China Lake

A Jour­ney into the Con­tra­dicted Heart of a Global Cli­mate Catas­tro­phe

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews Climate Change -

Bar­ret Baum­gart, Univer­sity of Iowa Press Soft­cover $19.95 (283pp), 978-1-60938-470-8

Com­bin­ing per­sonal nar­ra­tive and cli­mate change re­search, this cat­a­strophic book is ca­pa­ble of shak­ing the most se­cure tem­per­a­ment to its core.

The best way to look at China Lake is as a long es­say. The au­thor seeks (and ob­tains) in­ter­views with cli­mate sci­en­tists, gov­ern­ment tour guides, cit­i­zen ac­tivists, and other in­hab­i­tants of a cli­mate land­scape where the line be­tween ex­is­ten­tial ter­ror and mag­i­cal think­ing is tense to the point of break­ing. This is a place where the sci­en­tists of the twenty-first cen­tury re­live an­cient shaman­is­tic de­sire to con­trol the weather; where the dark­ness of earth wor­ship min­gles with New Age be­lief in mys­ti­cal heal­ing, where hu­mans are at war with both the earth and the sky. It is, in two words, ter­ri­fy­ing and awe­some.

The au­thor de­picts him­self as a slave to his own na­ture. His at­tach­ment to his mother and ad­dic­tion to ni­co­tine mir­ror the ten­sion be­tween the de­sire of the hu­man species to sur­vive and its re­liance on oil. The book be­comes more im­pact­ful by the mix­ing of the per­sonal into the cos­mic. The au­thor him­self be­comes a sort of shaman, delv­ing into the dark­ness of cli­mate cri­sis and de­pict­ing what he finds there, in this mod­ern pet­ro­glyph.

It is dif­fi­cult to pin down a spe­cific au­di­ence for the book, though many peo­ple should read it; cov­er­ing mil­i­tary, re­li­gious, and sci­en­tific ground, it may end up be­ing most pop­u­lar among con­spir­acy the­o­rists. This is a shame. Its mes­sage should be heard more widely, bleak as it is. Ul­ti­mately, the book is pes­simistic, even de­s­pair­ing. China Lake pulls no punches, sug­ar­coats noth­ing, and never, ever talks down. Whom is this book for? The an­swer is un­clear. The fact of its ex­is­tence is a scream into the void, a state­ment that should be heard by the gods but which may only reach the ears of other mor­tals.

China Lake presents in lit­er­ary form what sci­ence has thus far been un­able to com­mu­ni­cate: cli­mate change may be sur­viv­able—maybe—but there’s no telling whether it will be worth the cost. A dev­as­tat­ing artis­tic achieve­ment.

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