Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Speak about destruction

Back in the high school days, a teacher probably showed you a movie with car crash victims or some horrifying images of lesion studded genitalia to warn you of the dangers of bad driving and over-frequent sexual behavior. Like those teachers, Mark Lynas with his book Six Degrees is trying to scare you and your government into shaping up.

The book describes what would happen to the Earth as the average surface temperature increases, degree by degree (Celsisus.) Each degree presents a new list of horrors including rapid desertification, super storms, the collapse of food production, the death of the oceans to the possibility of mass extinction.

While the first few degree changes are merely terrible, Lynas notes that the shift in temperature can create positive feedback loops where the build-up of carbon allows for even faster accumulation of carbon in the environment. For example, as the temperature rises, sea ice will increasingly disappear. That sea ice reflects quite a bit of energy back into space, so as it goes, more energy can build up on the earth raising the temperature further.

The book is aimed at someone reasonably current on science, but who is not an expert. His emphasis is on the processes and then the likely to possible results of the processes. He does mention specific problem areas (Pakistan running out of water, Florida disappearing, the Sahara creeping into Iberia) but he doesn't paint lurid disaster scenes. So don't go looking for them.

While the possible futures are terrifying enough, the real shock of the book is that Lynas says we have about seven years to start curtailing carbon use. While this is meant to inspire us into action, my reaction is like that of Hudson's in Aliens. It is hard to see the world getting in line behind an effective response in that time line. Still, if you are looking for a reason to see why we should be talking about carbon instead of Iran, this book will do it.

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