- Hardcover: 208 pages
- Publisher: The Overlook Press; 1 edition (February 10, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1468310461
- ISBN-13: 978-1468310467
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 20 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #916,569 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Rough Ride to the Future 1st Edition
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“Arresting and disturbing . . . Lovelock writes wonderfully well. With the authority of age, his voice is that of an elder statesman . . . The result is mellifluous and fluent.” —Nature
“Though the subject matter could scarcely be more discouraging, Lovelock’s fluent prose and vast range of knowledge make it a surprisingly easy read. . . . His writing has enormous warmth and vitality.” —Financial Times
“The most important book for me this year . . . Lovelock is the most prescient of scientists. . . . He has given us a handbook for human survival.” —John Gray, The Guardian
"In this way, Lovelock’s book becomes not simply another look at Mother Nature’s uncertain future, but a revealing glimpse at the life of an outspoken and accomplished man of ideas" —Publishers Weekly
"There is much to wrestle with in Lovelock's latests provocative rant." —Booklist
About the Author
James Lovelock is the originator of the Gaia Hypothesis (now Gaia Theory), on which he has written several books, including The Revenge of Gaia and The Vanishing Face of Gaia. He has been a fellow of the Royal Society since 1974, and he has been an honorary visiting fellow of Green College, University of Oxford since 1994. In 2003 he was made a Companion of Honour by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Top customer reviews
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He wants us all to stop feeling so guilty, as all that has happened was inevitable. This book is very philosophical; we've been done in by our technology, but now we must use it to survive. Human animals are the first and ONLY ones to gather information, use it and store it. We are, therefore, the ones that can possibly save the planet when the inevitable threats arise. This book is a plea for humans to survive, written in absolute clarity by a man in his mid 90's. I think it will be a classic.
A persistent theme is his status as an independent inventor/scientist, and not an employee of a large industry or university. He thinks both situations are necessary, but he clearly prefers his independence. And of course he cares about the environment, but he thinks that a lot of environmentalism is misguided. For example, without nuclear energy, we are left with coal as our main source of electricity.
He acknowledges that the direst predictions of global warming, including some of his own, have not come true. For one reason, everyone undervalued the thermal inertia of the oceans, at least a thousand times that of the land and air. But warming in the very long run is inevitable, because heat from the sun is increasing. Earth could become like Venus. To deal with this, he recommends air-conditioned cities, leaving the rest of Earth to respond without our interference. Even more radical, he thinks we might evolve a different life form, perhaps partially (or entirely?) electronic. This scenario is included in his observation that the whole planet evolves, and that this evolution accelerated drastically when the steam engine was invented. Humans are now the most influential participants in the evolution of Gaia.
We liked it mainly because we like Lovelock. The writing is easy-going and thought provoking. And if Gaia is new to you,the history told here is concise.
James Lovelock's last book, entitled A Rough Ride to the Future, arrived by post from Amazon only a couple of days ago. I have been reading it uninterruptedly if haphazardly, but I have skipped very little of it so far. And the verdict is abundantly clear already: the book is a sore disappointment. Born in 1919, he is doing his best to sound as chipper as possible about the future of the human species. In many ways, it is obvious that this is most likely his very last book, and that he wishes to be remembered by its cheerful as well as helpful message. Although he still maintains that there are too many humans on the planet, and that their numbers will have to be drastically reduced pretty soon, he puts it in the nicest language he can come up with under the circumstances.
Like in his previous books on the subject of climate change, Lovelock maintains that there is little, if anything, that humans could do about it. Therefore, the planet should be left in Gaia's able hands, but humans could find shelter in so many cities that would provide not only protection from the most dramatic changes in the weather, but also an opportunity for human evolution. This is the long-term "solution" he proposes in the book. Thus he dedicates an entire chapter to the subject, which is entitled "The Evolution of the City." And the idea behind it is simple enough: "The survival of the air-conditioned nests of termites in the Australian desert provides a fine example of how we might approach the problem of survival in a hotter world." If climate change turned out to be a false alarm, everything would be hunky-dory nonetheless:
Would it not be easier for us to survive global warming in purpose-built cities rather than try to air-condition the whole planet either by geoengineering or by attempts at what is called sustainable development? If it should turn out easier, more economic, and require less food to resist global warming by retreating to the nests, then the fact that people are moving spontaneously to live in cities should be seen as providing a wonderful opportunity. More than this: if we were wrong and global warming does not happen, the move to cities might be no great loss since we appear to be doing it anyway.
The evolutionary idea linking humans and termites can be found in other key places throughout the book. Here is one example:
Is it possible that our spontaneous move to live in cities could solve our climate and population problems as well? The termite nests with their air-conditioning towers that rise a meter or more above the desert are a wonderful example of the power of natural selection to optimize cooling, and the north-south orientation of the nests ensures that removal of hot air from within the towers is maximized.
What is more, the idea purportedly offers many evolutionary possibilities for the human species:
There are intriguing social possibilities if the ant or termite nest can be used as a model for human evolution in which we become a nest animal living in city nests. Would it bring a return to something similar to an idealized communist state, or a benign oligarchy--a state with a caste or class system and the disfavoring of democracy and egalitarianism?
In short, saving the planet is beyond our ken, but cities are already available as welcome "nests" that can ensure the survival of the species:
We suspect that we have little time left to deal with climate change, overpopulation, food and water shortage, and the other adverse consequences of our accelerated way of living. But how do we choose between the remedies on offer? Do we try sustainable development and renewable energy? Or do we bite the atom and rely on nuclear energy? Some offer geoengineering the Earth to an ideal composition and climate. I think we might do worse than have trust in Gaia to regulate the Earth as she has done since life began, and retreat to the best cities that we can design and build with the objective of saving as many of us as we can; and entirely abandon the absurdly hubristic idea of saving the planet.
On the very last page, Lovelock reiterates with conviction that retiring to sizable cities is the best way of resolving the problem of global warming: "I still think that well-chosen city sites would offer us a better chance of survival." All in all, the solution Lovelock has come up with is but yet another geoengineering trick, albeit a rather cushy and thrifty one. To wit, the construction industry as we know it would be up to it at a moment's notice. The cities that attract people nowadays are already in place with the infrastructure required. All that needs to be done is buttress the defenses by building protective domes, sheltering tall buildings, digging underground facilities, and so on. Again, the rest of the planet should be left to its own devices, for humans are not very successful in managing it, anyhow. Like islands on Gaia's turf, the cities would be independent of each other, just like termite's nests.
It is difficult to imagine humans in this disjointed utopia, though. Real humans, that is. Assuming away the internecine strife within cities, the first thing humans would surely attempt after securing adequate protection in their own city is invading the neighboring ones in search of useful resources. They would destroy the cities that resisted such attempts. Some cities would join forces with others for either defensive or offensive purposes. City wars would ensue, and the most successful cities would keep pushing farther and farther in their conquest with the help of the cities they had already conquered and subjugated. And so on, and so forth. Pace Lovelock, humans are not termites, and will not become like them under any evolutionary regime. The history of human attempts at civilization over the last five-thousand years or so provides sufficient proof of their belligerent proclivities. Lucky termites! They will survive climate change without fail.
1. New York: The Overlook Press, 2015.
2. Op. cit., pp. 112-123.
3. Op. cit., p. 113.
4. Op. cit., p. 118.
5. Op. cit., p. 151.
6. Loc. cit.
7. Op. cit., pp. 155-156.
8. Op. cit., p. 169.
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