Read Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau's Woods by Richard B. Primack Online


In his meticulous notes on the natural history of Concord, Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau records the first open flowers of highbush blueberry on May 11, 1853. If he were to look for the first blueberry flowers in Concord today, mid-May would be too late. In the 160 years since Thoreau’s writings, warming temperatures have pushed blueberry flowering three weeks earlierIn his meticulous notes on the natural history of Concord, Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau records the first open flowers of highbush blueberry on May 11, 1853. If he were to look for the first blueberry flowers in Concord today, mid-May would be too late. In the 160 years since Thoreau’s writings, warming temperatures have pushed blueberry flowering three weeks earlier, and in 2012, following a winter and spring of record-breaking warmth, blueberries began flowering on April 1—six weeks earlier than in Thoreau’s time. The climate around Thoreau’s beloved Walden Pond is changing, with visible ecological consequences.             In Walden Warming, Richard B. Primack uses Thoreau and Walden, icons of the conservation movement, to track the effects of a warming climate on Concord’s plants and animals. Under the attentive eyes of Primack, the notes that Thoreau made years ago are transformed from charming observations into scientific data sets. Primack finds that many wildflower species that Thoreau observed—including familiar groups such as irises, asters, and lilies—have declined in abundance or have disappeared from Concord. Primack also describes how warming temperatures have altered other aspects of Thoreau’s Concord, from the dates when ice departs from Walden Pond in late winter, to the arrival of birds in the spring, to the populations of fish, salamanders, and butterflies that live in the woodlands, river meadows, and ponds.              Primack demonstrates that climate change is already here, and it is affecting not just Walden Pond but many other places in Concord and the surrounding region. Although we need to continue pressuring our political leaders to take action, Primack urges us each to heed the advice Thoreau offers in Walden: to “live simply and wisely.” In the process, we can each minimize our own contributions to our warming climate....

Title : Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau's Woods
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780226682686
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 264 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau's Woods Reviews

  • Julie Whelan
    2018-11-08 08:18

    I heard Dr. Primak speak and this prompted me to buy his book and read it. Dr Primack gives a lot of detail on how he and his graduate students studied the dates when botanical events happened for a range of species in Concord MA. They then compared these dates with the dates recorded by Thoreau in his journals. They also discovered other naturalists from Concord, especially Hosmer, who tracked the same species during other time periods so they had detailed record of changes over a long time period. Expanding their research they then looked at changes in bird migration, mating, etc. This was even more complicated than their research with plant life. The research took the researchers to the Manomet observatory in Plymouth where they track bird migration. Eventually their scope expands yet again to tracking bees, and mosquitoes. This is a detailed account of research on phenology and will give ammunition to those of us who want to squelch the arguments that "climate change" is not happening.

  • Rosebud
    2018-11-04 08:13

    This book went into a lot of detail but, having always been a Thoreau admirer, I liked the comparison between his observations of nature between Thoreau's time and now. Sadly, the warming climate may affect nature beyond its ability to cope over the next century. My guess is that a lot of species will go extinct, while some will survive along with a changed earth. Humans may or may not survive, but then with our demise, earth and the species that are left, will be able to adapt on go on. Two particularly intriguing parts of this book are Thoreau's belief that we would enhance our lives by living simpler lives with less "stuff" and a greater connection to nature. Amen to that! By following Thoreau's philosophy, we consume less of the earth's resources per capita. The second idea is that we need to slow population growth worldwide in order for civilization to continue. This has become a recurring theme in more than one book I have recently read.

  • Larry Bonura
    2018-11-09 06:34

    I love Henry David Thoreau. I love his brain. I love his words. I love that he believed in civil disobedience. I love that his prose is poetry. I love his observations of his world. I love that he was a citizen scientist. And I love that the data he collected in his writings still have value today. Primack has a wonderful basis for his book: comparing data from HDT's time to today to see if our climate is changing. Guess what: it is! A great way to see Thoreau come alive again and being relevant still.

