An unwieldy topic, climate change has been creeping up on us in slow motion for more than 200 years. To humanize this topic and to motivate activism, Alan Gratz writes his middle grade novel Two Degrees. Written in seven parts, his book features four tweens from different locales in North America, all linked by an invisible web. These seventh graders are connected through the adversity they individually face with wild fires, melting ice caps, rising sea levels, and storm surges.
Living near the Sierra Nevadas in California, Akira Kristiansen seeks to escape the chaos of school and family by riding Dodger, her chestnut gelding quarter horse. Recharging her batteries in nature, Akira considers these rides peaceful and restorative. Her favorite place to visit is a grove of giant sequoias, which she calls her sanctuary. On one such ride, she and her father, Lars, encounter a wildfire. Because years of drought have provided conditions ripe for a raging fire, soon the pair are riding for their lives, trying to escape the Morris Wildfire.
In Churchill, Manitoba, the Polar Bear Capital of the World, Owen Mackenzie and George Gruyére live among polar bears. Good at focusing on what he’s interested in but really bad at noticing when he’s about to step into an ice hole, Owen works for his family, sharing facts with tourists who ride the tundra to view the bears. The recent melting ice has meant a longer polar bear season and more money for his family’s tour business. However, it isn’t until much later—after he and George are hunted by a male polar bear—that he realizes the threat to the polar bears.
Further south in Miami, Florida, weather has shaped the life of Natalie Torres. She has learned the pattern of hurricanes, which cause her family to constantly reinforce and rebuild. She possesses first-hand experience with the growing size of the storms, all attributable to climate change and the burning of fossil fuels. Natalie has studied the science of climate change and how carbon dioxide in the atmosphere produces greenhouse gasses which trap the earth’s heat, ninety percent of which transfers to the oceans where hurricanes form. Supercharged by the warner water, these storms stay stronger and last longer. When Hurricane Reuben descends on Miami, Natalie is left swimming for her life.
Through the lives of these youth, Gratz shares the impact of global warming, personalizing it and creating a sense of urgency about the issue. He points out that climate change affects people differently. Although we may all be in the same boat with climate change since we all share the same planet, “some people get to ride out the storm in yachts while [many] of us are [left] clinging to whatever floats by and trying not to drown” (329).
Gratz further suggests that staying quiet about a topic such as climate change is similar to agreement. While no one person can do everything, we can all do something. Given that we are all connected in some way—whether through the notion of six degrees of separation or through the idea that two degrees of temperature change separates the world from disaster—Gratz’s characters call on every one of us to do our part to rally against climate change.
- Posted by Donna