Alan's Reviews > Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth

Deep Future by Curt Stager
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Mar 06, 2011

really liked it
Read in March, 2011

Curt Stager, a paleoecologist, has assembled a book well worth reading if you are interested in or concerned about global climate change. Probably the most imporant thing this book adds to the body of scientific literature that addresses issues of climate change is that of "deep time". "Deep time" refers to expansive lengths of time needed to envision both earth's history and its future. These are time frames most people do not deal with or consider on a regular basis, and so have a difficult time comprehending, but with which geologists like Stager use all the time.

This book provided me with a truly new perspective that I never considered before: a climate future that may be predictable (albeit in broad strokes) for the next 100,000 years or so. Most climate predication models extend only through about 2100, not 102,100! Stager uses known, predictable varibles such as the Milankovitch cycles together with known greenhouse-earth episodes in earth's history to predict what might happen to the planet if we experience a moderate episode of carbon-loading in the atmosphere of 1000 giga-tons or so versus an extreme episode of loading of 5000 giga-tons of carbon. Both scenarios are possibilities.

Stager predicts that we have already emitted enough additional carbon into the atmosphere to forestall eareth's next major glaciation period. He also predicts that though we will certainly see sea levels rise, an ice-free Arctic, shifts in growing regions and precipitation patterns, these things will not be the end of mankind. These things will happen gradually, with time enough for humans and other species (except perhaps for tundra or polar species) to adapt.

Stager interestingly mentioned that many climatologists believe that he is not alarmist enough, while many climate change naysayers say he is too alarmist. This, Stager says, is an indicator that he is probably somewhere near the truth.

One of the most important messages he shares has to do with the degree of confidence we can have in scientific work and conclusions. In the Epilogue Stager states that, "In a media-saturated world where public opinions are easily swayed by team loyalty, marketing strategies, and short-term self-interest, science stands apart as a rare source of relatively impartial, self-correcting information. The strict rules of scientific investigation favor well-supported ideas over weak ones, and the international peer-review system is a firewall of checks and balances that provides an additional line of defense against sloppy of slanted thinking."

So why don't I give this book 5 stars? For one thing, I think Stager's comments on carbon-14 dating need to be better clarified. For another thing, his view of what it means to be a native versus an introduced species is too heavily influenced by his deep-time persepctive and lacks a shorter-term perspective needed to describe ongoing competition, displacement, etc. He also seemed to generalize too much about what may happen in the temperate regions of the planet by focusing on what he thinks is or is not happening in the Adirondack Mountains.

Stager nevertheless provides a level-headed view of our possible possible future that is well worth a look.
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