A war journalist and mountaineering aficionado chronicles his global travels to witness the stakes of humanity’s greatest battle: the destruction of our planet.
Award-winning journalist Jamail (The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, 2009, etc.) began covering climate disruption—the term he prefers over the more common “climate change”—in 2010 and has since “published more than one hundred articles” on the subject. For his latest book, he traveled to the front lines of extreme shifts in habitat and ecology: Denali in Alaska, where glaciers are rapidly melting; the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea, where increasingly horrific storms and “large-scale die-offs” decimate the local culture; the Rock Islands of Palau in the western Pacific ocean, where corals experience often fatal “bleaching”; and the Amazon, whose famous biodiversity is threatened by deforestation, warming temperatures, and various other human-caused effects. The book is assiduously researched, profoundly affecting, and filled with vivid evocations of the natural world. Jamail’s deep love of nature blazes through his crisp, elegant prose, and he ably illuminates less-discussed aspects of climate disruption, like the Alexandrium toxin, a “marine dinoflagellate” responsible for the mass deaths of birds and fish, and white pine blister rust, “one of the single largest threats to trees in the continental United States.” The constant assessment of Earth’s grim status can be a tad repetitive, but perhaps that’s the point, as Jamail infuses the book with a sense of reluctant futility. Near the end, he writes that he has surrendered his hope that “bludgeoning people with scientific reports about increasingly dire predictions of the future would wake them up about the planetary crisis we find ourselves in.” Now, he grieves, which “is a way of honoring what we are losing.” A passionate, emotional ode to the wonders of our dying planet and to those who, hopelessly or not, dedicate their lives to trying to save it.