A literary perspective on global warming

The epidemic of climate change and global warming has died down a bit over the past few years and most that see a book nowadays about it or hear someone discussing it will normally brush it off as nothing serious to worry about. However, Scientist Richard B. Primack wrote a book that proves to be a most intriguing title in this field, reaching out to those interested in facts about climate change as well as to anyone who is familiar with Henry David Thoreau’s Walden essays: Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau’s Woods.

Rather than focusing on the world as a whole, Primack focused on the impacts of climate change and global warming in the small area of Concord, Massachusetts. More specifically, Primack continues to study climate change in Walden Woods where Henry David Thoreau lived and recorded different aspects of nature. By studying today what Thoreau studied in the mid-19th century such as times flowers bloomed in the spring, times birds migrated back to Concord, and more, Primack has seen changes in the past century that point to climate change.

“We knew that the landscape of Concord had changed greatly in the 160 years between Thoreau’s observations and ours, but we also recognized that Concord, more than most suburban areas, was extremely well-protected by government agencies and private land trusts. We would have the opportunity to study the same species that Thoreau had observed in some of the same woodlands, pond edges, and river meadows, following in his footsteps” (Primack 6).

As a whole, Walden Warming proves to be a rather intriguing read with Primack bringing up some very good points and suggestions throughout. Each of the chapters has smaller subsections within them that are clearly labeled with a bold heading to let readers know what they will be reading next. This makes for a rather quick read and offers a more pleasant experience for the reader who may or may not be deeply interested in global warming and climate change. At the beginning of each chapter, Primack placed a picture of a landscape, a flower, an insect, etc. as well as an entry from Thoreau’s personal journal or from Walden that foreshadowed what the reader was to read next.

Primack’s voice in his writing is pleasant to read. He gives detailed descriptions of settings and even memories of his own past that give his research a fiction-like story telling aspect that captures the reader’s attention. His descriptions of scientific facts, whether these facts are about plants or about climate change, are short, sweet, and to the point. No drawn out scientific explanations to confuse readers who are unfamiliar with this field of work. And when he does come to unusual scientific terms, he describes what the term means in a brief sentence or two.

His research is very informative, beginning his book with big weather phenomena in the past decade, such as the flooding in the U.S. in 2010, and then going on to discuss his research on the change in blooming times of flowers and migration times of birds which were very interesting and flowed well together. After talking about flowers and birds, Primack then went on to discuss insects and amphibians, though he did not have as much research on how climate change has impacted these creatures, thus these chapters could have been omitted. There were certain parts scattered throughout the book that seemed out of place and could have been omitted or moved to another book, as well.

Along with the information discussed on plants and birds, Primack kept referencing charts used throughout his studies, but no snapshots or scans of these charts were shown. Seeing these charts along with footnotes would have been beneficial on many of the facts throughout the book. He did not have a reference page, just a ‘further reading’ page, for his resources and some of his facts did seem like assumptions. It would have been nice to know where he received his facts from.

As a whole, Walden Warming makes for an excellent recommendation to anyone interested in nature, Henry David Thoreau, climate change, or all of the above. It’s a quick read with intriguing research and does not overwhelm its readers with a worldview of climate change, but rather just a small part of the world. Primack’s writing style is pleasant, allowing readers to enjoy a science book that reads more like a story rather than like a textbook. He concludes his book by offering suggestions on how humans as individuals or as a whole can help slow the progress of global warming. And while humans have worked hard to condense the size of the hole in the ozone layer, the Antarctic regions could still face problems with rising temperatures.


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