Fields Notes from a Catastrophe

Field Notes from a Catastrophe
Elizabeth Kolbert

When this book first came out in 2005 it was hailed in some quarters as the Silent Spring of climate change. As it documents, however, the science of climate change has been around for a while, with each new verification only demonstrating how much worse things probably are than our models have predicted. And in any event I’m not sure a Silent Spring moment is necessary to raise awareness of the problem. We know the problem, and, in general terms, the solutions. It’s just that the solutions are unacceptable. Sacrifices are going to have to be made, but they won’t be made willingly, and will likely come as too little and too late anyway. “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.” It may not register as a choice we’ve made, but as Kolbert concludes, we’re still responsible. Some kind of collapse beckons. The sting in the tail, however, is that use of “technologically advanced.” Of course what Kolbert means is that lots of previous civilizations have collapsed due to environmental causes, but they weren’t as sophisticated as ours. The problem is that this doesn’t mean we’re any better equipped to deal with the crisis, and indeed our state of technological advance may be a big part of our undoing.