Monday, January 15, 2007

The Beginning of the End -- Yikes!

I can’t say that I enjoyed this month’s book club selection. The Revenge of Gaia is one of those in-your-face doomsday books that made me question whether I would ever want grandchildren if they were going to grow up in a living hell or not at all.

Gaia theory tells us that the entire earth, including the atmosphere, oceans, biosphere and upper layers of rock, functions as a single superorganism, regulating its internal environment much as an animal regulates its body temperature and chemical balance.

The subject of the book is in the subtitle: earth’s climate crisis and the fate of humanity. He depicts global warming as just the tip of the (melting) iceberg. The problem we now find ourselves in, according to James Lovelock, is a complicated one caused by an excess of carbon dioxide, a world population which is greater than the planet can sustain, and an increase in the heat of the sun.

We are on an accelerating path to meet the accelerating energy demands of the world, but most everything we turn to has serious side-effects that further erode the status of the earth. He goes through the various possibilities and concludes that only nuclear energy holds any possibility for the long haul.

The bleak picture of the future that Lovelock paints is of shrinking land mass, where many of our current biggest (coastal) cities are underwater. The only habitable areas will be the far north and the far south. The survival of the fittest will dictate that many won’t survive this shift.

He predicts we will eat food that is manufactured. Instead of organic the prized food will be GROWN! Can you imagine what a restaurant menu would look like?

There are some fairly outrageous statements in this book that don’t necessarily square with my previous thinking. He claims that only 75 people actually died as a result of the Chernobyl incident. He says that more harm resulted in the developing world from the banning of DDT than in the developed world from using it. He really pans the use of “wind farms” that are becoming so common in Europe as an energy source. He thinks acid rain is a good thing because it creates a haze that blocks sunlight from reaching the earth.

I have resigned myself that I have entered the “end game” of my own life, but I was rather hoping to leave behind a vibrant and thriving world, not one that was also in its own end game.

I found myself asking as I read the book what we could do to reverse this death process, to FIX the problem. He offers a few band-aids, including the installation of heat shields in space that would sit between the sun and the earth to diminish the heat of the sun; the use of nuclear energy; and conscious changes in our life styles. Ironically, he says that one of the best things that ever happened to our affluent society was the introduction of cell phones and video games, low-energy forms of amusement that keep us occupied and keep us from using higher-energy things like cars.

But I’m afraid this is just another situation like that of asking a confirmed smoker to give up cigarettes, when that person would choose an earlier death over the deprivation of the source of nicotine. Most of us love our lifestyle far to much to think seriously about doing anything to protect the world for future generations.

I’m hopeful that Lovelock has depicted a world that is in worse shape than it actually is. Because if he is right, life as we know it will without a doubt exist only in history books.

9 Comments:

Blogger avocadoinparadise said...

Such a scary topic, isn't it. I'd be interested to hear how the bookclub discusses it. So many people have their heads stubbornly stuck in the ground re this topic, it seems like fights might break out as half the club denies that climate change is happening and the other half waxes depressed.....

1:27 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Sounds like the 21st century equivalent of Paul Ehrlich's "Population Bomb" from 1968 (yeah, I read it in the 70s) - a lot of hype, misinformation, and egregious misreading and misunderstanding (either that, or willful misrepresentation) of what is actually going on. Of course, we can go further back to Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" (which I have not read). To me, all this hype is just that, hype. Unfortunately, my attitudes and beliefs tend to get me lumped into the same category with conservatives, the right wing, and big business - who are opposed for reasons of ideology or bottom line. I am am merely opposed because it doesn't make sense.

A common error in all these types of doomsday books that I have read or heard about is that they assume growth will continue unabated. It simply can't. Most things have an S curve type of growth – slow initial growth, until some "knee" is crossed, then growth is very fast, sometimes almost vertical, until it plateau's.

Is the planet warming? It seems so (despite contradicting reports in the 50s and 60s that the climate was on a definite cooling trend). Has it been fast? It appears to be so. However, we have direct way of measuring temperature 10,000 years ago. Current global temperatures appear to be around the level they were 1000 years ago (which was a spike as well).

They are above the temperatures estimated for 15,000 years ago, during the ice age.

They are about 12C lower than estimated temperatures 60 million years ago (shortly after the end of the late Cretaceous), when there was no Antarctic Ice cap.

