Review To Joe

Hi Joe,

Just finished Kolbert's book, and you're right that it was exactly up my alley. Deeply troubling, certainly. It does, however, reminds me of something a buddy of mine said to me a few years back, when "The Road" had come out and I wondered about reading it: he said "you don't need to read it, Andy — you could have written it!"

I'd read some of Kolbert's work before, and knew that I would appreciate it. I did learn a lot while reading, however — she is talking to all the right people. It's great to have a savvy reporter get in there and meet with this coterie of sages (and bozos), asking all the right questions. What a grim ending, especially coming as it does in 2006: "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." I concur 100%.

I was particularly distressed to re-live her encounters with Under-secretary Dobriansky, of the Bush administration. "We act, we learn, we act again", parroted over and over, or "we predicate our policies on sound science." — when she meant "we predicate our policies on nonsense". I'm so glad to be out from under Dick Cheney. This (along with torture) is why I hated Bush so much — who came in saying that he'd classify CO2 as a pollutant, until Dick Cheney took over (at least according to Paul O'Neill — p. 160). We ended up so far, far behind where we should be today, because Cheney was in bed deep with the oil, gas, and coal industries.

It also explains why I hate Romney just as much — the candidate of the carbon polluters' trade. The whole "drill baby drill" mentality of the Palins and Romneys infuriates me. I see that Mayor Bloomberg just endorsed Obama: "Mr. Obama was the best candidate to tackle the global climate change that the mayor believes contributed to the violent storm…." (NYTimes). I had thought (and hoped) that Romney's convention remarks RE climate change might come back to haunt him, and maybe they just did: "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet; my promise is to help you and your family." [unless they're in deep trouble because of the rise of the oceans because of all that "drill baby drill" stuff, perhaps….]

But like you I especially liked learning about Tyndall, and about the Inuits' encounter with the robin, as well as some of the other really interesting experiences that Kolbert had in the process of writing these stories. I'd written about the golden toad while working on my masters, and actually met Alan Pounds while down in the Monteverde Cloud Forest of Costa Rica (not a particularly pleasant dude, I must say, and he keeps his data too close to his chest). The butterfly stories were beautiful.

More than anything, however, I was enthralled by the scientists' candid thoughts on what we're doing to ourselves (to echo Kolbert's equally dark musings at the end of the book):

  1. Marty Hoffert, p. 144: "Right now, we're going to just burn everything up; we're going to heat the atmosphere to the temperature it was in the Cretaceous, when there were crocodiles at the poles. And then everything will collapse."
  2. Robert Socolow, p. 133: "I've been involved in a number of fields where there's a lay opinion and a scientific opinion….in most of the cases, it's the lay community that is more exercised, more anxious…. But, in the climate case, the experts — the people who work with the climate models every day, the people who do the ice cores — they are more concerned. They're going out of their way to say, 'Wake up! This is not a good thing to be doing.'"
  3. Peter deMenocal, p. 117: "The thing they couldn't prepare for was the same thing that we won't prepare for, because in their case they didn't know about it and because in our case the political system can't listen to it. And that is that the climate system has much greater things in store for us than we think."
  4. David Rind, p. 111: "We may say that we're more technologically able than earlier societies. But one thing about climate change is it's potentially geopolitically destabilizing. And we're not only more technologically able; we're more technologically able destructively as well. I think it's impossible to predict what will happen. I guess — though I won't be around to see it — I wouldn't be shocked to find out that by 2100 most things were destroyed." He paused. "That's sort of an extreme view." [But what strikes me is that it's not!]
  5. Thompson Webb, p. 86: "And yet you could argue that this will give a lot of advantage to the microorganisms of the world, because of their ability to evolve more quickly. To the extent the climate is putting organisms as well as ecosystems under stress, it's opening the opportunities for invasive species on the one hand and disease on the other. I guess I start thinking: Think death."

They all pretty well reflect my own impressions of what's going to happen. I have a very dark perspective, which is the primary reason for buying into northern Ontario.

On a relatively different note, if you want to see what I went through with the class of budding mathematicians the other day, it's at

Glad to share some thoughts with someone who's also read the book! I'd be glad to hear more about your thoughts, and how the course is coming along. Hi to Cindy,


On 10/15/2012 9:50 PM, Joe and Cindy Palm wrote:

Taking Sides is the following:
Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Environmental issues (15th Edition). You would really like this, as it frames up each environmental issue, then gives opposing writers space to advance their "pro and con" arguments.
And you will enjoy Kolbert's book. It is basically a globe-trotting mosaic of testimonials from normal people and scientists all over the world who talk through their observations and experiences surrounding the topic at hand. These people don't spin or pontificate. They just simply share what they have seen and measured, and all is shared in a very readable, conversational format.
Kolbert peppers and reinforces these anecdotes with relevant material…whether it be from government studies, the Kyoto Agreement, historical data, or whatever.
But the longer you read, the more compelling the data becomes in its cohesiveness. The pieces of the mosaic settle together into a very disturbing and monstrous picture of what we are doing to the earth.
And in the process, I get to learn about the Keeling Curve, the Stefan-Boltzmann Law, Black Carbon, the declining permafrost's release of methane, DAI, moulins, Tyndall's spectrophotometer, and how the Inuit Eskimos need to create a word for a type of bird they have never seen before: the robin.
You will certainly enjoy the book, Andy!

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License