The Atlantic

The Hermit Who Inadvertently Shaped Climate-Change Science

Billy Barr moved to the Rocky Mountains four decades ago, got bored one winter, and decided to keep a notebook that has become the stuff of legend.

Source: Morgan Heim / Day’s Edge Production

It was a year into his life alone in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains when Billy Barr began his recordings. It started as a curiosity, a task to busy his mind during the winter. By no means, Barr told me, having skied down from his cabin to use the nearest phone, did he set out to make a vital database for climate change scientists. “Hell no!” he said. “I didn’t know anything about climate change at the time.”

In 1973 Barr had dropped out of college and made his home an abandoned mining shack at the base of Gothic Mountain, a 12,600-foot stone buttress. The cold winds blew through the shack’s wood slat walls as if they didn’t exist. He shared the shack’s bare dirt floor with a skunk and pine marten, his only regular company for much of the year. Barr had moved from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains precisely because of the solitude, but he couldn’t escape boredom. Especially that first winter. So he measured snow levels, animal tracks, and in spring the first jubilant calls of birds returning. He filled a notebook with these observations; then another notebook. This

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic5 min readPolitics
What Total Destruction of North Korea Means
Speaking before the UN General Assembly today, President Donald Trump announced that, unless North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, “the United States will have no choice but to totally destroy” the country.  He soun
The Atlantic4 min readPolitics
Why ISIS Is So Good at Branding Its Failures as Successes
The Parsons Green attack shows that governments and media outlets keep falling into the propaganda traps being set for them.
The Atlantic2 min readPolitics
Who Gets Health in Old Age? Rich, White People
It’s often said that Americans are living “longer, healthier lives,” and while that’s true overall, white wealthy people are still far more likely to enjoy good health than other demographics in old age. A new research letter published in JAMA Intern