Forecasting the End of Cold in Porter Fox’s ‘Last Winter’

Lee Polevoi

 

The Last Winter: The Scientists, Adventurers, Journeymen, and Mavericks Trying to Save the World

By Porter Fox

Little Brown

306 pages

 

In his new book, The Last Winter—an artful blend of memoir, science and travel writing—Porter Fox doesn’t have a lot to offer by way of good news.

 

The size and scope of wildfires in the U.S., for example, has doubled in the past 50 years and “the rate of winter warming in the West had tripled [since the 1970s], replacing snow with rain and reducing western snowpacks by 20 to 50 percent—drying out boreal forests in the process.”

 

Of course, damage to the environment doesn’t start or end with the U.S. The fabled Alps in Switzerland “is one of the fastest-warming ranges on the planet”—losing 20 percent of glacial ice since the dawn of the industrial age. According to the European Geosciences Union, nearly 100 percent of current glacier volume “could be gone in eighty years.”

 

 

To explore what’s happening to weather patterns and the onset of the “Big Melt,” Fox travels to numerous, sometimes remote locales. He accompanies a diverse range of climate experts—glaciologists, explorers, mountaineers—in Alaska and Greenland, Switzerland the Pacific Northwest.

 

What he conveys clearly to readers adds to a growing array of dire global scenarios, wherein mankind must somehow learn to live with huge spikes in the frequency of forest fires and, among other things, higher sea levels because of the unrelenting release of carbon into the atmosphere.

 

In his reporting, Fox isn’t motivated solely by a general anxiety about where the planet is headed. His very young daughter Grey, whom he anticipates growing up to have her own family sometime around 2060, will face a world of frightening change:

 

 

“Sea levels will have risen by more than one and a half feet, flooding coastal cities from New York City to Shanghai. Most of the Amazon rain forest will be dead, along with the world’s coral reefs. Half of the earth’s population will experience three weeks of lethal heat every year, displacing a billion people from equatorial regions, radically increasing freshwater scarcity, and cutting crop production by a fifth. With billions of migrants forced to look for a new home, mass migration and resulting armed conflict could very well consume Asia, Europe, and the Americas.”

 

The cautious optimism voiced by some of these experts offers perhaps a ray of hope and light to Fox’s story and our own weather-beleaguered dilemma. Based, however, on their cumulative outlook, the act of recouping our losses and bringing back some sense to the handling of environmental concerns looks like a steep uphill climb.

 

The basic question posed by the “mavericks and adventurers” of The Last Winter is: Can anything be done to change our downward slide? Hard to say. Collectively, we’ve made our bed and now, God help us, we must lie in it.

 

Author Bio:

Lee Polevoi, Highbrow Magazine’s chief book critic, is the author of The Moon in Deep Winter and The Confessions of Gabriel Ash, forthcoming in 2023.

 

For Highbrow Magazine

 

Image Sources:

--Michael Taggart Photography (Flickr, Creative Commons)

--Little Brown

--Marc Soller (Flickr, Creative Commons)

 

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