Skip to main content

Deep Future – Curt Stager ****

This is a most remarkable book. For one thing, it’s a book about global warming that in some senses leaves you feeling optimistic – which surely is pretty well unique in the history of publishing. I’m feeling better about climate change after reading this than I have for years.
It’s not that Curt Stager denies the impact of global warming, nor does he doubt that man-made global warming is happening, but instead he takes the big picture, something no one else has really done. By looking back at what happened in the past, both in terms of warming and cooling, and the impact it had on life at the time, he points out that predictions of doom are probably not realistic. After all, human beings survived the last ice age, a climate change event on a bigger scale than anything man made global warming can hit us with – there is no reason to think that we are going to be wiped out by the upcoming change.
Of course, this doesn’t mean there won’t be an impact, which Stager points out in terms of the changes hitting species. And it doesn’t mean we should let anything go. He points out the differences in what we would have to cope with under different scenarios, and it will be a lot easier to maintain out level of civilization with a lesser impact – so all the effort to reduce global warming is worth it – but we shouldn’t see it as a disaster that will end life as we know it.
In fact there’s even good news. It looks like our global warming efforts will cancel the next ice age, which would have produced a much bigger devastating blow to civilization than anything global warming has to offer. In the long term, assuming human beings survive, it looks like global warming will have been a good thing for the human race.
The only reason this isn’t a five star book is that it doesn’t hold up on readability. Stager’s style is fine, but in the end this has the slight feel of a magazine article that has been expanded to make a book, which means there’s much more detail than we really need or want to know (and, as seems the trend with scientist-written books these days, a bit too much ‘me’ in it from Stager). There’s also one slipup, where hydrogen is referred to as an energy source – it isn’t, it’s an energy storage and transmission medium, the energy to produce the hydrogen has to come from somewhere – in his example, the energy source is solar, with hydrogen used as a store.
Nevertheless, despite the flaws, this is a book that every green campaigner should read, learn and inwardly digest, if only to reduce the chances of getting ulcers. It gives a whole new perspective on global warming.

Hardback:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Grace Lindsay - Four Way Interview

Grace Lindsay is a computational neuroscientist currently based at University College, London. She completed her PhD at the Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience at Columbia University, where her research focused on building mathematical models of how the brain controls its own sensory processing. Before that, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience from the University of Pittsburgh and received a research fellowship to study at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Freiburg, Germany. She was awarded a Google PhD Fellowship in Computational Neuroscience in 2016 and has spoken at several international conferences. She is also the producer and co-host of Unsupervised Thinking , a podcast covering topics in neuroscience and artificial intelligence. Her first book is Models of the Mind . Why science? I started my undergraduate degree as a neuroscience and philosophy double major and I think what drew me to both topics was the idea that if we just think rigorously enou

A Citizen's Guide to Artificial Intelligence - John Zerilli et al ****

The cover of this book set off a couple of alarm bells. Not only does that 'Citizen's Guide' part of the title raise the spectre of a pompous book-length moan, the list of seven authors gives the feel of a thesis written by committee. It was a real pleasure, then, to discover that this is actually a very good book. I ought to say straight away what it isn't - despite that title, it isn't a book written in a style that's necessarily ideal for a general audience. Although the approach is often surprisingly warm and human, it is an academic piece of writing. As a result, in places it's a bit of a trudge to get through it. Despite this, though, the topic is important enough - and, to be fair, the way it is approached is good enough - that it deserves to be widely read. John Zerilli et al give an effective, very balanced exploration of artificial intelligence. Although not structured as such, it's a SWOT analysis, giving us the strengths, weaknesses, opportun

The Science of Can and Can't - Chiara Marletto *****

Without doubt, Chiara Marletto has achieved something remarkable here, though the nature of the topic does not make for an easy read. The book is an attempt to popularise constructor theory - a very different approach to physics, which Oxford quantum physicist David Deutsch has developed with Marletto. Somewhat oddly, the book doesn't use the term constructor theory, but rather the distinctly clumsier 'science of can and can't'. The idea is that physics is formulated in a way that is inherently limited because it depends on using mechanisms that follows the progress of dynamic systems using the laws of physics. This method isn't applicable in circumstances where either something may happen, but won't necessarily, nor where something isn't allowed to happen (hence the science of can and can't, which probably should be the science of could and can't if we are going to be picky). Deutsch and Marletto have proposed a way of using 'counterfactuals'