Climate of Man

Recently the New Yorker published “The Climate of Man” an excellent three-part series on climate change by Elizabeth Kolbert.

She covers ecological change, adaptation, flexible infrastructre, and global (and US) environmental politics.

Below are links and excerpts from each of the three articles. I suspect it will be a good book next year.

Part 1: Disappearing islands, thawing permafrost, melting polar ice;

By the time I got to the lookout over Sólheimajökull, it was raining. In the gloomy light, the glacier looked forlorn. Much of it was gray—covered in a film of dark grit. In its retreat, it had left behind ridged piles of silt. These were jet black and barren—not even the tough local grasses had had a chance to take root on them. I looked for the enormous boulder I had seen in the photos in Sigurdsson’s office. It was such a long way from the edge of the glacier that for a moment I wondered if perhaps it had been carried along by the current. A raw wind came up, and I started to head down. Then I thought about what Sigurdsson had told me. If I returned in another decade, the glacier would probably no longer even be visible from the ridge where I was standing. I climbed back up to take a second look

Part 2: The curse of Akkad;

“I gave a talk based on these drought indices out in California to water-resource managers,” Rind told me. “And they said, ‘Well, if that happens, forget it.’ There’s just no way they could deal with that.”

He went on, “Obviously, if you get drought indices like these, there’s no adaptation that’s possible. But let’s say it’s not that severe. What adaptation are we talking about? Adaptation in 2020? Adaptation in 2040? Adaptation in 2060? Because the way the models project this, as global warming gets going, once you’ve adapted to one decade you’re going to have to change everything the next decade.

“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.”

Part 3: What can be done?

“The amphibious homes all look alike. They are tall and narrow, with flat sides and curved metal roofs, so that, standing next to one another, they resemble a row of toasters. Each one is moored to a metal pole and sits on a set of hollow concrete pontoons. Assuming that all goes according to plan, when the Meuse floods the homes will bob up and then, when the water recedes, they will gently be deposited back on land. Dura Vermeer is also working to construct buoyant roads and floating greenhouses. While each of these projects represents a somewhat different engineering challenge, they have a common goal, which is to allow people to continue to inhabit areas that, periodically at least, will be inundated. The Dutch, because of their peculiar vulnerability, can’t afford to misjudge climate change, or to pretend that by denying it they can make it go away. “There is a flood market emerging,” Chris Zevenbergen, Dura Vermeer’s environmental director, told me. Half a dozen families were already occupying their amphibious homes when I visited Maasbommel. Anna van der Molen, a nurse and mother of four, gave me a tour of hers. She said that she expected that in the future people all over the world would live in floating houses, since, as she put it, “the water is coming up.”

The series ends:

“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”

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