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Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert
Field Notes from a Catastrophe

mpeterse, December 9, 2009

Field Notes from a Catastrophe serves as an excellent introduction to the topic of climate change. Elizabeth Kolbert writes in enough of a simplified manner for the common reader to understand while still engaging those who actively read about global climate change. Perhaps this is because she was initially writing this for the New Yorker rather than some sort of scholarly, scientific journal. Because of this, it reads like a fiction book while giving the reader loads of relevant factual information; Kolbert’s descriptiveness and storytelling adds to the book’s overall readability – it’s not dense like a textbook that’s merely crammed with facts. That, I think, is exactly the effect she was looking for when writing this book. She states in the preface that her “…hope is that this book will be read by everyone.” Writing a book on such a serious topic, such as global climate change, in an easily readable format like this is a very effective way to get people to casually learn about this serious issue.

The book is split into two parts, the first called “Nature,” consisting of four chapters, and the second called “Man,” consisting of 6 chapters. In the “Nature” section of the book, Kolbert examines how we have progressed over time in realizing that the global climate is changing by looking at evidence that nature has provided us with. The second section of the book, “Man,” is about how human activity has contributed to global climate change, how we are dealing with it, and what we’re doing to reduce its effects. Weaved within and throughout the book, Kolbert writes about her travels to several very different locations to assess how climate change is apparent in different regions of the world. The range of locations she writes about is very wide reaching, including Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, Vermont, England, the Netherlands, and more. By writing about such a diverse range of locations, it becomes much harder for the non-believers of global warming to deny its existence after seeing what sorts of effects all of these places have had due to global climate change.

This book leaves the reader feeling a bit pessimistic about the future of the planet, as all books about climate change tend to do, yet Kolbert is optimistic enough that the reader is challenged to take some sort of action toward slowing the process of global climate change. The fact is, “the Greenland ice sheet holds enough water to raise sea levels worldwide by twenty-three feet.” If global warming is real, as Kolbert wants us to believe, then there has to be something more that the United States, the largest contributor of greenhouse gases in the world, can be doing to help combat this issue. If we don’t do something, we may soon see our coasts flooded.
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