected we are to our physical environment than I could possibly have imagined. I defy anyone not to come away moved, entertained, and changed." —Xand van Tulleken

“The Weight of Nature, [Aldern’s] elegant, convincingly argued book about how climate change is altering our minds, bodies and brains, didn’t make me want to curl up silently; it made me want to shout, to rouse people from their slumber. . . . The book is lifted by the lightness of Aldern’s prose, his honesty and the maturity of his reflection. He refuses to romanticise the past or to disregard people’s fears. There are solutions to cut emissions and better ways to live, but climate change is here and we will have to manage its impacts. Aldern’s is a calm voice in a world of chaos.” —Philippa Nuttall, The New Statesman

"Arresting revelations ... this is not another book about climate anxiety." —Financial Times

"For anyone worried about the consequences of climate chaos, there’s a consolation of sorts embedded in the physicality of cognition. We may not be able to think our way out of cascading environmental crises, but we may be able to feel our way forward to a more sustainable way of living. After Aldern's long litany of terrors, this insight allows him to end on a high note." Sierra Magazine

“Aldern is an excellent storyteller, drawing on interviews and personal experience, with an elegant prose style that only occasionally takes a folksy (“critters”, “our noggins”) turn. He does a fine job navigating the dense technical research where acronyms proliferate like algal blooms, and his background in neuroscience puts him on a strong footing to explore the mechanistic impacts of climate change on brain function and chemistry.” — George Marshall, The Times Literary Supplement

"In The Weight of Nature, Clayton Page Aldern comes closer than anyone in a long time to articulating why so many of us feel queasy about climate change: it is altering not just the landscape but also us. . . . Beautifully written, this heatwave reading will give you the chills."
—Anjana Ahuja, Financial Times
Product Details
ISBN: 9780593472743
ISBN-10: 0593472748
Publisher: Dutton
Publication Date: April 9th, 2024
Pages: 336
Language: English