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 claytonaldern.com or follow him on Twitter @compatibilism.
"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*
"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
"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