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Drunken Forest

All Global Warming Is Local

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Three long, wonderful essays serialized in the New Yorker in 2005 (under the dusty, better title "The Climate of Man") compose the bulk of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change. There are reshufflings and scattered additions (notably Greg Nickels and the deathbed cry of a 19th-century physicist), but you still get Elizabeth Kolbert's grabby beginnings, her spare endings, and the hard evidence she's uncovered of global warming in obscure pockets of the world.

Even when you can no longer recall the precise figure for global carbon emissions in 2005, you'll remember her images. Take the drunken forest in Fairbanks: "Across the road, Romanovsky [a Russian geophysicist] pointed out a long trench running into the woods. The trench, he explained, had been formed when a wedge of underground ice had melted. The spruce trees that had been growing next to it, or perhaps on top of it, were now listing at odd angles, as if in a gale. Locally, such trees are called 'drunken.' A few of the spruces had fallen over. 'These are very drunk,' Romanovsky said." Or the maze of diamond-shaped and hexagonal depressions that appear wherever Alaskan permafrost has melted and drained away; or the amphibious housing development in the Netherlands; or the "writhing masses of toad balls" that the golden toad, now extinct, used to form when it was mating season in the cloud forest.

Elizabeth Kolbert talks on Thurs March 23 at Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave, 652-4255, 7:30 pm, $5.

 

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