‘Sea Change: An Atlas of Islands in a Rising Ocean,’ by Christina Gerhardt

I cannot help but think of the title of Rachel Carson’s 1951 masterpiece The Sea Around Us as I write here about Christina Gerhardt’s University of California Press book that will be released May 23. If you live on an island, the sea has always been around you, but with climate change, the sea may soon be above you. The book, which New Scientist calls One of the Best Science Books of 2023, is available for pre-0rder on Amazon and elsewhere.

From the Publisher

“This immersive portal to islands around the world highlights the impacts of sea level rise and shimmers with hopeful solutions to combat it.

“Atlases are being redrawn as islands are disappearing. What does an island see when the sea rises? “Sea Change: An Atlas of Islands in a Rising Ocean” weaves together essays, maps, art, and poetry to show us—and make us see—island nations in a warming world.

“Low-lying islands are least responsible for global warming, but they are suffering the brunt of it. This transportive atlas reorients our vantage point to place islands at the center of the story, highlighting Indigenous and Black voices and the work of communities taking action for local and global climate justice. At once serious and playful, well-researched and lavishly designed, Sea Change is a stunning exploration of the climate and our world’s coastlines. Full of immersive storytelling, scientific expertise, and rallying cries from island populations that shout with hope—’We are not drowning! We are fighting!’—this atlas will galvanize readers in the fight against climate change and the choices we all face.”

From the Booklist Review

“How often does an atlas command immediate attention, warranting a page-by-page perusal? This offering from Gerhardt and mapmaker Molly Roy is much more than a geological survey of the many islands around the world being affected by rising sea levels caused by climate change. There are compelling maps that indicate current coastlines and what the coastlines consist of (volcanic rock, ice shelves, mangrove forests) and project what coastlines will look like in 2050 and 2100. Lengthy essays introduce the inhabitants of these often-remote places, detailing their unique languages, histories, and ways of life.” See the full review here. 

Christina Gerhardt is Associate Professor at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, Senior Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, and former Barron Professor of Environment and the Humanities at Princeton University. Her environmental journalism has been published by Grist.orgThe NationThe Progressive, and the Washington Monthly.

As a university press book, Sea Change is priced slightly higher than a similar large traditional publisher’s price. However, it’s well worth it even for people who live in Kansas and think they’re immune to sea changes.



against the tides

When my brothers and I were in elementary school and spent a day at the beach, we’d swim, look for shells, catch blue crabs to eat, and if any of our friends were around with a boat, we might head out to the scallop bar 2/3 of we way across the Apalachee Bay.

Invariably–ff the tide was out–we’d build a fort at low tide where the seaweed on the beach showed the high tide’s level would be when it came back in. We hoped that one day our study sand fort would stand against the tides. It never did. We always lost the battle no matter how much extra sand we added as the waves rolled in.  We always lost faster against spring tides! Or during stormy weather.

We were too young to know anything about land tides of interest to geologists and volcanologists, much less the so-called cosmic tides measured by the I Ching, the surprisingly accurate Book of Changes that helps people align their goals with the ever-present changes in the universe.

Being somewhat fractious–or perhaps egotistic–I have fought the tides for sport all my life. It’s no wonder that one of my favorite songs was Bob Seeger’s “Against the Wind.” Any sailor knows you can sail against the wind just as every intuitive knows you can navigate your life against the advice of the I Ching.

The question is always: why do it? If you have a beach cottage, you probably have a tidal clock, so you can see the daily high and low tides. Hopefully, you have a barometer as well. So you know, for example, when to go out to the scallop bar and when the water will be too deep. We can know a lot a lot about ocean tides, land tides, and even cosmic tides in advance and therefore stop fighting all of them unless there’s an emergency.

My brothers and I learned one thing for sure with your sand forts. The tides are stronger than we are and they predict what will happen to coastal cities if rising sea levels continue. Sure, an expensive and disruptive system of levees can be built, but all that will just postpone the inevitable until we decide to stop what’s causing rising sea levels.

Or, we can pretend it’s not happening until our cities collapse as easily as forts of sand at the high tide line.