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Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau's Woods Hardcover – April 1, 2014
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Determined to help the public understand global warming, Primack (Essentials of Conservation Biology, 2010) decided to search for evidence of climate change in Concord, Massachusetts, home of Walden Pond, made famous by pioneering environmentalist Henry David Thoreau. Primack’s plan was to compare field notes of the past with new information about the same plants in the same places, but he despaired of finding reliable old records until he learned about Thoreau’s unpublished, little-known tables precisely documenting the annual flowering dates for more than 300 plant species. Primack also struck gold in the form of invaluable nature journals kept by modern-day citizen scientists. He now tells the deeply instructive story of the challenges he and his dedicated graduate students faced during the past decade as they identified the many plants that have disappeared since Thoreau’s time and those which “are flowering earlier in successive years” as spring temperatures rise. Primack shares striking tales from the field and elucidates from an unnervingly close-to-home perspective the dynamics and impact of climate change on plants, birds, and myriad other species, including us. --Donna Seaman
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Primack moved on from plants to insects, using data from Thoreau and other early naturalists. When he ran out of records, he turned to the world’s great insect collections, reading the dates on specimens, from which emergence data can be construed.
Primack repeatedly referred to “analyzing” data, but didn’t really say how. I assume he looked for statistical correlations, but wonder if he also engaged in mathematical modeling, to me a mysterious but potentially useful “black box” endeavor.
Primack also studied climate impact on birds, bees, butterflies, fish and frogs. Only a person with tremendous energy and a steady supply of graduate students could cover so much physical and intellectual territory.
I was totally taken by surprise when Primack discussed the impact of climate change on humans by analyzing data from the Boston Marathon!
His last chapter, on solutions to global warming, wasn’t really needed. So many people are addressing that topic. But I would say Primack is entitled to hold forth, since he produced so much well written discussion in Walden Warming.
This book, which I highly recommend, is right on the line between “popular” and “scientific”. I hope Primack continues to write in both veins, since he has valuable information to impart.