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Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  2,210 Ratings  ·  290 Reviews
Americans have been warned since the late 1970s that the buildup of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere threatens to melt the polar ice sheets and irreversibly change our climate. With little done since then to alter this dangerous path, the world has reached a critical threshold. By the end of the century, it will likely be hotter than at any point in the last two million ye ...more
Published March 7th 2006 by Simon & Schuster Audio (first published 2006)
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Jul 21, 2014 Kenneth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was more hard science than rhetoric which was welcome. Kolbert lays out the argument convincingly and compellingly. Because she is not daunted by the science, the argument comes across measured and deliberate - maybe even a bit understated at times - making it all the more effective. For anyone still harboring doubts about global warming, I'd like to think this book may well challenge their current thought processes.

Kolbert takes us on a voyage across Iceland and Greenland, glaciers in Alas
Elizabeth Kolbert was, still is I think, the main environmental writer for The New Yorker. This book was one of the first books I read on climate change, and is particularly convincing as it is based on actually observing what is going on in the Arctic, not on climate models, theoretical projections, or any such things as these (though I imagine that some of this stuff is mentioned in the book, I don't recall).

Kolbert is a fine writer, and although I suppose the book is a bit out of date by now
Apr 08, 2009 Noah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book seems poorly-proportioned. It spends too many pages shoring up the existence of anthropogenic climate change and not enough time talking about the implications. Anyone open to the scientific premise isn't going to need 100 pages of proof before getting into the interesting part. Between assessments of the present and forecasts for the future, Kolbert also never pauses to explain exactly why this is a problem. I'm not a climate change skeptic by any means, but my biggest frustration is ...more
Aug 25, 2016 Darlene rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book, 'Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change' by Elizabeth Kolbert grew out of a three-part series she wrote for the 'New Yorker'. In this slim volume, Elizabeth Kolbert methodically explains the science of climate change and the warming temperatures of the earth. I think one of the most startling aspects of this book, for me, was learning that the study of climate change as it relates to the burning of fossil fuels actually dates back to the 19th century. This isn' ...more
David Tranvik
Dec 11, 2011 David Tranvik rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

“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.” This quote demonstrates the overwhelming message that Kolbert is trying to convey in writing this book. She urges people to recognize the growing changes that are occurring on our planet and the need to address issue before for it is to late.
Kolbert’s book provides unique facts and observation that allow her to come to the
Sep 09, 2007 Alicia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Field Notes From A Catastrophe is an interesting book that calmly lays out the evidence to support the fact that the earth is now the warmest it has been in the past 420,000 years. She then goes on to talk about differing scientists viewpoints of what this might mean. At the core, all of the important scientists in the field agree that the warming means that the planet is on the edge of a major climate change. The main point of contention seems to be the time frame in which that will happen and ...more
Mar 31, 2014 Dorothy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature, science
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
― Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked

That famous quote from Upton Sinclair seems highly appropriate to any discussion of climate change in this country. Entrenched, very powerful economic interests control our political system and, to a great extent, our media, and those interests are determined that business as usual shall prevail in the production and distrib
I enjoyed reading this book. It was well written and the author seem well versed in it. It was heavy (of course but that's just) because I am not familiar with some of scientific terms that has been jotted down in the book. I'm taking my time to really understand the terminology before I proceed reading it. The author throwing out all the proofs she could find in this book. It's her way of saying "wake up, this is real. see all the things I mentioned with the proof right there in the book". She ...more
Colleen Clark
Compelling. Well written. Unless one, understandably, feels that one has heard ENOUGH about this topic and/or finds it too upsetting, this is an excellent, readable, report from a first-rate journalist for The New Yorker. The cover says that the text started out as a three-part series in The New Yorker.

The book has two parts - 4 chapters grouped under "Nature." and 6 under "Man."

Kolbert travels to Alaska and tells us about the permafrost. Who knew? much less how important it is.
She explicates th
Mark Valentine
Jul 29, 2016 Mark Valentine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kolbert's prose will stand will last longer than our asphalt-ribbonned, CO2-choked highways. She writes with such a steady hand about a crisis of enormous proportion that, if she were not the voice I am reading, I would throw the book across the room because of the flagrant audacity of its content--the mother of all catastrophes is upon us.

Her final line of the original book screams at me with irony: "It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in esse
Elliott Bignell
Apr 12, 2015 Elliott Bignell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I pounded through this book in a couple of sittings, captivated by the sheer, physical impact of its descriptions of the reality of global warming out in the field. The author has been reporting on climate science and mixing with scientists for some time, and it shows. Whether out on the ice in Greenland, surveying butterflies in the Home Counties or at conventions with alarmed scientists and obfuscating politicians, Kolbert has actually been there.

