The cartoon treatment makes this critical (or hot!... sorry) but somewhat academic topic more manageable. Those who are have already formed beliefs an...moreThe cartoon treatment makes this critical (or hot!... sorry) but somewhat academic topic more manageable. Those who are have already formed beliefs and conclusions on the subject are unlikely to be swayed, but there are undoubtedly plenty out there who aren't yet sure what to think, and this is their book.
The Kindle edition saves paper, and at about $10.50 is a pretty inexpensive way of getting this, but you can't pass it on to others after reading it. For a few bucks more, you can buy it and keep it in circulation. If you're annoyed with Amazon, Indiebound can point you to a local book merchant that sells it.
Then there's the even greener option. My library has six copies. You can check to see if any library in your area has one here.(less)
Stumbled on a visit from the author to the SFPL, and was quite impressed by the prose. A tiny bit disappointed that he read from the mountain lion-Big...moreStumbled on a visit from the author to the SFPL, and was quite impressed by the prose. A tiny bit disappointed that he read from the mountain lion-Big Sur passage instead of the geology-of-the-Sierras passage, but I guess that's what his quick survey indicated the audience preferred. (It's just I'm planning on doing the JMT in six or seven weeks...)(less)
Mark Hertsgaard wrote an essay for The Nation: Hurricane Sandy as Greek Tragedy which provides yet more evidence of our world's slow-motion train wreck. The name of the hurricane provides the most poignant and realistic note:
Sandy is short for Cassandra, the Greek mythological figure who epitomizes tragedy. The gods gave Cassandra the gift of prophecy; depending on which version of the story one prefers, she could either see or smell the future. But with this gift also came a curse: Cassandra’s warnings about future disasters were fated to be ignored. That is the essence of this tragedy: to know that a given course of action will lead to disaster but to pursue it nevertheless.
Hertsgaard states that “There are signs of hope” — but his threshold must be abysmally low. Does he really believe that “Especially in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, there is no reason to continue disregarding scientists’ warnings about where our current path leads”? Of course, there are plenty of reasons, and he knows what they are. There is plenty of money behind the push to deny this, and huge portions of the American demos have passively chosen to believe there is a controversy, either because the issue is tied strongly to their other ideological positions, or because it is more convenient to be too busy to worry about such long-term problems.
Hertsgaard again has the wrong attitude and the wrong tone of voice. This message might be a bit more persuasive if it were delivered in tones of a thundering Mosaic condemnation from Mount Sinai. Because he leavens his message with unwarranted optimism, his message and the tragedy are both left easy to ignore.
Back to my original review —
• • • • •
Mark Hertsgaard’s book covers a lot of ground, and I’d argue that in the coming years there is no more important topic that anyone could study. This book is a decent start, but in the end I was disappointed — primarily because he was too optimistic.
All of the accumulated evidence is that we are so far from any significant mitigation of global warming that it as if someone is writing the script for a very black comedy of errors. But Hersgaard ends in an upbeat mood, asserting that we’ll do this, because… well, because we have to. The alternative is too horrendous to contemplate.
The problem with that prognosis is two-fold. First, even people that believe global warming is taking place seldom have examined how very nasty the latter half of the twentieth century will probably be. Sure, some cautionary descriptions have floated around, but even picking a single example hides the panoramic sweep of the changes and the trauma. Much like looking at the aftermath of a hurricane or tsunami through a telescope, you only examine details by losing the ability to see everything else.
Second, collective action is naturally slow in coming when the costs of change will undoubtedly be high. Deniers have been criminal in making things worse by sowing doubt when there really is very little doubt. A reasonable prediction is that people won’t agree on the need for real action until much later in the game. A few hundred deaths from a clutch of tornadoes here, a few billion dollars in damage from hurricanes there, climbing food scarcity due to floods here and droughts there — it will all get shrugged off as just plain bad luck for another decade or more. And by that time…
Hertsgaard has a very well-chosen framing narrative here (although, as other reviewers have noted he gets too bathetic, especially towards the end of the book). He has recently become a father, and there is some cognitive dissonance between the horror story he keeps finding as he has researched this book, and the warm and happy feelings he has when he looks at his young daughter. He’s right to worry. In her anticipated lifespan she could easily witness changes that dramatically reduce any expectation she has for a pleasant life.
It’s too bad that this book hasn’t told the bad side of that story. Many pages were devoted to how, for example, a few tiny parts of the United States and other wealthy countries have made baby steps towards adaptation. And more pages turn to how difficult it is to prepare. But while he notes out that “floods kill thousands, drought can kill millions,” but he doesn’t go much deeper. Drought is potentially a problem in so many parts of the world that he should probably warn about tens of millions of deaths. And once people start seeing that, do we really expect them to peacefully beg for help? Water wars have been a hot topic of study in international relations for many years now — where are the interviews regarding that? With climate change triggering food scarcity, these problems are likely to cascade upon one another.
The book’s single instance of humor is inadequately dark: “You know the joke, don’t you? Under climate change the future is definitely going to be wetter. Or drier. Unless it’s both.”
I think the only honest conclusion is that the future is definitely going to be wetter, drier and much deadlier.
