New Yorker staff writer Kolbert (The Prophet of Love, 2004) reports from the frontlines of global warming.
Based on a three-part series that appeared in the magazine, this slim volume conveys through telling detail the changes already being wrought by human-induced global warming. For most Americans, this issue is not yet “close to home,” Kolbert writes; the early effects are found nearer the poles. In the Alaskan village of Shishmaref, early spring thaws and storm surges may force residents to relocate from their centuries-old home. The same fate threatens permafrost expert Vladimir Romanovsky; huge sinkholes are opening up practically on his doorstep. Kolbert’s excursion to Swiss Camp, a research station in Greenland, ends with her finding a large puddle in her tent. Later she bids a fond farewell to one of the rapidly shrinking glaciers in Iceland. The island nation has had glaciers for the past two million years; one day they may all be gone. When the ice melts and the oceans warm, sea levels go up. Determined to keep their homes, the Dutch are well underway with plans to accommodate the rising waters, including buying out low-lying farms to hold projected floodwater and building floating houses. Vignettes also describe instances of warming-induced migration (butterflies moving their ranges northward) and disappearance (the golden toad, which had nowhere to go from its mountaintop). Although lighter on science than most books covering climate change, Kolbert’s narrative does provide enough history to orient readers. A visit to David Rind at the GISS Climate Impacts Group reveals that, ironically, while flooding may occur on some parts of the planet, the continental U.S. may face severe drought. Obligatory chapters on politics and the Kyoto Protocol are followed by stories of grassroots efforts by local governments—but will they be enough?
Good storytelling humanizes an often abstract subject.