Climate change and its cause, global warming, are concepts that are far less controversial today than they were a mere five years ago. Yet, both still generate heated debates online and off the Net and not only among ignorant laymen: scientists and politicians butt heads and shower insults on their opponents when it come to this most contentious of latter day apocalypses. I have written extensively and have read widely on these topics, but have yet to find a more balanced and roundedly-informed tome than The Britannica Guide to Climate Change. In 440 friendly pages, densely packed with state-of-the-art data and research, the Britannica team have covered every conceivable aspect of this all-pervasive phenomenon, bringing to the fore the most current knowledge; the most recent studies; the most erudite interlocutors; and the hardest of facts. The Guide starts with an edifying vade mecum: an introduction by the eminent scientist, Robert M. May. While clearly on the side of environmentalists, he is no starry-eyed tree hugger but a hard-nosed scientist, worried sick about our abuse of our only planet, Earth. This is followed by concise but comprehensive chapters dedicated to climate, climate change, and weather forecasting; the changing planet (land, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and the decline in biodiversity); and an overview of ideas and arguments about the environment, replete with a synoptic sweep of history and prominent thinkers. Finally, the book charts our (relative) progress and what more needs to be done, including an overview of all available alternative energy technologies. The book is refreshing in its objectivity and candor. It refrains from taking sides or from preaching. This does not mean that it is a soulless inventory of data: on the contrary, it is yet another passionate plea to save our planet and our future. But it addresses our brains rather than our hearts and this makes for a welcome departure from contemporary practices. I found myself compelled to lavish praise on this great book despite the fact that I wholly disagree with its spirit and thrust. CLIMATE CHANGE AND GLOBAL WARMING
“It wasn’t just predictable curmudgeons like Dr. Johnson who thought the Scottish hills ugly; if anybody had something to say about mountains at all, it was sure to be an insult. (The Alps: “monstrous excrescences of nature,” in the words of one wholly typical 18th-century observer.)”
Stephen Budiansky, “Nature? A bit overdone”, U.S. News & World Report, December 2, 1996
The concept of “nature” is a romantic invention. It was spun by the likes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century as a confabulated utopian contrast to the dystopia of urbanization and Darwinian, ruthless materialism. The traces of this dewy-eyed conception of the “savage”, his alleged harmony and resonance with nature, and his unmolested, unadulterated surroundings can be found in the more malignant forms of fundamentalist environmentalism and in pop-culture (the most recent example of which is the propaganda-laden cinematic extravaganza, “Avatar”).
At the other extreme are religious literalists who regard Man as the crown of creation with complete dominion over nature and the right to exploit its resources unreservedly. Similar, veiled, sentiments can be found among scientists. The Anthropic Principle, for instance, promoted by many outstanding physicists, claims that the nature of the Universe is preordained to accommodate sentient beings – namely, us humans.
Industrialists, politicians and economists have only recently begun paying lip service to sustainable development and to the environmental costs of their policies. Thus, in a way, they bridge the abyss – at least verbally – between these two diametrically opposed forms of fundamentalism. Similarly, the denizens of the West continue to indulge in rampant consumption, but now it is suffused with environmental guilt rather than driven by unadulterated hedonism.
Still, essential dissimilarities between the schools notwithstanding, the dualism of Man vs. Nature is universally acknowledged.
Modern physics – notably the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics – has abandoned the classic split between (typically human) observer and (usually inanimate) observed. Environmentalists, in contrast, have embraced this discarded worldview wholeheartedly. To them, Man is the active agent operating upon a distinct reactive or passive substrate – i.e., Nature. But, though intuitively compelling, it is a false dichotomy. health and social care