Noah's Reviews > Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change

Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert
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Apr 08, 2009

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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 people who don't lay out the argument for why changing the earth at a geological level is either morally or practically unacceptable. Is it because it will dislocate coastal communities? Because it will wipe out animal species that are important to the ecosystem? Because it will lead to the extinction of man? Any or all of these might be true, but I'd like for people not to just take the catastrophic nature of global warming as an article of faith and tell me so. The most interesting takeaway from this book is that there are a number of positive feedback cycles and trigger points that make the natural human tendency to think of global warming as a steady, linear process very dangerous. Kolbert makes a thorough case for why stored carbon in permafrost, the ice-albedo feedback loop, and other things will make the effects of global warming far more irregular and sudden than we appreciate.
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04/15 marked as: read

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Peter Ellwood It’s a kind of relief to see your comments. One gets so used to the fervent proselytising of the climate change lobby that I didn’t really expect to see balance here.

I share your view. If one can get the question of “climate change: is it or is it not happening?” out of the way, one becomes easier to explore on the (almost unexplored) issue of “how far does it matter?”. Follow her arguments through to their logical conclusion and you conclude that the only species that will object to the changed environment is ourselves: except that, as she demonstrates in the case of mosquitoes, we’ll have evolved to accommodate the change, because we always have.

Expressed in two sentences in order to fit into a comment, that sounds a bit flip. But it’s a serious point – and more profound than the question she asks!


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