Sunday, November 29, 2009

Field Notes V: Chapters 7-8

I found these two chapters to be the most productive and relevant chapters that I have read so far.

I have been waiting the entire book for a discussion about human carbon output. In order for people to understand how humanity could be responsible for global warming, they must be told not only how their actions are affecting the climate, but also which actions are harmful. How can people work to make things better if they don't know what they are doing wrong? As I read chapter seven, I turned off my muted television because the information in the chapter made me realize that I was emitting unnecessary carbon. Its too bad that I had to read seven chapters of this book before I felt that there was something I could do.

I also enjoyed chapter eight because it provided necessary information for people to make informed political choices. Once people are aware of political agendas and options related to global warming, they can support worthy causes and candidates and rally for change.

Although I am relieved that Kolbert finally included these topics in her book, I am a bit frustrated that it took her seven chapters to do so. Human carbon output and political agendas are the heart of the global warming issue. They are the most important aspects and the most productive aspects to be discussed. Chapters seven and eight should have been the first two chapters in the book.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Field Notes IV: Chapter 5-6

Chapter 5 left me a bit confused about Kolbert's thesis. I was under the impression this whole time that she blames Global Warming on humans; however, I don't see how her discussion about the demise of ancient civilizations supports this. If climate changes have wreaked havoc on civilizations before, through no fault of the ancient peoples, than why should we assume that what is happening now is any different? Her examples seem to prove that climate change can happen regardless of anyone's carbon footprint.

I did find the explanation of how climate models are constructed to be interesting. I like the idea of the earth and its atmosphere being divided up into cubes. It also makes sense that a grid like this would make it a lot easier to study and discuss the climate of specific regions and altitudes.

I also very much enjoyed the discussion of the Dutch ad campaign at the beginning of chapter 6, as well as, the discussion of the amphibian houses. As far as I can recall, these are the first instances of Kolbert discussing proactive measures being taken in regards to climate change. I find this approach much more productive than simply providing readers with horrifying numbers and sad stories. This leaves readers feeling helpless and freaked out. I think a better goal is to inspire readers to get involved with preparing for life in the future and demonstrate that there are options to be taken advantage of.

As far as the quality of writing, I still feel that Kolbert has riddled this book with entirely too many off-topic rants; however, there were two descriptions at the end of chapter 6 that I thought were good. She describes the sun as, "starting to sink," after a lengthy discussion of flooding. This was clever. I also thought the description of the amphibian houses looking like, "a row of toasters," was creative and effective.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Field Notes III: Chapter 4

I didn't come across any evidence in this chapter that was particularly compelling or irrefutable.

Kolbert shows that the behaviors and locations of butterflies, mosquitoes, and frogs are changing, and that Darwin believed that these sort of changes in species were a result of climate change. So what? This is all speculative and circumstantial evidence for the big, bad global warming that Kolbert is trying to prove.

Just because the climate may be changing and affecting various animals, does not mean that it will be catastrophic (especially since it has happened before), and it certainly doesn't mean that it is the fault of the human race.

Kolbert also makes an effort to convince her readers that climate change will wipe out many of the Earth's species. Again, the evidence she provides of this is simply the speculations and worst case scenario theories of researchers that Kolbert came to trust because she found them quirky and endearing.

Kolbert has offered a possible scenario for the future; however, she has offered no evidence that it will necessarily happen, and given no compelling reasons to suggest that her proposed scenario is any more likely than another scenario.

When I first started the book I enjoyed Kolbert's anecdotes, and inclusion of excess information, but at this point I'm sick of it. It's annoying to have to read pages and pages of babble just to get to the point. If I were interested in the camouflage of butterflies and mating rituals of frogs, I would read a book devoted to that. It is also hard to keep up with Kolbert's impromptu changing of topic. I think she has severe and untreated Attention Deficit Disorder.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Field Notes II: Chapters 2-3

If I were a member of a jury assembled to determine whether or not the defendant, global warming, is guilty of being a real and serious danger to society, and if Kolbert's book were the evidence presented by the prosecution, I would have to find the defendant guilty.

The most persuasive pieces of evidence for me are the testimony of the prosecution's witnesses and the defendant's long and documented history of concerning behavior.

Keogak's moving testimony plays on the heart strings of the jury when he says, "It was good at the start--warmer winters, you know--but now everything is going so fast...Our children may not have a future. I mean, all young people, put it that way. It's not just happening in the Arctic. It's going to happen all over the world. The whole world is going too fast."

Kolbert also has a sort of poetic way of demonstrating the way in which the defendant has infiltrated the daily lives of its victims when she states, "Then, a few years ago, for the first time, people began to see robins, a bird for which the Inuit in this region have no word."

Kolbert also does a fine job of combating the notion that fear of global warming is the product of a recent, yet popular, scientific folly. She does this by evoking the research of John Tyndall and Svante Arrhenius, whose research eluded to global warming over a century ago.

That being said, I feel that Kolbert's case is that of the prosecution, with little defense, which does make her biased. Though she makes a great case, the fact remains that global temperatures have fluctuated before with little explanation, and scientists admit there are aspects of global warming that they do not fully understand. Though Kolbert does mention these holes in her case, she does not explore the possible implications of them.

I am not critical of Kolbert's biased because I think she has every right to feel the way she does. She did her research and has come to her own conclusion. As I said before, based on the prosecution's case, I would find the defendant guilty. However, it would be unethical for any jury to come to a verdict without hearing the defense's case, which i feel is absent from Kolbert's book.

As far as the writing quality and journalistic aspects of Kolbert's book, I think she has done an excellent job. It is clear from her inclusion of anecdotes and irrelevant, yet interesting background information that she has thoroughly researched her topics. More than that, she demonstrates a sincere curiosity and respect for her sources, which only strengthens her case.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Field Notes

It seems to me that the author has taken some writing risks with this book. Perhaps that is because she is writing a journalistic BOOK and not an article with a word limit, or perhaps it is because different literary devices are needed to successfully write a book versus a magazine or newspaper article; I don't know...

Firstly, I've noticed that a certain subtle, cynical sense of humor comes through in the writing at times. I suppose this isn't a huge risk; although, it is an interesting choice considering the serious nature of the book's topic. I actually do like that the author has done this, but it is something that immediately caught my attention. Here is an example of what I mean:

"The Soviets more or less invented the study of permafrost when they decided to build their gulags in Siberia."

Secondly, the author seems to have little use for transitions between paragraphs. It's as if she has allowed the random flow of her thoughts to determine the order of her paragraphs. Frankly, I'm not sure if this is a poor choice or a genius one.

Lastly, I am appreciative of the amounts of seemingly unrelated, yet colorful detail that the author has chosen to include in her story. For example:

"It turned out that he had brought the Tostitos to stave off not hunger but fatigue--the crunching, he said, kept him awake--and by now the enormous bag was more than half empty."

Typically there is simply not room for this kind of excess information in an article; although, I have often found myself wishing to include information of this nature in my own stories.