  • Karen
    2018-10-24 04:39

    The best part of this book is its founding idea. The author Richard Primack, a professor of Biology at Boston University, compared the information in Henry David Thoreau's journals with his own modern day research to understand and measure how the climate and the plant and animal species of the area around Walden Pond in Concord MA have changed over the past 150 years. As an intermittent journal keeper, walker, biologist, and sometime admirer of Thoreau, I find that this research represents a kind of interdisciplinary, far-ranging, life of the mind that I have always admired. Primack's work is an eloquent testimony to the best of Massachusetts where I lived for 17 years: its beauty, its history, its eccentricity, and its crazy weather.The book itself, however, is a little scholarly, dry and understated. Its cover is a simple print--an artist's conception of Thoreau's cottage--and a few scientifically accurate black and white photographs adorn its pages. The writing is more lively and engaging than most scientific papers I've read, but it is also so detailed and thorough that it is unlikely the casual reader will persevere through the entire book. Trees, wildflowers, pond ice, weeds, migratory birds, bees, butterflies, fish, mosquitoes, amphibians, salamanders, and marathon runners all get their pages, sometimes entire chapters. I stopped reading myself a couple of times and might not have finished if I hadn't been planning on writing this review.By sifting through so much data, Primack and his team are able to conclude that the area around Boston, including Concord, is warming, and that this warming has consequences for the species that live there. The main conclusion is, in fact, that it is good for species to be flexible. The more flexible a species can be, the more likely it is to thrive. Primack is also conscientious enough to point out that the majority (about 2/3) of the warming since the 1850s that he currently observes in the Boston area is due to an “urban heat island effect”—the absorption of sunlight by dark paved surfaces such as roads, parking lots, and buildings—and only 1/3 is due to general global warming. His work therefore uses Concord area warming as a model for what could happen all over the earth when temperatures rise.The book derives a great deal of its interest from Primack's own story. His personal anecdotes about his wife's fishing knowledge acquired while growing up in Malaysian Borneo, or with his children helping spotted salamanders across a golf course parking lot to their mating grounds, or running the Boston marathon as a true amateur in 1970, give the book a narrative structure and the lay reader a break from all the technical terminology. Perhaps unwittingly, the narrative also provides a birds-eye view of how a scientific career might be structured in the modern era. Primack devotes significant effort to explaining how and why he chose the research directions he did, and the obstacles he had to overcome to acquire data on various species in the first place. The reader is also party to the messiness inherent in drawing firm conclusions from data acquired in the field over many years.A recurring theme in the observations made by Primack and his research team is diversity. Many species were difficult to study at all due to scarcity, living habits, or appearance. And even when good records were available, only some species showed changes that seemed to correlate with warming temperatures. A set of wildflowers flowered earlier in years with warm spring temperatures and later in years with cold spring temperatures. When these species were considered together as a group, the researchers were able to calculate that these plants flowered on average two days earlier for each 1 degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature. By then comparing the abundance of the plants that could adapt their flowering times to temperature with those that did not, the researchers were able to conclude that the more flexible a plant could be with its flowering time, the more likely it was to have persisted or even flourished in today's warmer climate.I heard Primack speak at the Belmont MA library, about 2 years ago when the book first came out, and I think this material lends itself especially well to the seminar format, with slides: colorful flowers, trees, and butterflies, projected on the screen. Or better yet, perhaps, a walk in the woods oneself, accompanied by a naturalist.Keeping this in mind, I turned to the section on Further Reading in the back of the book. This is a useful appendix that lists writings by and about Thoreau, field guides, resources about climate change, as well as links to original Primack Lab research articles and the lab’s blog ( This video does a great job of showing some of the plants they study in their natural habitat: also encourages readers to to start their own journals and get involved in citizen science. This is a great idea and it encouraged me to look up local organizations in my area of California. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in nature and the future of the planet.

  • Milt
    2018-11-10 04:11

    Free UofC ebook, cellread. Much of Walden ponder. Thoreau-ly appreciated. Climate changes in deed.

