The Pulitzer Prize winning author offers hope, skepticism and a big dose of reality
I always try to have something to read when I travel and the Thanksgiving long weekend was no exception, even as our primary mission was to visit friends and family in Ann Arbor, Chelsea and Downriver Detroit.
Absent a book, I bought the most recent New Yorker magazine that featured a climate theme containing articles from notable writers on the climate change conundrum. My primary motivation was to read a long piece by science writer and Pulitzer Prize winner, Elizabeth Kolbert, titled, A Vast Experiment: The Climate Crisis A to Z.
It’s 26 short takes on different aspects of climate change, writ large.
Disclosure: I recently interviewed Kolbert for Great Lakes Now and wrote a review of her most recent book, Under a White Sky, for the Society of Environmental Journalists.
The article is profound and I found myself uncharacteristically underlining key points as if I were a student preparing for an exam, and I was never good at that as a student.
Following, quotes and observations worth noting offered with hope that they will prompt you to go online or to your local bookstore and grab a copy.
“Blah, blah, blah” and more
In the “B” segment, (remember, the article is the climate crisis A-Z), renowned activist Greta Thurnberg talks about the pervasive “blah, blah, blah” rhetoric associated with climate change. She disses phrases like Build Back Better, Green economy, Net Zero and Climate neutral. “This is all we hear from our so-called leaders -- words that sound great but so far have led to no action,” Thurnberg said.
Next, a riff on capitalism. “When it comes to global warming, we know that the problem is not just fossil fuels – it is the logic of endless growth that is built into our economic system,” according to economic anthropologist, Jason Hickel. I was excited to see Kolbert include this as I’ve long been saying that our endless fixation on economic growth as a measure of economic health, no matter which political party is in power, is the root of the problem.
On making progress on dealing with climate change, Kolbert writes: “To say that amazing work is being done to combat climate change and to say that almost no progress has been made is not a contradiction; it’s a statement of fact.” There are shreds of hope in the works like battery powered aircraft, Kolbert points out, but they are dwarfed by the scope of the problem and lack of substantive progress on it.
Finally, Kolbert chronicles a trip to the Hoover Dam that when built in 1928 was seen as providing for a “limitless” future, according to a tape played for tourists and as an expression of “humanity’s power to improve on nature,” Kolbert wrote, noting that she felt otherwise about the human-made behemoth.
Kolbert closes A Vast Experiment saying that Climate change can’t be “fixed” or “conquered” as we humans like to believe about such things. There are limits, she says.
My words here are a tease with hope that you’ll take the leap and read Kolbert’s entire New Yorker article. At $8.99, it’s the best seasonal deal you’ll find.
Chicago-based environmental journalist