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Climate change is impacting so much around us: heat, flooding, health, wildlife, housing, and more. WUSF, in collaboration with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, is bringing you stories on how climate change is affecting you.

CNN's Bill Weir on his new book, a how-to guide for his son on living in a warming world

Man with dark hair and red jacket looking over his shoulder at water from a boat with snowy banks behind him and gloomy skies.
Philip Bloom
Bill Weir, CNN's chief climate correspondent, says he's no longer on the "Goldilocks earth" that he grew up on.

We discuss climate hurdles and solutions with CNN's chief climate correspondent, and highlight Florida stories from his book.

A father’s recently published book was written as a way to offer advice to his son amid warming global temperatures.

The burning of fossil fuels has been trapping heat in the atmosphere, leading to extreme heat, sea level rise and more powerful storms.

Bill Weir, the chief climate correspondent and an anchor at CNN, wrote the book, "Life As We Know It (Can Be)," for his son River, who was born in 2020.

“I was 52. A new, old dad looking down at this bundle of life, realizing he was going to live to see the 22nd century, if all goes well, and how much change to his planet, to civilization will take place over that time. And I started just looking for a guide for him on how to live on this earth,” said Weir.

Book cover of "Life as we know it (can be)" with picture of the back of Bill Weir as he walks through a mountain range.
Bill Weir

He tells River what kind of home to build and what food supplies will look like by the time River is his age.

"In the end, I found dozens of practical ways to fortify his life, give them a little bit better mental health, hopefully, as we deal with the enormity of this problem. And a reminder just to connect with each other and nature to brace for what's coming next," Weir said.

Climate language

In his book, Weir introduces uncommonly used terms, like “Carbon Godzilla,” to describe the warming issue.

“I’ve been frustrated as a climate storyteller about our inability to use the proper language, the word choice around this existential threat. And 'global warming' isn't all that scary. People love warmth. And 'the greenhouse effect' ... people aren't afraid of greenhouses,” Weir said.

He got the inspiration from talking to a fisherman scientist in Maine who first referred to carbon emissions as “a Godzilla.”

“ 'We've created a Godzilla out of fossil fuels. We've ... unleashed this monster from the bowels of the earth. And at first, it helped us do the heavy lifting and built modern society, but that monster has gotten so big, it's destroying everything outside.' And just that framing helped me think about the problem in a whole new way,” Weir said.

The book also refers multiple times to "Water Time," which can be measured in gallons per second or droughts per century.

Weir talks about Hurricane Katrina's Water Time as both fast enough to drown over 500 people and long enough to trap others in their hot attics.

"My next few hurricanes taught me that tropical storms have their own rhythm of wreckage and recovery, but what happens when Water Time comes as fast as a sucker punch under a clear blue sky?" Weir asked in his chapter entitled Water.

Climate hurdles

Weir said human nature, our psychology, is what’s getting in the way of combatting climate change.

“This is no longer a story about the forces of nature, or energy streams or physics ... that's the main actor that we're all living through, but how bad it gets or how good it gets depends on human behavior and decisions, and political will,” Weir said.

“There's a lot of very powerful forces who have no interest in changing their business model that has created the wealthiest companies in human history. .. big oil and gas companies. You could fit the people in the C-suites of those companies in a couple of Greyhound buses. These are people are making decisions for life on Earth.”

Weir adds that another one of humanity's great weaknesses is the ability to adapt so quickly to the changes caused by climate change.

"To walk on a beach that was once full of starfish and sea life, and now it's empty, and try to convey to your kids what they're missing," Weir said. "Then people shrug and move on with their lives because there's always something else more present in that day."

Climate solutions

The best advice Weir said he ever got for covering the climate beat came from Mr. Rogers: "Look for the helpers."

"There's always helpers, and now I get to meet them rushing into these disasters. And there are countless other helpers that are invisible out there in clean technology spaces, or indigenous rights movements, or climate justice organizations. And I just went out and started looking for the helpers for my little boy, something to point him towards, and I found so many," Weir said.

Weir also reaches for hope thinking about community members having conversations across the aisle to build for a more resilient future.

“We're not sure how this new planet works, and there are days when it's very scary … But those are the times I argue, when it's most imperative for us to act locally, to lean across the fence to talk to a neighbor that you might not agree on when it comes to the ballot box, but you share a love of a hiking trail, or a fishing hole, or a reef, or a beach,” Weir said.

“You can communicate around the threats to those things that you both hold dear, and then maybe the conversation evolves into the politics around it, or what can we do as citizens, as consumers to save this thing that we all agree is worth saving.”

Plus, he finds the “invisible industrial revolution” encouraging.

"All of these amazing ideas are just now being uncorked, and private money is chasing government money, and countries around the world are decarbonizing in real, meaningful terms,” Weir said.

“But I worry that it's not fast enough and it won't happen enough at scale. I worry that the destruction that will come from these unnatural disasters could further balkanize the country into different regions that really believe in the climate science and those who don't.”

Florida highlights from the book

  1. By the time Weir's son River is his own age, the average American city will feel like it has moved over 500 miles south. For example: Jacksonville will feel like the northern border of Belize.
  2. While there were once up to 60 million bison roaming from Florida to Maine, Texas to the Canadian Rockies, there are now 100 million head of cattle grazing on public and private lands. "While the relationship between man and bison was once a model of sustainability, the cow is arguably the greatest example of a protein delivery system that both giveth and taketh away," Weir states in the book.
  3. In Florida, seven insurance companies went insolvent after "the Hurricane Irma-Michael-Ian triple whammy." Premiums are 3.5 times the national average. Weir said. As states try to stop insurers from fleeing, we could see the creation of National Wind and National Wildfire Insurance by the time his son River is a homeowner.
  4. Annette Rubin, married to former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, was new to living in the Florida Panhandle when Hurricane Michael came through in 2018. “And I was just really, really, really shocked at the frog-in the-pot mentality that Floridians have because they just grew up with this threat and they’re used to it. As a recent transplant and new mom I was like, ‘This is BS.’ We can’t just sit here and hope it doesn’t turn,” she was quoted as saying in the book.
  5. Punta Gorda became the first city in the state to adapt a climate resilience plan "in concert with the state and feds" after Hurricane Charley in 2014. The city broke the cycle of "rebuild-and-repeat" by buying up flood-prone properties and converting them to public spaces and living coastlines.
  6. In Charlotte County, America's first solar-powered town Babcock Ranch sustained "very little damage" during 2022's Hurricane Ian. Founder Syd Kitson was quoted in the book as saying, "People were out. In droves. Just walking around. I drove for four hours trying to hit almost every neighborhood I could. I talked to everyone I could and was overcome with relief."
My main role for WUSF is to report on climate change and the environment, while taking part in NPR’s High-Impact Climate Change Team. I’m also a participant of the Florida Climate Change Reporting Network.
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