Field Notes From a Catastrophe

Man, Nature, and Climate Change, Elizabeth Kolbert, Bloomsbury.


This century carbon dioxide emissions and heat stress are “in.” Permafrost and polar ice are “out.” In spite of these trends, global warming is currently being portrayed in the media as a potential environmental problem, an issue about which there is no consensus. In fact, among reputable scientists there is nearly universal agreement that the earth’s climate is getting warmer; the lack of consensus is limited to how severe the impact will be. Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Field Notes from a Catastrophe” illustrates how the effects of global warming are already self-evident in places like the Artic, Iceland and Alaska. 

Whether it's melting icebergs and glaciers, thermokarsts (sinkholes in the ground where permafrost has thawed), or repeatedly flooded homes and villages, in certain select areas the effects are already very striking. “Field Notes…” takes the reader on an educational, yet fascinating trip to these far-flung, remote locations, all without getting in the family SUV and leaving home. 

While “Field Notes…” is filled with compelling vignettes—the “amphibious homes” being built in low-lying Holland comes to mind—the most striking aspect of the book is how worried all the coolly-analytical climatologists seem to be. Robert Socolow, director of the Carbon Mitigation Institute, is quoted as saying that, “the experts—the people who work with the climate models every day, the people who do ice cores—they are more concerned” [than the average lay person]. All in all, “Field Notes…” is an alarming but not alarmist look at the problem of global warming, devoid of the political posturing normally associated with the subject.