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The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World Hardcover – November 3, 2015
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One of Science Friday’s Best Science Books of 2016
One of The Independent’s 6 Best Books in Nature 2015
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One of LinkedIn’s Best Business Books of 2015
Shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2016
Longlisted for the 2015 Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction
A vital book on geoengineering.---Andrew Revkin, Dot Earth, New York Times
Few science books are more important, timely, and beautifully written. . . . [The Planet Remade] is a book that lays out all the facts, with great clarity and at some length, draws a conclusion, but leaves you to make up your mind.---Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
[I]f you are going to read one book on climate engineering, it should be The Planet Remade. . . . [The book] is as much an exploration of science and engineering as it is of people and attitudes.---Jane C.S. Long, Nature
From the Back Cover
"Oliver Morton displays here again the usual virtues of his writing, which include a sparkling clarity maintained even when conveying huge complex masses of information, often about topics new to all of us; and then, even more importantly, good judgment. He makes distinctions when evaluating gnarly problems, and explains the distinctions very persuasively, and with a generous dry wit. All these abilities are now devoted to perhaps the crucial question of our time, the climate, making this simply a Necessary Book, which is also a pleasure to read. Maybe that combination makes it sui generis, but in any case it's an important addition to current discourse, an excellent way to get oriented to our most pressing environmental problem, and I urge people to read it and ponder its news."--Kim Stanley Robinson, author of Red Mars and Aurora
"This is the first book to properly consider the dimensions of the new world we are living in. Morton's book is indispensable, highly readable, and incredibly timely."--Mark Lynas, author of The God Species
"A scholar and a fine literary stylist, Oliver Morton sets the geoengineering debate in a fascinating historical and social context. The Planet Remade is much the best book on the subject and deserves a wide readership."--Martin Rees, author of Our Final Century
"One of the most important and provocative books I've read in years. The Planet Remade is essential for policymakers, environmentalists, skeptics, and anyone else who prefers their views on climate change to be based on evidence rather than rhetoric."--Hari Kunzru, author of Gods without Men
"Written with the grace and clarity its subject demands, The Planet Remade offers just what the issue of climate change needs: fresh thinking about what can be done, based on deep respect for the planet, the science, and the concerns of people with differing points of view. It's an enriching addition to the literature of possible worlds."--Marek Kohn, author of A Reason for Everything and Turned Out Nice
"Deeply rooted in history and smartly optimistic about the future, this is--by far--the best book yet on geoengineering."--David Keith, Harvard University and author of A Case for Climate Engineering
"In Morton's new book, he takes on some of the most challenging issues of our age. It is a readable and thought-provoking look at humanity's dance with hubristic ideas and deeds regarding the manipulation of the environment on a planetary scale. He is clearly one of the best science writers of our day."--Steven Hamburg, Environmental Defense Fund
"Taking a sensible and low-key approach to a rather provocative subject, Morton shows why geoengineering is something that the mainstream will need to consider--it's not something just for the fringes."--Ken Caldeira, Carnegie Institution for Science
"Morton accessibly describes the potential and risks of geoengineering and puts them in the context of climate change and other large-scale interventions that humans have had on the earth system or might seek to have in the future."--Tim Kruger, University of Oxford
"Engaging, persuasive, and thought provoking. Morton discusses the potential role and consequences of geoengineering and puts forward his own carefully considered views on the subject. The Planet Remade is a tour de force of wide-ranging scholarship as well as a soundly argued polemic."--John Shepherd, University of Southampton
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This book, however, I expect to have a long shelf-life: it's written not just for the present moment or the next climate conference, but for posterity; it will help future generations understand the deliberations & decisions of this time.
Firstly, it's not plain "science writing"— this "book about the boundaries between physical planets and imagined worlds" is rich with history, & the best passages are literary or philosophical. The earthsystem is evoked as lived dynamic experience: "like wind on the skin, or the tremor in the ground from rushing water nearby, or lightning sensed through shut eyelids..."
