Runaway Climate: What the Geological Past Can Tell Us about the Coming Climate Change Catastrophe

Regular price $ 22.99

by Steven Earle

New Society Publishers

4/30/2024, paperback

SKU: 9780865719897


With tipping points and extreme global warming looming, the key to understanding our climate future lies in our distant past

With rising emissions, we are on track to cause rapid global warming with devastating con- sequences. But how bad could climate change get and what might it do to planet Earth and humanity?

Runaway Climate explores the causes of the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) rapid climate-heating episode, its dramatic impact on life on Earth, and lessons for our climate future.

Fifty-six million years ago our planet experienced a period of intense warming known as the PETM, resulting in a rapid global temperature increase of about 7°C. Triggered by natural geological processes over millennia and magnified by strong climate feedback loops, the PETM lasted for about 180,000 years and drastically altered life on Earth. Yet in only a few short decades we've pumped similar amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, making the PETM an unsettlingly apt analogy for our current predicament. This deeply cautionary tale explores:

  • The runaway feedbacks that pushed the PETM's climate past the tipping point
  • Subsequent cascades of environmental devastation--from plant and animal migrations to ocean acidification, extreme weather, and mass extinctions
  • A sobering vision of life on hothouse Earth--a hostile world of desertification, sea-level rise, climate refugees, and agricultural collapse
  • The urgent need for decisive individual and collective actions to slash carbon emissions, stabilize the climate, and undertake a rapid transition to a cleaner and healthier future.

Scientifically rigorous, yet accessible to a wide audience, Runaway Climate is essential reading for every- one committed to understanding and taking action on the climate emergency.


"Rapid, catastrophic climate change may have little precedent in human history, but the rocks tell us it has happened before. This riveting book clearly outlines the potential scope of the crisis that we are unleashing through our continued burning of fossil fuels. If you care at all about our future, you must read Runaway Climate." -- Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow, Post Carbon Institute and author, Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival

"Climatologists provided us with early warning of the climate crisis, and now - as this fascinating account makes clear - geologists are making clear that the past both confirms those warnings and intensifies them. Reading this will, I hope, be a prelude to activism that matters." -- Bill McKibben, author, The End of Nature

"Earle's new book is a compelling call to climate action that is uniquely engaging and disturbing in equal measure. By setting today's climate crisis within the long story of our planet, he invites us all to acknowledge realities of these times and to find inspiration to act in the climate solutions stories that he shares." -- Laura Lengnick, author, Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate

About the Author:

Steven Earle, PhD, has worked as a geologist and developed and taught university-level courses in earth sciences and climate change for over four decades. He is the author of the IPPY award-winning A Brief History of the Earth's Climate and the widely used post-secondary textbook Physical Geology, now in its second edition. A dedicated community activist, he spearheads local engagement with climate change solutions including low-carbon transportation initiatives, heating systems, and land stewardship. Steven and his family live in a nearly net-zero house on a small sustainable farm on Gabriola Island, BC, Canada.