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This vivid, terrifying, and galvanizing novel reveals our future world after previous generations failed to halt climate change—perfect for fans of The Drowned World and World War Z.

2084: Global warming has proven worse than even the direst predictions scientists had made at the turn of the century. No country—and no one—has remained unscathed. Through interviews with scientists, political leaders, and citizens around the globe, this riveting oral history describes in graphic detail the irreversible effects the Great Warming has had on humankind and the planet.

In short chapters about topics like sea level rise, drought, migration, war, and more, The 2084 Report brings global warming to life, revealing a new reality in which Rotterdam doesn’t exist, Phoenix has no electricity, and Canada is part of the United States. From wars over limited resources to the en masse migrations of entire countries and the rising suicide rate, the characters describe other issues they are confronting in the world they share with the next two generations. Simultaneously fascinating and frightening, The 2084 Report will inspire you to start conversations and take action.

This reading group guide for The 2084 Report includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author James Lawrence Powell. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

This vivid, terrifying, and galvanizing novel reveals our future world after previous generations fail to halt climate change—perfect for fans of The Drowned World and World War Z.

2084: global warming has proved worse than even the most dire predictions scientists had made at the turn of the century. No country—and no one—has remained unscathed. Through interviews with scientists, political leaders, and citizens around the globe, this riveting oral history describes in graphic detail the irreversible effects the Great Warming has had on humankind and the planet.

In short chapters about topics like sea level rise, drought, migration, war, and more, The 2084 Report brings global warming to life, revealing a new reality in which Rotterdam doesn’t exist, Phoenix has no electricity, and Canada is part of the United States. From wars over limited resources to the en masse migrations of entire countries and the rising suicide rate, the characters describe the issues they are confronting in the world they share with the next two generations. Simultaneously fascinating and frightening, The 2084 Report will inspire you to start conversations and take action.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. Though all the climate science in The 2084 Report is based on real climate models, the book is, in fact, a novel, characterized by a series of fictional interviews with scientists, scholars, world leaders, and soldiers, among others. Why do you think the author chose to present the information in this fashion? Do you think this structure is more or less effective in delivering a message about climate change than a more traditional work of nonfiction might have been?

2. The novel reiterates many times that there has been an overwhelming amount of evidence in support of climate change for decades. Still, many people, especially politicians, have chosen to explain this data away by claiming that climate change is a conspiracy perpetuated by “liberals.” As one climate scientist in the book puts it, “By the 2020s, lies had come to replace truth not just in regard to science, but in many areas. People preferred to accept a lie that supported their prior belief rather than a truth that undercut that belief” (page 5). Why do you think this is? How, specifically, do you think present-day American culture supports this kind of simplistic bipartisan thinking?

3. Some of the first landscapes we see suffer as a result of climate change are those frequented by people of means on vacation. One such example occurs in the south of Spain. Despite a perpetual shortage of rainfall, developers work to ensure that all luxury homes have swimming pools and golf courses, taking water away from farmers and citizens for their basic needs. What are some other examples that the book gives of inaction or destructive action motivated by greed? And what is it about certain land that makes it more desirable? Do you agree with this assessment?

4. This novel is divided into different types of disasters, including “Drought and Fire,” “Flooding,” and “War.” However, every chapter incorporates or mentions the collapse of another area or resource—water being the major one. What have you learned about the processes that amplify or diminish the effects of climate change and how they relate? How might you apply this understanding to your own conservation habits?

5. How do age, ability, and socioeconomic class affect one’s experience of climate change, both physically and mentally? One engineer in The 2084 Report discusses how older family members might not be able to leave their homes in quickly disappearing regions because of the financial and emotional stress. Where else do you see these factors playing out in the book?

6. Some of the disasters cited in The 2084 Report were predicted at the time that the novel was originally written, in 2011, but ended up coming to fruition, including the devastating Australian fires that lasted from the final months of 2019 into 2020 and burned tens of millions of acres. Did you notice any other examples of natural or political disasters that Powell predicted that have since made the news?

7. Do you think that some countries should bear more of the responsibility in slowing down or attempting to reverse climate change? Powell often reminds us that all countries’ behavior affects others’ stability (for example, the destruction of the Amazon “caused less rain to fall in Central America, in the midwestern United States, and even as far away as India” [page 28]). However, there is a core group of more “developed” countries that is repeatedly called upon either to settle political disagreements or curb their carbon emissions; this includes the United States. What is our current global role, and how do you think this should change?