That said, there is a lot of accessibly-explained science. I've seen the Mt. Pinatubo powerpoint slide projected more times than I can count, but never fully grasped where climate modeling was at the time of Pinatubo, or understood the contribution of the eruption to climate science, before reading this book. I learned more about the stratosphere here than in 50 lectures on geoengineering; that is, I learned about it in a whole manner— not just stratosphere-as-object or place, but about the human conception of it and how that evolved.
One of the book's gifts is its ability to easily place geoengineering into alignment with history; to tell the broader story — about both the earthsystem, and "men of human empire; the sort of men who can attract the interest and admiration of wealthier and more powerful men." You'll read about imperialism & the opening and closing of the frontier; about the jaded, gilded fin de siecle (lack of) spirit. In a media ecology that doesn't lend itself to seeing events within the broad context of history, this is quite refreshing — this subject really did need a book-length treatment that was more than just reportage. Speaking of grand narratives of history, I appreciate that this book doesn't hang its hat on "the Anthropocene"; it reckons with the term without making it central or a key tag. Smart move.
There's a lot here I sympathize with — for example, the critique that natural and social scientists make the mistake of talking "as though what geoengineering is has already been decided, rather than treating it as something still up for grabs"; the argument that broadening the debate is not just about bringing more and different expertise in, but reimagining it. The comparison to human intervention in the nitrogen cycle was well-argued and compelling.
I do wish the book had discussed gender in relation to its topic, and I'm curious to hear how the scenario near the end is received. The text suffers a bit from the syndrome of nearly all "environmental" books these days: you spend all your chapters tracing the roots and contours of a present phenomenon, and then there's only a chapter left for the future (Morton has made it explicit that the problem / solution framing is not useful here, so I won't use those terms, but it seems like a variation on the classic problem / solution book). Perhaps a companion volume is needed.
Yet my favorite thing about this book is how nestles its utopian dream comfortably in small passages scattered throughout the text — there's no program, no bullet points, no grand utopian design, no grandstanding or ego-driven polemic: just a humble, powerful seed-planting type of strategy to encourage the reader to think & imagine. The basic idea: that exploring geoengineering "could spurt and shape the development of a new way of making planetary decisions", not just to develop a new thermostat, but to develop "a new hand to use it". The basic question: how can the challenge of remaking the planet "be used to bring about a world that could be trusted with the power to meet that challenge"? The simple-machines metaphor of levers and fulcrums used throughout actually works for me — no more spoilers here, though, you'll have to read it, and then, perhaps, be compelled to work with it.
About a year ago I finally accepted that when it comes to climate change the choice is not between good options and bad ones, but between very bad outcomes and terrible ones. When one really accepts this, then it becomes possible to think about national and international actions that really could happen. The terrible outcomes are almost certain to come to pass unless there is a mass outbreak of world peace, and agreement among all nations to direct huge resources towards solving the problem.
World peace and united action among all nations... that's not going to happen unless there is a very clear, very present, very large danger. When the climate does present such a danger, though, the world will be spending its resources battling the effects and will have very little to spare for doing anything about the causes.
This is where geoengineering comes in. As Mr. Morton explains, geoengineering can provide respite from the worst effects of climate change quite cheaply: a geoengineering program could be maintained indefinitely--certainly for 50 years or so, enough time to fix the causes--by a nation with a GDP the size of Viet Nam's. Make no mistake, though: in two hundred years' time the climate will be different. The question is, can civilization survive the transition?
If you're ready to accept that the world is the way that it is, and to think the unthinkable, read this book to find out the history of the idea of climate engineering, and also get Mr. Morton's perceptive thoughts on the challenges for the idea, which are all psychological and political. It may not seem it, but this is an optimistic, hopeful book.
The suggestion is presented in the first chapters. The other chapters review methods that were suggested for reducing the CO2, and failed.