Henry Pollack is a venerable scientist with a thousand stories to share. He’s been doing ice science for over 40 years. He’s also been explaining what he does, and the implications of what he and his colleagues have learned, for nearly as long. All of that experience makes A World Without Ice a great introduction to climate science.
Pollack doesn’t bother to tackle the climate change deniers head on. At this stage of the game, there’s really no point. Although surveys inform us that Americans remain stubbornly pig-headed about the subject, the rest of us are innovating and positioning ourselves to capitalize on the inevitably growing demand for greener, cleaner technology. For example, roughly thirty percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the buildings we live and work in. Reducing emissions from buildings (either by building new ones right or by retrofitting existing ones) not only lowers our overall carbon footprint but lowers utility bills, as well. So the deniers can fume all they want; they’ll modify their tune soon enough when their wallets are empty.
Alas, behavior modification won’t happen nearly fast enough to blunt the sharp edge of climate change extremes. The planet will be largely ice-free by 2030, Pollack argues, which will mean severe hardship for many hundreds of millions of people. We’ve already seen the government of the Maldives hold a cabinet meeting underwater to dramatize rising sea levels, but tiny far-flung islands hardly register in the media-clotted American’s brain. When New Yorkers start swimming to work, though, perhaps the tune will change.
We are who we are, Pollack shows, because of ice. Our landscapes were shaped by ice, our cultures formed in the give-and-take of glaciers. Pollack writes,
“Ice is nature’s best thermometer, perhaps its most sensitive and unambiguous indicator of climate change. When ice gets sufficiently warm, it melts…. It is not burdened by ideology and carries no political baggage as it crosses the threshold from solid to liquid. It just melts.”And that’s exactly what it’s doing.
Say goodbye to ice by taking a tour through time and place with Pollack. It may make you sad, but it’s a fascinating journey with a voluble guide. And, who knows? Maybe if enough people read this book, we’d wake up to the fact that we’re acting like a bunch of dope fiends and admit we have a problem. Then again, no. We’d just have a better appreciation of what’s going on as we watch the ice melt.