8. In conversations about climate change, the visible physical consequences are discussed more frequently than the psychological ones—the effect of seeing culturally significant cities, such as New Orleans, disappear or the overwhelming existential dread of a vanishing future. (“For the first time in modern history, the hope of every parent that their children will have a better life than theirs was over” [page 96].) Why don’t you think this is talked about as much, and what might this say about our aversion to change? What can we do to face this fear head on?

9. Across the novel, we witness the disintegration of many core tenets of society as we know it—government, due to a complex combination of disappearing borders and apathetic, argumentative, and greedy politicians; higher education, as “science” becomes a dirty word and reason is not enough to explain current circumstances; and international aid, due to a global lack of resources, among many others. In the present day, we live in a society heavily skeptical of “the establishment.” Is there anything to be gleaned from these specific breakdowns that we can use to enhance and improve these forces in the meantime?

10. One climate scientist in the book says, “We can save some people and some areas, but we cannot save everyone, everywhere, every time” (page 55). How have different countries’ governments demonstrated what (or who) they find most valuable in the actions they have (or haven’t) taken in response to climate change? Who benefits most from these decisions? How do we contend with the idea that some entire cultures, especially those that are island based, might be lost forever?

11. The 2084 Report predicts a mass migration of climate refugees and highlights the futility, and adverse effects, of attempting to control borders and further endangering refugees’ lives. Does the book offer a responsible, commendable solution to this inevitable exodus? How might we begin preparing and shifting our present populations? How can we inform our decisions using current cultural and political contexts?

12. Time and again, The 2084 Report revisits the idea that “Geography is destiny.” In reading this novel, did your interpretation of this phrase change? How much do you think geography shapes culture, or that culture ultimately shapes geography?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. The documentary An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006 and is often credited with raising global awareness of climate change in the 21st century. With The 2084 Report in mind, watch this film and compare the crisis as it is presented in each work. If you saw the film when it first came out, think about how it made you feel at the time versus how you felt reading The 2084 Report. What predictions have or haven’t come true? Is the seriousness of the climate crisis conveyed differently now?

2. In The 2084 Report, one scientist discusses which endangered species make better “poster animals” for disappearing environments. Craft your own public service announcement about endangered ecosystems in the form of a clear, bold, eye-catching poster and choose one animal less frequently cited to feature.

3. Check out the Peoples Climate Movement website (peoplesclimate.org). After reviewing their storybook and videos, take a look at their discussion questions and prompts with your book club. Whose activist stories inspired you the most? Is there anyone you might be able to emulate by educating and organizing your own community around climate justice?

A Conversation with James Lawrence Powell

1. The 2084 Report was first published as an ebook, in 2011. When did you start writing this novel, and what inspired you to try your hand at fiction?

In the early 2000s I was focused on my own work, like most scientists. I had no reason to doubt that climate scientists were right about man-made global warming, but I had not directly confronted the theory and its implications. Writing about the origin of the Grand Canyon and the future of Lake Powell made me aware that every drop of the Colorado River is already spoken for, yet climate scientists were predicting that global warming would reduce the river’s flow significantly, with drastic consequences for the American Southwest.

In 2007, I attended a conference on the future of the river at which one of the speakers, Niklas Christensen, gave a PowerPoint presentation. He noted that global warming due to increasing atmospheric CO2 was just “elementary physics.” He presented one slide that brought me up short and made me decide to focus my work on global warming. It showed that for the period of 1800–2004, the record high temperature for each of the twelve months had occurred since 1997. Moreover, January 2007, the year we were in, had broken the previous January record by an amount that ran above the top of the slide! I was convinced.

I began to read up on global warming, which soon made me aware of the denialist movement and that most members of the public did not regard man-made global warming as a problem. People did not seem able to imagine or comprehend just how bad it would be if we did not stop it. The attitude of many was captured in the silly phrase “Don't worry: we'll just wear T-shirts.”

I thought for months about how to get across to people that unchecked global warming would destroy the future of their children and grandchildren, and hit on the idea of writing from the future, after it is too late to stop it.

2. Can you give us a sense of how much research went into this novel? What in particular went beyond the scope of what you already knew from your own studies and teaching?

I had already done a lot of reading about global warming and how much it was predicted to rise by the end of the century, so I had that background. Most of the work beyond that went into deciding on whom to focus and where to set my vignettes, and how to give them realism.

People have asked me: Is your book fiction or nonfiction? I reply that the vignettes are fiction now, but by the time your grandchildren are your age, unless we change direction, the extreme consequences of global warming will be nonfiction.

3. As a highly respected geologist, how do you contend with people who deny science as a valid basis for public policy?

I have learned that no amount of evidence will ever cause them to change their minds. Some say that the coronavirus is a hoax even after scores of thousands have died. They say the same about man-made global warming even though scientists are unanimous, the positive evidence is overwhelming, and there is no evidence against it. The only way out is to vote science-denying politicians out of office.

