Global Warming

Global Warming

Global Warming

Global Warming

Synopsis

Tracing scientific ideas about the structure of Earth, Global Warming creates an intellectual portrait of the shifts in thinking that have led to the current controversy, enabling readers to make up their own minds on this important issue.

Global Warming takes one of the hot-button issues of our time and surveys it in historical context, creating an intellectual portrait of the multi-century shifts in thinking that have led to gradual acceptance of the concept. The book summarizes pertinent aspects of geology, earth science, and climate science in easy-to-read terms. It then frames this background in terms of cultural and social shifts, including the Industrial Revolution, conspicuous consumption, and modern environmentalism. In addition, a study of the ebb and flow of cultural and political reception relates the issue to religious and social ideas.

The information presented here will enable the reader to understand the scientific case stating that human activity has caused an unprecedented warming in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Technical and political objections to this thesis are also covered, so that readers may form their own opinions on this critical subject.

Excerpt

Any discussion about global warming forces one to consider the possibility that human societies, in the course of what we consider the normal pursuit of economic opportunity and a rising standard of living, are causing a potentially dangerous and even catastrophic change of the Earth’s climate. On first thought, this possibility seems so incredible in its scale that many people reject it. Could humans, one species in millions, carry such a burden for Earth? It seems the equivalent of a single ripple in the surface of a pond able to become a churning torrent that empties the entire body of water on to the shore.

And yet, as one considers the remarkable story of humans as Earth’s exceptional species, the idea comes to seem less than surprising. Consider such a possibility, for instance, as you tour the Grande Galerie de L’Evolution in Paris, France. You might even come to see humans’ ability to impact Earth as entirely likely.

The Grande Galerie begins similarly to most natural history museums: with display after display of different life forms. Two floors of photographs, models, dried plants, and stuffed animals attest to the astonishing diversity of the living world in both the terrestrial and marine environments. Although the samples are carefully organized according to accepted classification systems by the museum’s curators, the sheer diversity of critters residing on Earth doubtlessly overwhelms the typical visitor. The Grande Galerie saves its knockout-punch for the third floor.

Within the general heading “Man’s Role in Evolution,” the Grande Galerie’s third floor exhibition reminds us that humans are not separate from evolution—not simply plopped down in the midst of a living world generated around us for our benefit. One of the first exhibits places the visitor on Earth about 11,000 years ago, at the time when human beings turned from hunting and gathering to living in more concentrated agricultural settlements. During this time, Homo sapiens started to practice animal and plant domestication and what 19th-century British scientist Charles Darwin would later call “artificial selection.” To favor certain morphologies and behaviors, they made choices in food, environments, and modification of natural surroundings. This favoring of certain characteristics by humans usually led to the elimination of others. Within a few generations, domesticated animals and plants—those chosen by human residents—thus came to represent a relatively narrow range of genetic diversity compared to that of their wild ancestors. As humans applied their impressive minds and ingenuity, their choices and cultural patterns had significantly impacted the population of the entire planet.

The next exhibit in the Grande Galerie’s third floor zooms forward in time to the great voyages of discovery in the 15th century powered by humans’ ingenious use of wind power. Trade networks, cultural interaction, and war became expanding portions of the human condition, and with each trek, explorers attempted to bring their own species of animals and plants from the Old World to the New, and vice-versa, a process often referred to as the Colombian Exchange. Many of the transplants could not survive in their new environments. Others, however, were so successful that they flourished and destabilized their new host ecosystems and even endangered indigenous species.

By now, the exhibit’s overall point is emerging: Just as humans are participants in the lives of Earth’s other species, our actions might also impact them. Thus far in the exhibit, human patterns have affected specific species directly. Of course, the scale and scope of human impacts can be much greater, even to have sometimes modified the very course of natural history in a region. For instance, the next exhibit stresses that in creating new communities and settling new lands, human beings also transformed basic patterns on the natural landscape. From the Neolithic period, in which humans cleared the land of trees to practice agriculture, to the industrial age, in which large urban areas were developed and encouraged enormous population growth, the ecological landscape of countless animal and vegetable populations has been modified and carved up, forcing genetic modifications. A further exhibit underlines the effect of pollution on animals and plants, including industrial emissions, the production of synthetic (made only by humans) substances that the natural environment cannot recycle on its own, and artificial chemicals, such as pesticides, which become concentrated in the . . .

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