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1 Beaverton Environmental Studies- Climate Change and Global Warming

Field Notes from a Catastrophe


Field Notes from a Catastrophe Cover

ISBN13: 9781596911253
ISBN10: 1596911255
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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mpeterse, December 9, 2009 (view all comments by mpeterse)
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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mgarceau, May 15, 2009 (view all comments by mgarceau)
The scope of this book is grand; Kolbert has deliberately written a book with a credibly large perspective. Instead of simply focusing on the climate aspect of global warming, she recounts the historic development of global climate change, and even taps into the implications of human polity. While this latter subject may raise contention in some of the book’s readers, she makes some poignant remarks about the importance of environmental regulations and societal change if we are to preserve our planet and offset an impending ‘catastrophe.’ In her assessment of the current human offset-effort, Kolbert is undoubtedly grim; from her last page she writes, “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.”

The book gives a chronological timeline of the theory of climate change since (roughly) the industrial revolution; but rather than focusing on current or more modern discoveries, she credits some of oldest theorists and proponents of global warming. John Tyndall, 1850 or so, and his discovery of the ‘greenhouse’ effect, along with other classic scientists, Stefan Boltzmann, Charles David Keeling, and Svante Arrhenius are given mention. By briefing the reader with history, Kolbert lends the current debate of global warming some gravitas and credibility -- this is not a new theory or a fabrication fueled by the whims of political interests -- it is a real phenomenon that has been in progress for over a hundred years! Although, when Kolbert switches focus to more recent climate-modeling and “carbon stabilization modeling” for global climate change, the data presented gets complicated and overwhelming for the not so scientifically inclined (me). Fortunately, there aren‘t copious amounts of it; and even so, the data is necessary to substantiate the claims on climate change. The affects of climate change on the planet are significant, and while it would be impossible to note every change occurring, her examples are varied enough to demonstrate the broad-impact that global climate change is having on the planet, from living to the nonliving.

Kolbert collects data from Alaska, Greenland, England, the Netherlands, Vermont and Costa Rica, among other places. From each field-study conducted, the general message is hammered: climate change is destabilizing eco-systems. In Costa Rica, for instance, the golden toad, which lived in the higher-altitude areas of the region, may now be extinct; her anecdote suggests that high altitude inhabitants, much like polar-region inhabitants, are being adversely affected by climate change. Migration patterns may also be changing, robins appearing on Bank Island, located 500 miles north of the Arctic circle, have started appearing; and the Comma C butterfly’s range of expansion has increased 50miles/decade. Additionally, Kolbert notes how rising world temperatures has caused world glaciers and ice-sheets to recede, resulting in higher-than-normal sea levels; these changes have already started to affect coastal regions. In the Netherlands, for instance, people are no longer trying to remove water via drainage and water pumping, but are now seeking flexible, engineering alternatives; homes are being built to be buoyant. In Alaska, the Inupiat people, who once used snow-mobiles over the ice-sheets for hunting now trek the region via boats, because the water no longer freezes solidly; furthermore, those living on the Island of Shismaref have had to completely relocate to the mainland, because the sea-ice was not solidifying as it once did, making the island more vulnerable to storm surges. These examples, along with countless others, give the book its credibility, but also sheer scope and impact of climate change. For someone who may not be aware of all the studies and changes unfolding around us, Kolbert does an excellent job of illustrating the importance of climate change.

Even though her book is, in many ways, a watershed for undertones of bleak circumstance that our planet endures, she does supply some hope for our current plight; in Burlington, Vermont, for instance, the people are passionate for change; they want to reduce their CO2 footprint and have made various efforts to reduce their reliance on coal.

Overall, this was a worthwhile read; Kolbert has written a nuanced and insightful book that is, in general, written for common audiences. While there are moments of complexity, these are merely supplemental sections that can be quickly digested. Additionally, her book definitely has a political angle; while deliberating politics is not the central ‘focus’ of the book, the inclusion of political opinion may upset some, especially those in favor of the Bush Administration, of which she is hyper-critical.

A solid read. Deserving an 8 out of 10.
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upwardroy2005, October 1, 2006 (view all comments by upwardroy2005)
This is an incisive and timely book on a crucial planetary issue. I saw the movie :An Inconvenient Truth" while reading this book. The experiece of both was enhanced by the other. My paradigm has been shifted. I have a moral imperative to reduce my environmental impact after reading this book. There are virtually thousands of books and websites devoted to this subject. Elizabeth Kolbert uses her journalistic skills to package and present the most pertinent information in a way that the layperson can comprehend.
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Product Details

Man, Nature, and Climate Change
Kolbert, Elizabeth
Bloomsbury USA
Environmental Science
Global warming
Global environmental change
Earth Sciences - Meteorology & Climatology
Global temperature changes.
General Political Science
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
March 7, 2006
Grade Level:
] A."<b><i>--Entertainment Weekly</i></b></div><b>
BandW images throughout
8.25 x 5.50 in

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Related Subjects

Science and Mathematics » Environmental Studies » Climate Change and Global Warming
Science and Mathematics » Environmental Studies » General
Science and Mathematics » Physics » Meteorology

Field Notes from a Catastrophe Used Hardcover
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Product details 240 pages Bloomsbury Publishing PLC - English 9781596911253 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Field Notes from a Catastrophe, a refreshingly slim and concise volume, grew out of Elizabeth Kolbert's remarkable series on global warming in the New Yorker. Kolbert spans the globe, from examining ice samples in Greenland to mosquitoes in a lab in Oregon to the changing habitats of butterflies in England. Field Notes from a Catastrophe is sober, disturbing, and beautifully written exploration of global warming — environmental science at its best.

