Our Fragile Moment

How Lessons from Earth's Past Can Help Us Survive the Climate Crisis


By Michael E. Mann

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In this sweeping work of science and history, the renowned climate scientist and author of The New Climate War shows us the conditions on Earth that allowed humans not only to exist but thrive, and how they are imperiled if we veer off course.

For the vast majority of its 4.54 billion years, Earth has proven it can manage just fine without human beings. Then came the first proto-humans, who emerged just a little more than 2 million years ago—a fleeting moment in geological time. What is it that made this benevolent moment of ours possible? Ironically, it’s the very same thing that now threatens us—climate change.

The drying of the tropics during the Pleistocene period created a niche for early hominids, who could hunt prey as forests gave way to savannahs in the African tropics. The sudden cooling episode known as the “Younger Dryas” 13,000 years ago, which occurred just as Earth was thawing out of the last Ice Age, spurred the development of agriculture in the fertile crescent. The “Little Ice Age” cooling of the 16th-19th centuries led to famines and pestilence for much of Europe, yet it was a boon for the Dutch, who were able to take advantage of stronger winds to shorten their ocean voyages.

The conditions that allowed humans to live on this earth are fragile, incredibly so. Climate variability has at times created new niches that humans or their ancestors could potentially exploit, and challenges that at times have spurred innovation. But there’s a relatively narrow envelope of climate variability within which human civilization remains viable. And our survival depends on conditions remaining within that range.
In this book, renowned climate scientist Michael Mann will arm readers with the knowledge necessary to appreciate the gravity of the unfolding climate crisis, while emboldening them—and others–to act before it truly does become too late.
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  • "Deeply-researched, sprawling in scope and with insights and surprises on every page. This is the sort of historical understanding that leads to wisdom."
    Seth Godin, Founding Editor of The Carbon Almanac
  • "This detailed and yet marvelously readable look at our climatic past offers us the information we need to understand our climatic future--and more importantly, to act to shape that future in the here and now."
    Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
  • “Mann has a tremendous depth of knowledge about the history of our planet’s climate, which is why his words of warning and optimism are so important. This book provides important lessons from humanity’s past to empower readers to help protect our future.”
    Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore
  • “Reading Our Fragile Moment is like taking a spectacular hike through billions of years of Earth’s climate history with one of the great scientists of our time. Oh look — there’s the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs! There’s the great ocean conveyor! There’s the Rossby waves! When you reach the summit of Mann’s wonderful book, you will understand just how rare and beautiful our moment is — and why we need to fight harder to protect it.”
    Jeff Goodell, author of The Heat Will Kill You First
  • “Mann shows that over the last few hundreds of millions of years, Earth has been snow-ball cold, tropic hot, rainforest wet, and desert dry. Its atmosphere has been oxygen poor, oxygen rich, or choked with deadly gas. But Earth has never been through anything quite like humankind. Our current comfortable climate is disappearing— because of us. It’s cause for thundering alarm, but is not cause for despair or doomist gloom. It’s time for action. Don’t believe me? Read this book.”
    Bill Nye, Science Educator, CEO, The Planetary Society
  • "Mann has masterfully woven the climate story from our past to the future. Drawing upon a wealth of data, research and expertise, he slays the persistent zombie theories that climate scientists ignore historical context."
    Dr. Marshall Shepherd, international expert in weather and climate, and Distinguished Professor of Geography and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Georgia
  • “Written with clarity, brevity and wit, Mann presents a riveting and instructive narrative of Earth’s climate changes to help us navigate this new epoch of human-altered climate. This honest, informed look at planetary history serves as both a defense against doomism and a call to action to forge a livable world that is still well within our grasp.”
    David Grinspoon, Astrobiologist and author of Earth in Human Hands
  • “A renowned climatologist and science journalist casts a hard eye on the probability that climate change is irreversible… An evenhanded take on a crucial topic. While our goose may not be cooked, it’s still time to reduce the heat.”
  • “A gripping tale of Earth’s climate history, this book is a must-read for every global citizen. It dispels common climate myths with surgical clarity and provides an essential roadmap to understanding our past and choosing our future.”
    Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist, distinguished professor at Texas Tech University, UN Champion of the Earth, author of Saving Us
  • Our Fragile Moment offers illuminating insights into our current crisis.”
    Science News
  • Our Fragile Moment celebrates the beauty and resilience of our planet’s history by probing it in depth. To complement Mann’s glass-half-full perspective on our battle against climate change, the book celebrates the sheer joy of scientific knowledge our species is able to enjoy.”
  • "[A] sober warning… enlightens even as it unsettles.”
    Publishers Weekly
  • “Really smart, clever and eye-opening look at the five most extreme shifts in Earth's climate over 4.5 billion years, and the lessons those episodes have for our dramatic climate shift today.”
    Scientific American, Best of 2023
  • “Mann’s book is a critically important lesson in both science and history, and offers hope for the future. But only if we take heed of our intelligence and our cumulative knowledge rather than ignoring it.”
    Astronomy Magazine

On Sale
Sep 26, 2023
Page Count
320 pages

Michael E. Mann

About the Author

Michael E. Mann is the Presidential Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Science, Sustainability and the Media at the University of Pennsylvania.
He has received many honors and awards, including NOAA's outstanding publication award in 2002 and selection by Scientific American as one of the fifty leading visionaries in science and technology in 2002. Additionally, he contributed, with other IPCC authors, to the award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
More recently, he received the Award for Public Engagement with Science from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2018 and the Climate Communication Prize from the American Geophysical Union in 2018. In 2019, he received the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement. In 2020, he was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He is the author of numerous books, including Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, and The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening our PlanetDestroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy. He lives in State College, Pennsylvania.

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