When my book “Superbug” came out two years ago, I found myself talking a lot about the international epidemic of antibiotic resistance, how it incrementally crept up on us, and how it became overwhelming to confront. I often found myself comparing antibiotic resistance to climate change, a similarly “slow drip” problem that took a long time to build — and that now feels so complex that anyone who wants to contribute to putting the brakes on can feel as though it’s not possible for any one person to effect change.
Around the time I started writing “Superbug,” I met Maggie Koerth-Baker, now the science editor of BoingBoing; we were in the same writers’ circles in Minneapolis, and we got to be friends. Not long afterward, she started work on a book. (Disclosure: I read and commented on some early drafts.) “Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before it Conquers Us” (Wiley) has been out since March, and it’s a fantastic read: breezy and clever and at the same time sober, thoughtful and thorough about the complexity of energy generation in the United States, the roadblocks to change, and the possibility of doing things differently.
One of the things I like most about the book — and here’s where climate change comes in — is that Maggie explores how many reasons people have for responding to the energy crisis, and makes clear that people don’t have to believe in the “big idea” of a crisis before they are willing to take action to defuse it. She starts the book, in fact, with a vignette of a man who flatly declares, “Climate change is a lie,” and yet drives a hybrid car and uses only CFL bulbs. That seemed to me an important insight that could be carried over to antibiotic resistance, agriculture — any number of big, tangled policy questions.