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Best of 2023: The heat will kill you first

  • 11 January 2024
No matter where you are, you’ve been noticing the heat. Globally, killer heat waves are becoming longer, hotter, and more frequent. In Europe alone, the heatwaves of 2022 claimed over 60,000 lives.  Jeff Goodell has been a voice of authority and urgency on climate issues for over two decades. As a contributing editor to Rolling Stone, Goodell has written four books on energy and climate. His reporting has seen him venture into the frozen expanses of Antarctica, the Arctic, and to broiling cities around the world, rendering the invisible threats of our time into something tangible, immediate, and deeply human. With June and July the hottest months in recorded history, his newest book Heat could not have come at a more appropriate and frightening time.

David Halliday: You’ve been at Rolling Stone magazine for 20 years. What led you to focus on climate?

Jeff Goodell: In 2001, the New York Times called me and asked me to write about the comeback of coal. George W. Bush had been elected and he was big into fossil fuels. And I had no idea what they were talking about. I knew nothing about coal, knew nothing about energy. But I took this story assignment, went to West Virginia, the heart of coal country in America, and wrote this big story about the coal industry. And it really opened my eyes to where energy comes from, but also the chain of consequences to how we generate energy. 

For me as a journalist, it was totally transformative. From then, it became clear that it was a huge story that people didn’t really understand, that I didn’t really understand. I wrote a cover story for the New York Times Magazine. I turned that into a book and basically never looked back. I just became consumed with the scope and scale of the story.

Climate reporting can be dry because it’s data driven. But you have a New Journalism style that is extremely vivid and engaging. This is storytelling done well, engaging with all these people who have seen the effects firsthand. Have you seen much of a response from people who wouldn’t ordinarily be moved by traditional climate writing?

This book’s been on the New York Times bestseller list for three weeks now. It’s a huge success, especially for a climate book. And the reason is, partly because we’ve had this global heat wave. July is the hottest month ever recorded. So