The Whale and the Supercomputer: On the Northern Front of Climate Change (Paperback)
In The Whale and the Supercomputer, scientists and natives wrestle with our changing climate in the land where it has hit first
A traditional Eskimo whale-hunting party races to shore near Barrow, Alaska-their comrades trapped on a floe drifting out to sea-as ice that should be solid this time of year gives way. Elsewhere, a team of scientists transverses the tundra, sleeping in tents, surviving on frozen chocolate, and measuring the snow every ten kilometers in a quest to understand the effects of albedo, the snow's reflective ability to cool the earth beneath it.
Climate change isn't an abstraction in the far North. It is a reality that has already dramatically altered daily life, especially that of the native peoples who still live largely off the land and sea. Because nature shows her footprints so plainly here, the region is also a lure for scientists intent on comprehending the complexities of climate change. In this gripping account, Charles Wohlforth follows the two groups as they navigate a radically shifting landscape. The scientists attempt to decipher its smallest elements and to derive from them a set of abstract laws and models. The natives draw on uncannily accurate traditional knowledge, borne of long experience living close to the land. Even as they see the same things-a Native elder watches weather coming through too fast to predict; a climatologist notes an increased frequency of cyclonic systems-the two cultures struggle to reconcile their vastly different ways of comprehending the environment.
With grace, clarity, and a sense of adventure, Wohlforth--a lifelong Alaskan--illuminates both ways of seeing a world in flux, and in the process, helps us to navigate a way forward as climate change reaches us all.
About the Author
Charles Wohlforth is a lifelong Alaska resident and author of The Whale and the Supercomputer, winner of the L.A. Times Book Prize, as well as many other books and articles about nature, history, politics, and travel in the North. An avid cross-country skier, Wohlforth lives during the winter in Anchorage with his wife, Barbara, and their four children. In summer they live off the grid on a remote Kachemak Bay shore reachable only by boat. Wohlforth began his career as a reporter for a small-town newspaper. As a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News he worked months in the field covering the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
“The ancient heart of arctic Alaska beats loudly in The Whale and the Supercomputer. Charles Wohlforth writes passionate advocacy in brilliant prose, very much in the tradition of Peter Matthiessen and Barry Lopez, that is, inimitably. The Inupiaq Eskimo's vigilant concerns, ideas, know-how--side by side with modern science's approach to the profound effects of climate change--are brought to readers with unalloyed power to disturb and enchant in equal measure. Mr. Wohlforth is an indispensable environmental journalist.” —Howard Norman, author of The Bird Artist and My Famous Evening
“Charles Wohlforth has sent us a fascinating dispatch from the front lines of global warming. With this satisfying blend of adventure and philosophy, he paints a rich and often surprising picture of life at the edge of the world. And, by showing us two cultures struggling to grasp the epic changes upon them, he tackles fundamental questions about the nature of knowledge itself, and the purpose of seeking it.” —Barbara Freese, author of Coal