Kolbert’s essays—originally written in 2006 and updated with additional writing in 2015—span Kyoto, Bush-era climate denialism, ocean acidification, Canadian tar sands, and melting glaciers. The final chapter caps an otherwise gloomy tour of impending anthropogenic disasters: a Danish island that’s gone completley carbon neutral demonstrates that the technological wherewithal to prevent the worst of climate change already exists. What may be lacking is the will to use it.
Kolbert investigates the work of two climate scientists with somewhat competing perspectives: Robert Socolow, who asserts that it’s possible to stabilize C02 emissions with existing technology, and Marty Hoffert, who looks to new ways to generate energy, including sending giant solar panels into space. Hoffert says,
“The idea that we already possess the ‘scientific, technical, and industrial know-how to solve the carbon problem’ is true in the sense that, in 1939, the technical and scientific expertise to build nuclear weapons existed,” he told me, quoting Socolow. “But it took the Manhattan Project to make it so.” Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, page 146
This thread underlies much of Kolbert’s (and others’) writing: that only with massive government-sponsered action can we deal with climate change. Local efforts simply can’t address a problem of such global scale. Technology isn’t sufficient to the task—it must be paired with political will.