Last year, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote about “carbon removal,” a speculative “technology of last resort” designed to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Carbon removal isn’t close to being workable; even so, according to many of the scenarios predicted by climate science, it may be impossible to avoid global catastrophe without it. That’s typical of our response to climate change, which consists, largely, of steps yet to be taken, technologies yet to be developed, and laws yet to be passed. The gulf between what we need to do and what we are actually doing widened further this past week with the newest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It tells, Carolyn Kormann writes, a “nightmarish tale,” showing that the effects of climate change will likely arrive sooner, and be worse, than expected.
The collection of pieces here demonstrates the daunting reality of climate change. In “The End of Ice,” Dexter Filkins reports from the Chhota Shigri Glacier, in the Himalayas, where scientists are coming to grips with the pace of the melting process; in “The Climate of Man,” Kolbert travels to Alaska, among other places, to observe the changing Arctic firsthand. Jill Lepore explores the history of climate science (and its roots in Cold War debates about “nuclear winter”), and Nicholas Lemann charts the rise and fall of Earth Day (and of the environmental movement more generally). In “Adaptation,” Eric Klinenberg asks whether seawalls, sea gates, reservoirs, and pumps can really “climate-proof” a city. Finally, in “The Siege of Miami,” Kolbert shows us how an American city is already transforming—and doing so in ways for which its leaders and citizens are ill prepared. To respond to climate change, we need to know what we are dealing with. These pieces paint a worrying but accurate picture.
“The Climate of Man”
“In the same way that global warming has gradually ceased to be merely a theory, so, too, its impacts are no longer just hypothetical.” Read more.
“The End of Ice”
“Glaciers are uniquely sensitive recorders of changes in climate, and their ice contains indications of past temperature, precipitation, and volcanic activity, as well as the effects of greenhouse gases.” Read more.
“For the past decade and a half, governments around the world have been investing in elaborate plans to ‘climate-proof’ their cities—protecting people, businesses, and critical infrastructure against weather-related calamities.” Read more.
“Autumn of the Atom”
“The biggest consequence of the nuclear-winter debate has had to do not with nuclear-weapons policy but with the environmental movement.” Read more.
“When the Earth Moved”
“Today’s environmental movement is vastly bigger, richer, and better connected than it was in 1970. It’s also vastly less successful. What went wrong?” Read more.
“The Siege of Miami”
“For the past several years, the daily high-water mark in the Miami area has been racing up at the rate of almost an inch a year, nearly ten times the rate of average global sea-level rise.” Read more.