Paul Fleischman launches "Eyes Wide Open" book at Climate Week NYC to keep civil society momentum going

6 October 2014

NEW YORK: Paul Fleischman, the prolific American writer and winner of the Newbery medal for his literary work for children, launched his book “Eyes Wide Open” about climate change issues at Climate Week NYC on September 23, 2014. The same day, he launched, a website that provides the latest info on the constantly developing matter.

“Eyes Wide Open” is a crucial book which enables young people to deeply understand complex issues behind climate disruption. After all, if we want to keep the momentum created after Climate Week NYC and the UN Climate Summit going, we need civil society to play its role.

Young people are key to achieving that, but they need the right tools to understand and challenge existing issues. However, this book goes beyond its initial young audience. Through an analysis of the economic and psychological mechanisms involved in climate change, Paul Fleischman gives hope that this growing critical mass can outcast the politics of moving to a low-carbon economy.

As the author in the below exclusive interview for The Climate Group says: "It's a time of bold advances, craven retreats, apathy, and astounding innovation - a riveting moment," 

  • What made you want to write a book about climate change?

I was in high school in the late 1960s. Graduates were being shipped to Vietnam and yet our school paper ran editorials on the danger of running in the halls. That disconnect is what drove me, because it's with us today. Climate is the news story not simply of the decade, but the century - but because it's not on the test, it's often not in the curriculum. I set out to close that knowledge gap. It's as crazy to send kids into the world without knowing the environmental facts of life as the biological ones.

  • What kind of research did the book require?

Because the environment is a breaking story, I spent as much time reading journalism and watching documentaries as I did taking notes from books. Breaking stories are tough, since new data and events are constantly causing the ground to shift under your feet. Because the final text has to be submitted months before a book comes out, topical books are dated even before they appear. The newly available solution: websites. launched on September 23, during Climate Week NYC, offering not just the latest environmental news and a constantly updated list of recommended resources but a blog that lets me correct mistakes, bring in new data and topics, and essentially keep writing the book forever - or at least for a while!

  • What’s the biggest difference between your book and others on climate change?

First, that it's written for young adults and works as well with general adult audiences. I found plenty of books for elementary grades on environmental subjects but surprisingly little for older readers - an audience old enough to understand how the world really works. Second, Eyes Wide Open spotlights the issues' human side - politics, economics, psychology - more than science, since it's there that the causes and solutions are to be found. Lastly, there's the focus on critical thinking. This may be the first time many readers meet the idea that capitalism and democracy have flaws. I aim that critical light on their own opinions, on the media, and give readers techniques for judging the trustworthiness of claims.

  • You state in the book that money is as important as molecules. How so?

Chemistry can explain “what’s” happening with the oceans' acidity, but economics explains “why” this problem exists. The lure of profits has given our providers of electricity, fuel, and food a powerful incentive to burn the carbon that's changing the oceans. Money isn't the end of the line, however. The book looks at history, geography, and human behavior for explanations of how we arrived at the lifestyle we enjoy that in turn brings businesses the customers that make them so profitable.

  • What do you see as the biggest barriers to action on climate change? How might they be conquered?

The two biggest I see are vested interests and the human mind. The fossil fuel companies have too much invested to walk away. Attempts to force them have been undermined by their translating economic might into political power. The psychological barriers range from the seductions of denial and consumerism to the lack of a '9/11 moment' to our favoring of the present over the future.

But I also see hope. It's quite possible that the economics of energy will doom fossil fuels more swiftly than politics ever could. The litany of climate catastrophes is piling up, engaging our instinct to react and change course. I see a growing critical mass building worldwide, the sort that can cause big changes that no one thought possible, as we saw when the Soviet Union unexpectedly collapsed. It's a time of bold advances, craven retreats, apathy, and astounding innovation - a riveting moment.

  • The UN Climate Summit and Climate Week NYC have just passed. What kind of activities did you get involved with?

Two audiences and topics especially have excited me. I really liked talking to young adults about the power of small acts multiplied by big numbers. Move a decimal point and the seemingly insignificant becomes a force to be reckoned with. With teachers I wanted to pass on what I've learned about how best to talk about the environment - crucial toward keeping that critical mass growing. To both I wanted to address the question of morale: what we do when the odds look too long. Both groups taught me a lot in return.

Interview by Siyi Sun


About Climate Week NYC

Since it was launched by The Climate Group in 2009, Climate Week NYC has become a key international platform for governments, businesses and civil society to collaborate on bold climate action and low carbon leadership.

Host to more than 100 events from September 22-28, Climate Week NYC 2014 is the collaborative space for all events in support of the UN Climate Summit that will take place on September 23. This year CDP is co-convenor of the Opening Day on September 22.

Climate Week NYC 2014 is supported by founding sponsor Swiss Re, platinum sponsor Lockheed Martin, gold sponsors BMW, BT, HP and SolarCity, supporting sponsors Bloomberg LP, CBRE and Rockefeller Brothers Fund; global partner the Dutch Postcode Lottery; and the We Mean Business coalition members: BSR, The B Team, CDP, Ceres, The Climate Group, The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group and WBCSD. The Weather Company is our media partner.

See what's happening near you at or follow the global conversation on #CWNYC.


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