Deep Future: A Book Review
No single issue haunts popular ecology and meteorology more than the specter of global warming. Documentaries, television specials, op-eds and magazine articles, there is a ceaseless stream of press and punditry from both sides, a flow as inexorable as water off a melting glacier. Many argue that it’s a real and present threat, and others just a vehemently argue it’s nothing much to worry about. But despite what the media would have you believe, there isn’t any real disagreement that global warming exists; the real disagreement comes from what its effect on our world will be. How should we react to this all encompassing change?
By not panicking, argues paleoclimatologist Curt Stager in his new book Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life On Earth. The world is going to change in new and unexpected ways–we are past the point of no return. The arctic ice is going to shrink, the glaciers will recede and leave new and fertile lands, and the ocean waters will grow progressively more acidic. Beach front property will be submerged, and countries such as Greenland will finally start to live up to their name. Some dry areas will grow wet, and others will parch. Stager spins a vision of a radically changed but still viable world, and takes pains to point out that while a global warming trend is going to be ecologically painful, it may yield some good down the line.
That said, we should by no means dismiss global warming as an over hyped issue. In various chapters, Stager describes the harrowing results of carbon saturation; massive acidification in the oceans, parching in the interiors of the continents, and other ecological changes that will make life very difficult in some parts of the world. In one particularly harrowing passage, he describes the effect of oceanic acidification on plankton, the foundation on which the ocean food chain is built. The reader is left wondering if perhaps the real horror stories of global warming are going unreported.
Chapters such as this contribute to the book’s rather odd tone. It’s an improbably relaxed book, one that jettisons the hysteria of other such studies. Stager writes with an engagingly open style, although in a few places he struggles to simplify certain concepts in a satisfactory manner. On the whole, however, he does an excellent job of making himself understood in a lucid and occasionally witty fashion. Every now and then, however, the prose takes a dark turn: Stager makes it very clear that while we should not panic about the coming change, it would be catastrophic for us to continue with business as usual.
The pacing is also worth noting. Many books on the subject of global warming are not well organized, their arguments either lost in the welter of data or running roughshod over it. Stager opts for a slightly different tack–he allows the data to guide and support the narrative, while mostly being deft enough to preventing it from taking over the work. There are a few points in which he loses the thread somewhat, particularly toward the middle, but such lapses are rare and brief.
On the whole, Deep Future is a clear, concise, and thought provoking work, one that takes a refreshingly frank look at the science behind global warming and, more importantly, what is coming next. In a field where hyperbolic claims and bitter skepticism prevail, the clarity and unflappability of Stager’s account is like a breath of fresh, slightly heated air.
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