Field notes from a catastrophe review

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field notes from a catastrophe review

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert

“As the effects of global warming become more and more difficult to ignore, will we react by finally fashioning a global response? Or will we retreat into ever narrower and more destructive forms of self-interest? It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing--Elizabeth Kohlbert, the concluding paragraph of this book, published in 2006.

This book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert, was (as I just said) published in 2006 (so know it is not precisely up to date, but I have been slowly and painfully been reading The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells, had some time in the car I could not read a physical book, so decided to listen an abridged version of this book (4 ½ hours) to see what came out of the dire warnings it gave us 15 years ago and kind of compare it in my head to what Wallace-Wells has to say. I had read when it came out the award-winning three-part series she wrote for The New Yorker, of which this book is an expansion.

The book’s primary audience is—I think—mild climate skeptics, maybe including some smart but right-wing politicians, or those just wanting to see just how serious this global warming stuff really might be. Kolbert, whose more recent book The Sixth Extinction I have also been reading but not yet reviewed, traveled to the melting Alaskan permafrost to talk with long time scientists about the effects of CO2 on global warming and her report is absolutely devastating, though she is an elegant writer in communicating the scientific facts and consensus on these issues. She, from my perspective, is not sensationalistic; she doesn’t engage in what some people deride as “climate change porn.” In giving a picture of her time, at the turn of the century, she also draws parallels to lost civilizations, and she clearly indicts Big Oil and Big Biz in especially the U. S. who have steered politicians into doing nothing about climate change, in spite of the direst warnings. Politicians we have elected and continue to re-elect. In the 2016 Presidential debates, there was not a single question directed to the candidates, not even on the political radar, the Kyoto and Paris accords genocidally ignored, so I already have a clear sense of where things have gone since then, but I just wanted to remind myself of the trajectory of events. I have kids. I teach. I am still alive and facing the future, though many fewer years than my past.

“We have to face the quantitative nature of the challenge,” he told me one day over lunch at the NYU faculty club. “Right now, we’re going to just burn everything up; we’re going to heat the atmosphere to the temperature it was in the Cretaceous, when there were crocodiles at the poles. And then everything will collapse.”

I repeat: This was written 15 years ago, when it was already the hottest time on record, and it has only gotten hotter each year. Trump, even worse than Bush, only turns back environmental protections, does nothing to address the crisis. And more than 40 % of the U.S. population as of today would still vote for him. Not a good sign for the planet.
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Published 12.12.2018

The Sixth Extinction: Elizabeth Kolbert

‘Field Notes From a Catastrophe’

For a bunch of alleged bloodsuckers, pitcher-plant mosquitoes turn out to be a bit of a disappointment. They're wimps, really. They never snack on the veins of animals and never cluster in swarms round human victims. Instead, they spend their lives lurking inside a species of American plant, the purple pitcher, and rarely emerge from it. It's not much of a life: no blood, no daylight, no fun. It's a bit like being a film critic, I imagine.

Thank you! New Yorker staff writer Kolbert The Prophet of Love , reports from the frontlines of global warming. Based on a three-part series that appeared in the magazine, this slim volume conveys through telling detail the changes already being wrought by human-induced global warming. In the Alaskan village of Shishmaref, early spring thaws and storm surges may force residents to relocate from their centuries-old home. The same fate threatens permafrost expert Vladimir Romanovsky; huge sinkholes are opening up practically on his doorstep. Later she bids a fond farewell to one of the rapidly shrinking glaciers in Iceland. The island nation has had glaciers for the past two million years; one day they may all be gone.

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The Inuit people of Banks Island have no word to describe what we know as a robin. After all, the islanders, miles inside the Arctic Circle, deep in Canada's Northwest Territories, had never seen the creatures until they suddenly turned up in numbers a few years ago. If you have any doubts about the potential devastation facing the planet as a result of global warming, Kolbert's book will eradicate them. The effects of global warming, she argues, can already be felt on every continent, in every country, by plants and animals alike. She describes butterfly populations edging northwards through the English countryside, mosquitoes that have mutated so that they go into diapause or dormancy later each year in the US and an extraordinary toad - 'a flaming shade of tangerine' - that has disappeared completely from the Monteverde cloud forest in Costa Rica. As for humans, families in the Netherlands have already moved into floating homes. All these tiny signs, brought to life in remarkable detail, point to a coming catastrophe.

Sarichef is a small island-no more than a quarter of a mile across and two and a half miles long-and Shishmaref is basically the only thing on it. To the north is the Chukchi Sea, and in every other direction lies the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, which probably ranks as one of the least visited national parks in the country. During the last ice age, the land bridge-exposed by a drop in sea levels of more than three hundred feet-grew to be nearly a thousand miles wide. The preserve occupies that part of it which, after more than ten thousand years of warmth, still remains above water. Shishmaref population is an Inupiat village, and it has been inhabited, at least on a seasonal basis, for several centuries. As in many native villages in Alaska, life there combines-often disconcertingly-the very ancient and the totally modern.

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