"Staff Pick" by ,

Field Notes from a Catastrophe, a refreshingly slim and concise volume, grew out of Elizabeth Kolbert's remarkable series on global warming in the New Yorker. Kolbert spans the globe, from examining ice samples in Greenland to mosquitoes in a lab in Oregon to the changing habitats of butterflies in England. Field Notes from a Catastrophe is sober, disturbing, and beautifully written exploration of global warming — environmental science at its best.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "On the burgeoning shelf of cautionary but occasionally alarmist books warning about the consequences of dramatic climate change, Kolbert's calmly persuasive reporting stands out for its sobering clarity. Expanding on a three-part series for the New Yorker, Kolbert (The Prophet of Love) lets facts rather than polemics tell the story: in essence, it's that Earth is now nearly as warm as it has been at any time in the last 420,000 years and is on the precipice of an unprecedented 'climate regime, one with which modern humans have had no prior experience.' An inexorable increase in the world's average temperature means that butterflies, which typically restrict themselves to well-defined climate zones, are now flitting where they've never been found before; that nearly every major glacier in the world is melting rapidly; and that the prescient Dutch are already preparing to let rising oceans reclaim some of their land. In her most pointed chapter, Kolbert chides the U.S. for refusing to sign on to the Kyoto Accord. In her most upbeat chapter, Kolbert singles out Burlington, Vt., for its impressive energy-saving campaign, which ought to be a model for the rest of the nation — just as this unbiased overview is a model for writing about an urgent environmental crisis." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Good storytelling humanizes an often abstract subject."
"Review" by , "A riveting view of the apocalypse already upon us. Kolbert mesmerizes with her poetic cadence as she closes the coffin on the arguments of the global warming skeptics."
"Review" by , "This country needs more writers like Elizabeth Kolbert."
"Review" by , "Reading Field Notes from a Catastrophe during the 2005 hurricane season is what it must have been like to read Silent Spring fifty years ago. When you put down this this book, you'll see the world through different eyes."
"Review" by , "The hard, cold, sobering facts about global warming and its effects on the environment that sustains us. Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catstrophe is nothing less than a Silent Spring for our time."
"Review" by , "In Field Notes from a Catastrophe, Elizabeth Kolbert gives us a clear, succinct, and invaluable report from the front. Even if you have followed the story for years, you will want to read it. And if you know anyone who still does not understand the reality and the scale of global warming, you will want to give them this book."
"Review" by , "...Field Notes From a Catastrophe is a measured, elegant and brief book that functions as a perfect primer on global warming. It might be the most important book you read this year."
"Review" by , "...Kolbert has rendered a mannered account as compelling as it is enlightening, a litany of evidence that conveys a reality overwhelming and unmindful of what our society eventually chooses to believe."
"Review" by , "[B]oth comprehensive and succinct."
"Review" by , "Climate change is complex stuff, but [Kolbert] deftly distills the brew to clarity. Hers is not only an 'important' book, it is good reading, with revealing examples and piercing quotes from her subjects..."
"Synopsis" by , A new edition of the book that launched Elizabeth Kolbert's career as an environmental writer&#8212;updated with three new chapters and timed to publish with the paperback of her bestselling The Sixth Extinction.
"Synopsis" by ,
Long known for her insightful and thought-provoking political journalism, author Elizabeth Kolbert now tackles the controversial and increasingly urgent subject of global warming. In what began as groundbreaking three-part series in the New Yorker, for which she won a National Magazine Award in 2006, Kolbert cuts through the competing rhetoric and political agendas to elucidate for Americans what is really going on with the global environment and asks what, if anything, can be done to save our planet. Now updated and with a new afterword, Field Notes from a Catastrophe is the book to read on the defining issue and greatest challenge of our times.
"Synopsis" by , Elizabeth Kolbert's environmental classic Field Notes from a Catastrophe first developed out of a groundbreaking, National Magazine Award-winning three-part series in The New Yorker. She expanded it into a still-concise yet richly researched and damning book about climate change: a primer on the greatest challenge facing the world today.

But in the years since, the story has continued to develop; the situation has become more dire, even as our understanding grows. Now, Kolbert returns to the defining book of her career. She'll add a chapter bringing things up-to-date on the existing text, plus she'll add three new chapters&#8212;on ocean acidification, the tar sands, and a Danish town that's gone carbon neutral&#8212;making it, again, a must-read for our moment.

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