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The Flooded Earth: Our Future In a World Without Ice Caps Hardcover – Bargain Price, June 29, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Drawing from research on polar melting and current climate studies, paleontologist and NASA astrobiologist Ward (Under a Green Sky) depicts grim scenarios of the future as the ice caps melt away. Ward imagines Canadian indigenous people waging guerrilla warfare in 2030 on a government poisoning their bodies and ancestral lands with tars sands mining; Miami in 2120 as a lawless island abandoned by a federal government overwhelmed with building dikes to protect less doomed cities; topsoil from a dried-out Midwest being shipped in 2515 to an Antarctic Freehold State, one of the few locations where crops could still be grown; Bangladeshi refugees, fleeing their flooded nation after a 24-foot sea rise in 3004, being gunned down by Indian Border Security Forces. Ward assures us that it doesn't have to be this way and attempts a feeble optimism. He recommends a combination of lifestyle changes and technical solutions, although he warns that the latter are fraught with unknown perils. This is indisputably important information, but Ward's conclusion that hope is perhaps itself a goal, makes for a depressing read. (July)
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“NASA astrobiologist [Peter] Ward describes the disastrous changes that can be expected as sea levels continue their accelerating rise due to global warming… a blunt, vivid warning.”
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A very nice summary of our problems and some projections for the future.
A couple of things to remember though:
- Some of his projections are already out of date. This happens for all scientists nowadays, the earth is changing faster than predicted. For example, he expects 420ppm CO2 by 2030 when in reality it's more like 2020 (we are at 400ppm today and it increases about 3ppm every year, more in El Nino years).
- Expect the usual hopium about doing something. If you accept you cannot defeat entropy, what makes you think you can defeat human nature? Preparation yes, denial no.
25% of CO2 released by humans stays in the atmosphere for over 50,000 years, longer than the half-life of radiation. It's a permanent gift to the future and how it impacts sea level rise is significant - actions today will impact the future for a very long time. Oceans are currently rising 2mm a year, this is well documented. About 10,000 years ago they were rising at 2 inches per year, or 16 feet a century - again, well documented and not debated. The earth is very capable of doing it again. No one is saying 16' in a century *will* happen, in fact it's very unlikely, but oceans have risen and fallen very often in the past and this process is tied to CO2 levels in the atmosphere, which is expected to be at levels way beyond anything seen in millions of years. Could seas rise that far or fast? They already have. This is ultimately the message by Ward - he makes no *prediction* that it *will* happen, he offers scenarios informed by what has happened, and suggests there are enough parallels with those events in the past with the present to be concerned. Anyone who denies that position is either intellectually dishonest or not operating in good faith.
My quibbles with the book is it written breathlessly, parts repeat, it could have used better editing to enhance the killer points. I read it on a Kindle and was surprised when it was over at 70% - the remaining 30% is notes, bibliography and index [one of the disadvantages of a scroll-like kindle, versus a codex-like book, is its hard to find where a book proper ends, it sneaks up on you]. Overall a quick and sometimes entertaining read about a serious subject. It will no doubt bring out the deniers who will misrepresent it, but if you're at all interested in what the possibilities of sea level rise are, this is a good book to look at.
This books follows what seems to be a popular format for recent books like this. Each chapter starts out with one or two fictional future scenarios set anywhere from a few decades to a few millenia in the future that demonstrate one possible outcome of the issue he covers in that chapter. Major themes in the book are possible rates for ice loss, possible sea level rises from this and other events, the threats to coastal cities, low-lying agricultural land and aquifers, the potential for changes in ocean currents and chemistry that could threaten extinction events and the potential for technological and engineering solutions to mitigate the damage.
Most official global warming reports or models underestimate or fail to take into consideration some of the more recent research and ideas on ice loss and sea level rise. Perhaps because he is a geologist and not a climate modeler, Ward eschews the typical conservative caveat-laced approach that many climatologists take when dealing with these issues and presents some of the more bleak scenarios that other authors on this topic on seem to suggest in their subtext. The result is the stark possibility that polar ice caps may melt much more quickly than generally thought and sea level may rise more than official predictions suggest. Ward combines not only evidence from his field, namely the distant geological past, but also recent evidence suggesting these shorter possible timetables.
This is an excellent and engaging book that covers some of the same territory as the growing list of books on global warming, but does in it Ward's unique way that manages to make the reader think about things in ways that may not be apparent by reading other books on this topic. This book will probably be most popular among fans of science who accept scientific conclusions on global warming. Those who deny global warming will almost certainly find the book to be a bit alarmist and based on shaky presumptions. For the rest of us, it's a sobering and honest look at some real obstacles the world may potentially face in the next few generations.
Most recent customer reviews
Poor quality of the paper, but tolerable.
I will wait for further books by this author.