4. The 2084 Report cites the 2020s as a point of no return when it comes to mitigating the effects of climate change. Are there particular pieces of legislature in the U.S. right now that could set us on a productive path in the coming years?

The U.S. should rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, put a stiff and growing price on carbon emissions, and subsidize and accelerate nuclear power production.

5. Were the characters in the novel inspired by colleagues of yours, and what breadth of experience were you trying to capture? Which perspectives did you think readers would be most surprised by?

I modeled “The Climate Scientist” after the great Jim Hansen, the family in “The Other Side of Paradise” after a friend who is a retired professor at UCSB, and the person in “Pearl of the Mediterranean” after an Egyptian I used to know.

I believe most readers would be startled to realize that the value of coastal real estate will start declining well before the worst damage from sea-level rise. It is already happening.

6. The 2084 Report demonstrates that existing natural resources will not be enough to sustain us on our current consumption track. What is your preferred alternate energy source? Do you think the U.S. could realistically develop Sweden’s nuclear power model?

Not until I read the book A Bright Future, referred to in the last two chapters, did I come to believe that nuclear power not only represents the best way to bridge the several decades it will take to get to 100 percent renewables but that it may be the only way.

7. Name one work of nonfiction and one work of fiction that either directly or indirectly inspired The 2084 Report. What were your takeaways from each? Do you have another gold-standard book on climate change that you would recommend everyone read?

I spent a long time figuring out a way to get across the fact that unless we curtail carbon emissions now, no nation and no corner of the world is going to escape the effects of global warming. Max Brook’s World War Z showed me a way to have a narrator tell the story of a global calamity through interviews, after the event. Spencer Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming made me realize just how strong and long-standing is the science of man-made global warming.

8. One of the book’s final chapters concludes: “Why then didn’t those whose grandchildren’s future was at stake, alongside possibly that of civilization itself, not rise up and demand government action to reduce CO2 emissions, and, if the government refused, take to the streets and put their lives on the line to shut it down? Where they sheep or human beings?” (page 224) In light of mid-pandemic antiracist protests, do you feel more optimistic about the power of citizen demonstrations to create change?

Of course, we all wish the coronavirus had never appeared. But since it did, we can hope that it will bring across to people the fatal cost of denying science and inspire them to trust scientists when they say that global warming is real and dangerous. The difference between the pandemic and man-made global warming is of course their timetables: one is here now, the other has begun but has decades to go.

9. Your novel paints a bleak picture of the world in the year 2084. Is there anything in your more recent research or readings that has provided you with unexpected hope? Do you feel that people are listening any more now than they were when you first wrote the book?

I find that the scientists who denied global warming and received a great deal of publicity from media obsessed with being “fair and balanced” have fallen mostly silent. I have the feeling that over 2019, before the pandemic, more people were accepting the reality and danger of man-made global warming. I and others sensed that real change had begun. I believe that if we can elect a government of people who accept science, they can use the pandemic as a platform for change. If we miss that opportunity, I fear the worst.

10. What is the most important thing that we can all be doing on an individual basis to educate ourselves and others on the topics of climate change and environmental justice?

I hope my book helps—that is why this grandfather wrote it. There is much else to read: the New York Times, which had been part of the problem, has begun to have some excellent articles. My final piece of advice: do not vote for anyone who does not openly profess that they believe in science. The future of civilization depends on it.

Thank you, readers, for this opportunity.
Photograph by Phil Channing

James Lawrence Powell graduated from Berea College with a degree in geology. He earned a PhD in geochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has several honorary degrees, including Doctor of Science degrees from Berea College and from Oberlin College. He taught geology at Oberlin College for over twenty years and served as Acting President of Oberlin, President of Franklin and Marshall College, President of Reed College, President of the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, and President and Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. President Reagan and later, President George H. W. Bush, appointed him to the National Science Board, where he served for twelve years. Asteroid 1987 SH7 is named for him. In 2015, he was elected a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI).

Photograph by Phil Channing

James Lawrence Powell graduated from Berea College with a degree in geology. He earned a PhD in geochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has several honorary degrees, including Doctor of Science degrees from Berea College and from Oberlin College. He taught geology at Oberlin College for over twenty years and served as Acting President of Oberlin, President of Franklin and Marshall College, President of Reed College, President of the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, and President and Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. President Reagan and later, President George H. W. Bush, appointed him to the National Science Board, where he served for twelve years. Asteroid 1987 SH7 is named for him. In 2015, he was elected a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI).