The language of climate change is either emotional and therefore automatically political or “fairly dry,” says Marina Psaros, a sustainability expert who spent a chunk of her career poring over National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data before co-authoring The Atlas of Disappearing Places with artist/researcher Christina Conklin.
“Writing a book is the worst thing in the world,” Psaros says, three months post-publication. But now the hard part is done and a unique, engaging “guide to global warming” is taking the world by storm. Proclaimed one of the most anticipated books of 2021 by literary website Literary Hub, this collection of maps turns the esoteric relevant, and shows how climate change will reshape 20 selected spots around the world.
Among the chapters, there is one on the San Francisco Bay. Psaros is a Santa Cruz girl, who grew up among redwoods and on the beach, got her junior diver certification at the age of 15 and pledged to work in ocean conservation. Monterey Bay is where she learned to dive.
“The biggest challenge for Monterey Bay will probably be acidification of the ocean,” Psaros says when asked to apply her wisdom locally. “The change of the food web and then, the entire system. It’s not going to be good for the kelp forest and it’s not going to be good for sea otters. There will be species that will disappear, along with entire beaches.”
It was her work with schools within the California King Tides Project that led a New Press editor to approach Psaros with the idea for a book about climate change that would really move people. It sounded perfectly terrifying, Psaros says. The idea for the format came from her fond memories of perusing The Encyclopædia Britannica as a child. Maybe that’s why Atlas ambitiously encompasses the whole world.
“Foolishness, that’s why,” Psaros says with a laugh when asked why she decided to write about the end of fish in Peru and the sinking of Shanghai, all in one book. But seriously – “now we all are affected,” she says. “Maybe you care about those places because you’ve been there for vacation. Or maybe you are interested in social justice.”
Psaros has a master’s degree in environmental policy and planning from MIT and has been involved with climate change adaptation in California since 2006. After a five-year period of running her own consulting firm, she is now on board with Unity Technologies, hoping to “apply tech for good,” she says. Psaros emphasizes the role of her co-author, who co-wrote a number of chapters and provided maps and illustrations.
Psaros hopes the book will be the first step in collective exploration of the loss that is coming and the trauma that awaits us all. Each chapter closes with a speculative vignette that paints a picture of what the world could look like in 2050.