In early October, a group of scientists congregated by the United Nations released a report warning that by as soon as 2040, severe impacts of climate change will start to unfold if greenhouse emissions continue at the current rate. The report describes a world in which food shortages and natural disasters are common, and the occurrence of a mass die-off of coral reefs is a large possibility. The worry is that unless immediate and drastic action across the globe is taken to combat climate change, the Earth will continue to warm at these unprecedented levels until a tipping point is reached and the Earth acts as a system to further warm itself.
We are on the brink of an incomprehensible tragedy. Author Elizabeth Kolbert illustrates the causes and devastating effects of this global warming in her book Field Notes From a Catastrophe, urging readers that the future needs to pave way for a shift away from carbon reliance before it’s too late.
In her book, Kolbert embarks on a physical trek across the globe and conducts interviews with many people to emphasize the widespread impacts of climate change. This unique aspect of the book allows readers to gain a vivid picture of the impacts of climate change on a global scale. Whether it be the Alaskan town of Shishmaref needing to relocate due to increased vulnerability to storm surges; the melting ice in Greenland, which could result in a change in the climate system leading Europe to get colder; the transformations in migration patterns of butterflies and many other animals because rising temperatures are forcing them to migrate farther than ever before; and the floating houses present in the Netherlands to prepare for the resulting sea-level rise when the Greenland ice sheets continue to melt; Kolbert clearly illustrates the truly ravaging effects of climate change which have already taken place.
All these little signs point to a coming, worldwide catastrophe that will affect humans, plants, and animals alike.
Another unique way that Kolbert tells the story about the disastrous effects of climate change is by splitting her book into three parts: “Nature,” “Man,” and “Time.” In Part 1, “Nature,” Kolbert is traveling from Greenland and Iceland to Alaska, describing the increased rate of melting glaciers and its consequences. This part of the book highlights the large-scale effects of climate change that are already underway and how they’re affecting people and animals that live in those regions. Next, Kolbert moves to focus on “Man” in Part 2 of her book. In “Man,” Kolbert focuses on both the historical and modern impact of humanity on climate change. By highlighting the ancient civilizations of the Akkadian and the Mayans, she shows that parts of humanity have been driven to extinction before due to unsustainable lifestyles and changing climates. She uses these civilizations as a warning for modern nations if they do not begin to take serious action. Kolbert specifically calls out America’s unchecked use of fossil fuels and the Bush administration’s opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, which is an international treaty requiring countries to reduce their greenhouse emissions. Kolbert shows in this section of her book that despite the dramatic repercussions of climate change that are already taking place, people are still able to easily ignore the issues because they have yet to be faced with the consequences daily. In the final part of her book, “Time,” Kolbert explicitly addresses how little time there is left before climate change will begin to affect everyone and everything. There is some hope in these chapters that if all nations start to take large efforts to reduce their carbon emissions, they could prevent the catastrophe that is bound to occur. One leading physicist that Kolbert interviewed said “I think we have a shot” at combating climate change. But in the Afterward of her book, when Kolbert turns to action taken by the US after Hurricane Katrina, she becomes pessimistic that her grandchildren will inherit a planet in the same state as the current one. By telling the story of climate change in this way, Kolbert shows the three most pressing issues regarding climate change: the effects of climate change on nature, the impact of man, and the limited time global leaders have to act before it’s too late.
Kolbert’s novel works to eradicate any doubts the reader might have about the disastrous effects of climate change. By weaving together science and narrative, Kolbert can appeal to both logic and emotion within her readership. Both her documented travels and her formatting of the book into three parts allow for readers to gain a vivid picture of climate change’s effects already and what’s to come. The writing is clear and persuasive, and the highly relevant topic makes it a must-read for anyone who wants to be a conscientious citizen regarding understanding climate change. Kolbert is an amazing author and journalist, and her writing and reporting skills are put on display in this amazing novel. Field Notes From a Catastrophe uses history, science, interviews, travels, observations, and narrative to create an interwoven and intricate picture of what climate change is all about.