If you know someone still trying to deny the th
Vish Wam
Dec 17, 2014 Vish Wam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With so much talk on what a major climate change could mean for our future, this book details what effects climate change is currently bringing upon us. A dangerous extrapolation of current trends is predicted, leaving you with a strong sense of fear-for what is to come- and a forceful wish to act- to prevent what is to come.
Some very interesting questions discussed in the book include: How big an impact would climate change have on ecological distribution of living organisms? Does climate chan
Isaac Baker
May 21, 2015 Isaac Baker rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a really good primer on climate change, the perfect gift for your conservative uncle who thinks climate change is a liberal conspiracy. Although he wouldn’t read it, which is why so many people still ignore this crucial issue: they don’t care about science and reality.

Published in 2006, I was struck over and over again by how little we have done to address climate change since this book came out. It’s depressing is that some things are still the same. James Inhoffe, for example, is feat
Apr 09, 2014 Jake rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Field Notes from a Catastrophe, by Elizabeth Kolbert, studies the evidence for global warming and the consequences of global warming. She argues that global warming exists by looking at current and past research taking place all over the world in many different branches of science. She lays out the consequences of global warming in two groups. The first half of the book is directed toward what is happening to nature as a result of global warming and the second half describes what humans are doin ...more
Apr 05, 2011 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
by now a dated review of the science and politics and climate change, but it was interesting to read a few years later and realize how little the election of a Democratic president actually alters the basic difficulties of achieving drastic change. Lays out pretty clearly the evidence that, as the last sentence puts it, "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." Some ...more
Svitlana Nova
Oct 14, 2016 Svitlana Nova rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ecology
This is a wonderful introduction text for those interested in learning more about what climate change is all about and what the effects of it are going to be. It is a good overview: from glaciers to oceans, from government policy to what each individual community can do to remedy climate change.

The text is outdated at this point: written in 2004 - 2007, the world has moved on. However, in terms of climate change it hasn't moved on in the correct direction, so this book is still highly educationa
Jun 28, 2010 Sam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As Kolbert states in her introduction, this booked is aimed more at the climate change sceptics than those already convinced but it is still a very good read. It is written in clear and concise terms while trying to be as objective and as calm as possible about the evidence there is for anthropogenic climate change, despite the obvious (and understandable) temption to dive into the implications of what we as a species are doing. Kolbert has managed to avoid the usual trap of preaching to the rea ...more
Christopher Cotrell
Sep 07, 2009 Christopher Cotrell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who aren't yet convinced we're fucked
A good overview of current climate science, its history, implications, and possible courses of action and the political states of them. It's all in a journalistic style, which manages to give the whole issue and its history a bit of life and personality, without the nonsense of portraying climate change deniers as anything but fools or tools of various industries.

Like any reasonable overview of climate change, it's sort of a doom, gloom, doom, doom, doom, we're fucked if we don't do anything, th
Sep 28, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Elizabeth Kolbert is the modern day Cassandra of Greek mythology warning of the inevitable future on climate change, if we do little to alter our current course. Like Cassandra, she is given the gift of prophecy but widely ignored. This book is chalked full of science, digestible for the non-scientist. I would recommend starting with her book The Sixth Extinction, as the storyline has wider appeal and is more current in its account. However, the inescapable truth of both books is that in the hum ...more
Wanda Brenni
While perhaps not well written, this is a very important read--the information is there--the reality of our inaction obvious to all. The canary is already dead. For the first time in the history of the planet, we will be a species that is responsible for our own dimise as well as many of our fellow species. Perhaps in that the shift towards global warming started with the industrial revolution, and perhaps given our increasing numbers, this coming self made extention may have been somewhat out o ...more
Jan 03, 2016 AC rated it liked it
Shelves: audible, climate
A series of magazine articles woven into a small pamphlet. It is superficial (which works for me; I am scientifically illiterate). But it is also now 10 years old.
Pete daPixie
Mar 02, 2009 Pete daPixie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: green
Kolbert's 'Field notes' is as up to date as you can get,(2007), on the hard data of climate change. She travels round the globe to collect findings from scientific projects, researchers and environmentalists to explain in simple terms the harsh realities of human impact on mother earth.
She visits both polar regions and many points between to present data on CO2 levels, ice-cap depletion, permafrost, rising sea levels, CFC emissions, third world growth, and inadequate international understanding
This is not a speculative gloom-and-doom story, but a great textbook on climate change research and the current state of affairs, with clear case studies of places around the world where climate change is already affecting the lives of people. The chapter on Dutch water management and the floating houses in Maasbommel is excellently done; the 'Ruimte voor de Rivier' (Room for the River) projects of which she speaks are now well underway and set to be completed in 2015. In the few years since Ms. ...more
Peter Ellwood
I recognise that I’m probably out of step here, but for me this book wasn’t much to write home about; though it did raise some key philosophical aspects in my own mind (Elizabeth Kolbert doesn’t address such areas at all). The majority of people reading it are likely to be climate change converts already, and will endorse her every word; the rest will not find much that’s new, and may give a weary yawn at the tendency to proselytise, however gently.