Evidence also suggests that our planet is not the only one warming up in the solar system. Mars appears to be experiencing global warming, as is Pluto (despite moving further away from the sun, it seems to be warming). There are changes in the cloud covers of the various gas giants. Jupiter and Saturn are showing new storms and turbulence in the atmospheres that have not been observed previously (over the hundreds of years they have been observed).

As for over population, well, despite Paul Ehrlichs pessimistic forecast, there was no massive famine and starvation – hundreds of millions of people did not die in the 70s and 80s. While famine did grip Africa, this had nothing to do with food production, it had everything to do with war and politics.

Overpopulation is not a new thing, it has recurred in human literature for thousands of years. The earliest is recorded in Sumerian mytholgy. The God's, tired of all the noise the humans are making, decide to thin them out through famine:

The country was as noisy as a bellowing bull
The God grew restless at their racket,
Enlil had to listen to their noise.
He addressed the great gods,
'The noise of mankind has become too much,
I am losing sleep over their racket.
Give the order that surrupu-disease shall break out.'
When the second year arrived
They had depleted the storehouse.
When the third year arrived
The people's looks were changed by starvation.
When the fourth year arrived
Their upstanding bearing bowed,
Their well-set shoulders slouched,
The people went out in public hunched over.
When the fifth year arrived,
A daughter would eye her mother coming in;
A mother would not even open her door to her daughter. . . .
When the sixth year arrived
They served up a daughter for a meal,
Served up a son for food.


Of course, we mustn't forget movies like "Soylent Green" and "Silent Running" (a movie I like).

I am highly skeptical, people tend to promote their ideology and don't bother to let the facts get in the way. Prior to Y2K when a large number of my friends were taking precautions against a global meltdown, I had no concerns, because I knew it was a myth (despite the billions spent trying to fix it). When the first Gulf War happened, a lot of people (Christians anyway) that this was the end time are foretold in Daniel and Revelation (and who knows were else). Since I was nowhere near convinced, I was often asked, "Don't you believe in the Bible?" and I would reply, "Yes, right where it says. 'and no man shall know the dates and times appointed by God'".

I do not see nuclear power as any sort of solution. The first mantra anyone should have is REDUCE, REDUCE, REDUCE. Of course, this does not support a market economy which is based on consume, consume, consume.

The next mantra is REUSE, REUSE, REUSE.

I am not big on recycling, because there are only limited items that can be recycled effectively: metals and glass. It is not unreasonable to recycle paper, but it does use a lot of water. As far as I am concerned, plastics are not recyclable at all.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

It sounds like I'd believe more in "An Inconvenient Truth". That made total sense to me. David Suzuki does too.

What does this guy say about the lack of a good method of storing the toxic waste from nuclear energy?
I'd love to know how people died because DDT was banned.

I like your "tip of the melting iceberg"!

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

"I'd love to know how people died because DDT was banned."

Malaria. Take a trip over to Wikipedia and read up on the criticisms of the DDT ban.

In a nutshell, people are dying from Malaria in countries where DDT is banned and It's argued that the use of DDT would prevent most of those deaths.

Another good book to read on this topic, if you haven't read it already, is Michael Crichton's State of Fear. The book advocates taking precautionary measures while doing it's best to debunk Global Warming.

The problem with "facts" like global warming is that we don't have an untouched earth to compare our current earth too. So we can never be certain that the earth isn't just going through a normal cycle. That doesn't mean we don't have to clean up our act, it just means the science isn't exact.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

The earth belongs to the bacteria. That's where we came from and where we will return.

I hate it that people use fear to sell books. For heaven's sake.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

MOI: it is often claimed that banning the use of DDT has resulted in many unnecessary deaths from malaria and other insect born diseases. It is a fairly moot point because at some point the insects would have become DDT resistant. In fact, the first incidence of DDT resistant mosquitoes was reported in India in 1959 (I think). At some point, DDT would have become ineffective and people would continue to die.

9:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congrats on the Express quote, by the way.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Thank you all for your spirited comments. Some of you may know more than the author about this topic!

I will let you know how the discussion goes on Sunday night. We are an opinionated group, so it will undoubtedly be lively.

Kristin -- Did I miss something? What Express quote?

10:17 PM  
Anonymous Tesserian said...

A new specter is haunting the entire world, the specter of Gaia Nemesis. From whence this next uncanny visitor comes and what does it mean for the future of humankind?
Every power of the world turns, like a herd of animals caught unawares by a predator, to face this new menace; the powers fail. They have come to face the very power of nature herself.

12:40 PM  

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