Elizabeth Kolbert

American journalist and author

Elizabeth Kolbert (born July 6, 1961) is an American journalist, author, and visiting fellow at Williams College.

Elizabeth Kolbert in 2014

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  • Looking out your window today, the weather you see doesn’t really tell you what’s going on. The earth is big and complicated — and there’s a big time lag in the system. People need to understand that. You know, many people, many scientists, many journalists keep trying to impress that upon the public. It obviously isn’t working very well, but we keep trying.
  • I think what all nonfiction writers are aiming for is to make people think about things differently — to tell you a story from somewhere that, if you’re vaguely familiar with it, challenges what you think you know about it, or, if it’s a story you’ve never heard before, introduces you to a whole new place or a whole new idea. I’m basically trying to tilt your worldview a little bit.

Interview with Democracy Now (2014) edit

  • I think that people are aware of the potential impacts of climate change on Arctic species. You know, everyone has seen the pictures of the poor polar bears, you know, as the sea ice shrinks. But really, where climate change could have an even more devastating impact is in the tropics, both because most species live in the tropics—that’s just where the abundance of life is—and also because these species tend to have a very, very narrow tolerance for climatic change. They’re used to a lot of climatic stability.
  • now the sort of general theory is, you know, yes, the Earth changes very slowly, except for these extraordinary moments. And I’d say the whole point of writing the book is that we are in one of those moments right now.
  • you have a situation where we really need to be taking serious action on climate change, and we’re still having this surreal—I guess I would use the word—debate over whether it’s happening or not. And I think a clip like that shows that, you know, people are really speaking entirely different languages. We’re just not even speaking to each other using—you know, we’re using English, but we’re not really speaking the same language. We’re not looking at the same—well, some people are looking at scientific data, and some people are not, let me just put it that way. And it’s very, very hard to carry on, you know, a reasonable and sort of post-Enlightenment conversation.
  • massive things need to be done. Obviously we need to start transitioning our whole economy off of fossil fuels. That’s not—that’s not a small thing. That’s a big thing. And if you were going to ask, you know, policy experts what we should do, they would say, “Well, we need some kind of price on carbon.” Now, that is—that requires legislative action. In the absence of that, in the absence of putting a price on putting CO2 into the atmosphere, there are things the administration can do and that they are supposedly working on—you know, power plant regulations that would reduce CO2 emissions. But it’s very difficult to get the kind of action that we need without any hope of getting anything through Congress.
  • we’ve already set so many changes in motion, right? I mean, climate change is occurring; whatever anyone in Congress says, it’s occurring right now. You can watch, and scientists are watching, tracking species on the move all over the planet, trying to track the climate as it changes, so either moving upslope or moving toward the poles. And to the extent that we can preserve any parts of the planet that are not being chopped up or chopped down, so that we can allow species to move where they need to go, to track climate change, that is one thing that we can do, even as climate change unfolds. And unfortunately, climate change has been set in motion so that, really, though we desperately need to reduce our carbon emissions, we’re not stopping that process anytime in the near future, so that we need to start thinking about, you know, a world in which everything is on the move and preserving corridors that things can migrate through.

“In The World's 'Sixth Extinction,' Are Humans The Asteroid?” interview in NPR (2014 Feb 12) edit

  • We are effectively undoing the beauty and the variety and the richness of the world which has taken tens of millions of years to reach... We're sort of unraveling that. ... We're doing, it's often said, a massive experiment on the planet, and we really don't know what the end point is going to be.
  • The definition, I suppose, would be many, many organisms across many, many different groups. And that is, really, what we are seeing and that is what makes scientists fear ... that we're in a mass extinction. ... About a quarter of all mammals are considered endangered. ... About 40 percent of all amphibians are considered endangered. But we're also seeing organisms, invertebrates, for example, are endangered ... many species of reef-building corals are now considered very, very endangered. So you're seeing extinctions across a wide variety of groups, and that, I think, would have to be one of the defining characteristics of a mass extinction.
    • On how she defines mass extinction
  • After a mass extinction, it has generally tended to take many millions of years for life to recover. It's not something that you bounce back from, from one day to the next.
    • On the expectancy of extinct species bouncing back

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