Partner book to his "Ecotopica". Better in some ways, but mostly more-of-the-same in too many ways. Daydream fulfillment to such an implausible extent...morePartner book to his "Ecotopica". Better in some ways, but mostly more-of-the-same in too many ways. Daydream fulfillment to such an implausible extent that it gets tiresome. The problems of the time, as bad as they were, didn't signal the end of the world, much to many liberals' surprise.
The only detail I can clearly recall is that some fellow invents a solar cell that can be made in a backyard kiln but has astonishing efficiency; enough that petroleum can be dispensed with, and it can be made by neighborhood craftspeople, not in billion-dollar corporate-own fabrication plants. How convenient!(less)
Good points I recall: the author presents an intriguing list of social, economic, environmental and technological changes tha...moreRead this soooo long ago.
Good points I recall: the author presents an intriguing list of social, economic, environmental and technological changes that add up to, more or less, a progressive liberal fantasyland.
Bad points I recall: the political upheaval that made the forgoing possible was implausible at the time, but worse was that the same inventory, above — which was the raison d'etre for the novel — also became tiresome. Think of it as a staged tour of a Potemkin village. Time after time, everything has somehow worked out exactly as the revolutionaries [author] wanted it to, showing how wonderful life would be if only people would share and follow through on the vision! Interfering details such compromises, radical changes that didn't work out so well, or even just the messiness of quotidian existence: none of these are permitted.
I might be mis-remembering. The downside of the revolution might have gotten more airplay than I recall, but that certainly wasn't what has stuck with me after twenty-five or thirty years. I also have no recollection of a plot, so I suspect it was mostly there in service to the guide tour of the author's vision.
One detail I do remember is that San Francisco's Market Street was torn up and the (supposedly) ancient stream that used to lie along that path was brought back to life. In the intervening years while on a congested and chaotic Market Street, I've often tried to imagine a stream and a garden path there instead.
Nice fantasy, but not really plausible enough to be an important book. (less)
I have a lot of respect for Kim Stanley Robinson the massive information dumps he produces. But affection? Not so much. I think his Mars trilogy was t...moreI have a lot of respect for Kim Stanley Robinson the massive information dumps he produces. But affection? Not so much. I think his Mars trilogy was the first I read, and I note that I gave it four stars. At the time, I’m certain that I was overawed by his encyclopedic approach.
Where this is both a big win and a big loss is in the science. The action is centered at the top of the National Science Foundation and their efforts to get a grip on how the climate is changing and what mitigation strategies might work, both scientifically and politically. The strength here is that such people would be this geeky, talking and thinking science with every breath. But Robinson falls into that information-dump trap: he has his characters telling each other stuff the scientists would already take for granted in an effort to inform the readers. This reduces the verisimilitude, and slows down the action to that of molasses during one of his epic cold snaps.
This burden might have alleviated if he’d included endnotes discussing the science he so blithely tossed in. How much is rock solid, which parts are stretching the limits, and which are flights of fancy? I was surprised that there appears to be no reference guide.
Marvelously, despite his academic approach, his characters are still quite well fleshed out. In this one, the only ambiguity is that some of the Khembalis weren’t individuated.
Of course, all the scientists think too much. To that, one can only echo the words of the wise man:
You worry too much You make yourself sad You can’t change fate But don’t feel so bad Enjoy it while you can It’s just like the weather So quit complaining brother ... No one lives forever!!
With global warmingclimate change, malaria will undoubtedly return to the United States, so this looks like a good book to preview coming attractions. As the New York Times reports, Dengue fever is already back in Florida and likely to move up the eastern seaboard, and — astonishingly — the United States Centers for Disease Control is closing its “vector-borne” disease branch:
The disease centers confirmed that the 2011 budget does eliminate financing for the “vector-borne” disease branch, which tracks dengue, West Nile virus, plague, encephalitis and other illnesses carried by insects.
Is malaria one of these “other illnesses carried by insects”? Itching minds want to know...
Note: malaria is carried by mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles, whereas dengue, as well as yellow fever and Chikungunya come courtesy of the genus Aedes. Both genii survive in North America, and these diseases are almost non-existent becase "transmission has been interrupted through successful control/elimination programs", per the CDC. However, as temperatures rise, "transmission will be more intense" and will be "transmitted year-round". Combined with declining budgets, declining scientific awareness and the many other critical problems "climate change" is likely to bring, it seems like a good bet that malaria (et al) will become endemic in the southern United States. (less)
This one is beautifully poetic, but Abbey shows his true misanthropic colors in The Monkey Wrench Gang — his years of solitude in the desert might hav...moreThis one is beautifully poetic, but Abbey shows his true misanthropic colors in The Monkey Wrench Gang — his years of solitude in the desert might have given him gorgeous visions, but they ultimately made him a bad fit for civilization.(less)
(Potential read for a book club which, thankfully, doesn't want to meet in the middle of a sunny weekend, when any sensible person is hiking, sailing,...more(Potential read for a book club which, thankfully, doesn't want to meet in the middle of a sunny weekend, when any sensible person is hiking, sailing, or otherwise getting exercise and vitamin D.)(less)