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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's review
Apr 08, 09

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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