The book consists of a series of interesting ep
Sep 09, 2015 Scribd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: friday-reads
As Elizabeth Kolbert notes in her preface, “This is a book about watching the world change.” Based off a series of pieces published in the New Yorker, this expansion is, indeed, composed of field notes: From Alaska to the Netherlands, and many places inbetween (“such is the impact of global warming,” she notes, “that I could have gone to hundreds if not thousands of other places … to document its effects”), her reporting examines the range of ways – both intuitive and surprising – that global wa ...more
Mary Brodd
We are so screwed.

Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in the summer by 2080.

Permafrost not "perma" any more.

Ice-albedo - positive feedback loop - the faster the ice melts, the faster the ice melts.

Final paragraph:
"Ice core records also show that we are steadily drawing closer to the temperature peaks of the last interglacial, when sea levels were some fifteen feet higher than they are today. Just a few degrees more and the earth will be hotter than it has been at any time since our species evolved. Th
Jeremy DeBottis
This was a very good and informative book about global warming. The science spoken about is well researched and conveyed in an easy to understand way that should allow for almost anyone to comprehend with minimal difficulty. Sadly, the book is 9-10 years old at this point with a majority of the research being even older so it felt slightly dated. I've read other books on this topic so all the effects on the earth itself that are described felt like common knowledge to me.
The portion of the book
David C
Sep 13, 2014 David C rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recently got involved in a lengthy email debate about the validity and strength of climate science. A climate skeptic would take one look at the title of this book and throw up their hands and scream "Alarmist propaganda!" Well, I happen to agree with the alarmists. But what Ms. Kolbert does so effectively in this book is to take a very objective look at the current (up to 2005 anyway) and historical climate science, acknowledging its strengths and weaknesses, and distill the complex ideas tha ...more
Nicole R
Jun 25, 2014 Nicole R rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I believe that one of (if not the) hot topic of the 2008 presidential election will be global warming (no pun intended...okay, a little pun was intended!). It is vitally important that voters realize the actuality of global climate change as it pertains to sea level rise, increasing temperatures, hurricanes, and rainfall. This is a book that explains some of these phenomenons on a level that is understandable to the majority of the general public. Ms. Kolbert is not a scientist, her background i ...more
John Alt
Feb 26, 2014 John Alt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It all began with John Tyndall and Svante Arrhenius. In 1861 with his spectrophotometer, Irish physicist Tyndall identified a phenomenon we now call the natural greenhouse effect. He correctly saw that without this atmospheric effect all Earth heat would be lost into space and the planet would be held "in the iron grip of frost." An insomniac, he died after his wife accidentally gave him an overdose of the sleep aid then available, chloral hydrate. As he lay dying he said to her, "My poor darlin ...more
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  • Climate Wars
Elizabeth Kolbert is a staff writer at The New Yorker. She is the author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change and The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. She lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.
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“The National Academy of Sciences undertook its first major study of global warming in 1979. At that point, climate modeling was still in its infancy, and only a few groups, one led by Syukuro Manabe at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and another by James Hansen at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, had considered in any detail the effects of adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Still, the results of their work were alarming enough that President Jimmy Carter called on the academy to investigate. A nine-member panel was appointed. It was led by the distinguished meteorologist Jule Charney, of MIT, who, in the 1940s, had been the first meteorologist to demonstrate that numerical weather forecasting was feasible. The Ad Hoc Study Group on Carbon Dioxide and Climate, or the Charney panel, as it became known, met for five days at the National Academy of Sciences’ summer study center, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Its conclusions were unequivocal. Panel members had looked for flaws in the modelers’work but had been unable to find any. “If carbon dioxide continues to increase, the study group finds no reason to doubt that climate changes will result and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible,” 2 likes
“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.” 2 likes
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