All Hail Elizabeth Kolbert

The New Yorker contributor Elizabeth Kolbert, whose three-part series was the smartest and scariest thing written about climate change in 2005, has started 2006 with another installment, an article entitled “Butterfly Lessons” (which, woefully, the magazine has failed to make available online).

Kolbert follows a trail of butterflies, mosquitoes and frogs to show how much our climate has changed already and how dramatic the coming change may yet be. Her writing style is brisk and informative, devoid of hysterical language but filled with anxiety inducing facts. She also allows herself the odd twist, just to keep you alert (and entertained).

For example:

“The Bradshaw-Holzapfel lab occupies a corner on the third floor of Pacific Hall, a peculiarly unlovely building on the campus of the University of Oregon, in Eugene.At one end of the lab is a large room stacked with glassware, and at the other end is a trio of offices. In between are several workrooms that look, from the outside, like walk-in refrigerators. Taped to the door of one of them is a handwritten sign: 'Warning – if you enter this room mosquitoes will suck your blood out through your eyes.'” But the real colour – and the real images of horror come from the scientists Kolbert quotes. Take this, for example, from Thomspon Webb III, who is a paleoecologist who teaches at Brown University. Webb says:

“We have this strange sense of the evolutioniary heirarchy, that the microorganisms, because they came first, are the most primitive. And yet you could argue that this will just give a lot of advantages to the microorganisms of the world, because of their ability to evolve more quickly. To the extent the climate is putting organisms as well as ecosystems under stress, it's opening the opportunities for invasive species on the one hand and disease on the other. I guess I start thinking: Think death.”

Okay, the piece isn't all this bleak, but it's well worth searching out the Jan. 9 edition. Kolbert also has a book coming out in March, which is sure to be worth a look.