  • Dominique
    2018-11-01 05:25

    I recently heard an older episode of the podcast You're The Expert that had Richard Primack as the designated expert. Primack was on the show promoting his book Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau's Woods and I was intrigued by a few things he said and so I immediately requested it from my public library.Primack, a botanist, studied tropical rain forests for the first twenty years of his career. Then he noticed that when he was teaching global warming in his classes at Boston University that the examples in the textbooks he was assigning of a supposedly global phenomenon were primarily taken from far-reaching (to students in Massachusetts) places like Africa, Antarctica, and Asia. He wanted to make it local and demonstrate the impact and importance of global warming and climate change to everyone. So he stopped working in the tropics and started researching how climate change has impacted Walden Pond.It turns out that Primack knew very little about Henry David Thoreau, but he eventually learned that throughout the 1840s Thoreau kept extensive records about the first day of "ice-out," the first day ice no longer covers most of the water, the first buds and flowerings of certain trees and flowers, and bird sightings. So Primack replicated that for several years in the 2000s. (Spoiler: Climate change has impacted both flora and fauna in this area of Massachusetts.)As a social scientist, I found the methods Primack used to be super interesting. He spent years looking for historical records on things like fish, insects, and amphibian life in the area and the joy in his rare victories comes off the page so infectiously I occasionally threw my raised fist up in the air to celebrate with him.His writing style is absolutely accessible to non-biology oriented people. I, for one, don't know a proboscis from a stamen, but this book did not make me feel in any way that I had to go read a textbook to catch up. I didn't find it patronizing, either, so it carefully walked a line between an entry in an encyclopedia for children and a botanical journal meant to be read only by people with doctorates in obscure branches of plant biology. It was also quite funny at times. Consider the following passage:"Despite working on plants in Concord from 2003 to 2006, and despite our many contacts and friends within the community of birders, on the one hand, and Thoreau scholars, on the other, no one had told us that Thoreau had kept a detailed record of bird arrival times in Concord! We found out only later that many of them knew about Thoreau's bird records. I only learned about the records because of a brief reference to them in a book that I was reading." (page 101)I laughed so hard at this. Of course everyone assumed that Primack knew everything there was to know about Thoreau, while, in fact, he knew virtually nothing about Thoreau.Anyway, this book is engaging and witty and terrifying all at the same time. I recommend it to all.

  • Chris Leuchtenburg
    2018-11-14 04:23

    This is a surprisingly well written account by a scientist attempting to measure climate change in his own town of Concord Massachusetts, in particular the land around Walden Pond, by comparing Thoreau's careful notebooks to recent and intermediate observations. The story is especially rich during the early chapters on plants (his specialty) and birds, for which there is abundant data both modern and back to Thoreau. In the later sections, in which he attempts to scrape tidbits from the sparse data about butterflies, amphibians and mosquitoes, he makes a valiant attempt to make his struggles to find and analyze these data interesting with only partial success.

  • Robert Scafe
    2018-11-22 03:21

    Richard Primack is a biologist who compared Thoreau's notes on the flora and weather of Walden for a 14-year period to his own recent observations. The book does a good job explaining some of the obvious indicators of climate change (e.g. the pond icing over later in the year), but he's particularly good at explaining some of the secondary effects, such as the problems created for migratory species that rely on flowers blooming at a certain time of year. The author incorporates observations about Thoreau's own procedure as a researcher, and ends with a fitting call for readers to become "citizen scientists." I was surprised by how well-written and engaging this book turned out to be.

  • Sam Rothwell
    2018-11-01 04:37

    This book would make a very good gift for the budding young scientist. Not only does it help describe how global warming is beginning to impact our planet, it also does a good job explaining how scientists identify problems, gather data, and reach conclusions. It does a good job explaining the problems that can come with data and how the scientist has to form his or her results to the data he has. It also gives the reader good advice on how they can gather data on their own area.

  • Thor
    2018-11-12 08:17

    For me, this is a scholarly read, and therefore I won't rate or review it here. I will say, however, it's well worth the time to read it.

  • Ellen Dewkett
    2018-11-01 04:21

    Even though it got a little preachy at the end, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how the author gathered the data to determine if climate change is affecting the flora and fauna of Walden's woods.

  • J. D.
    2018-11-22 11:39

    A useful survey of the current stage of global warming as it pertains to New England. Suitable to be read along with Wessels' "The Myth of Progress".