Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
2005.01.25 : Think About Recycling

To: "Heublein, Alexander Montgomery"
Subject: Re: Aliens Cause Global Warming
From: michael stephen fuchs
Date: Tue, 25 Jan 2005 01:32:31 PST

Michael Crichton can discourse on global climate change -
all kinds of people do - but you might want to consider
leavening your reading of him with some scientists, or
science writers, who also discourse on the subject.

One big problem with the global climate change question
is that it's one of the shrillest, most extremist
debates - on one side you get the panicked
environmentalists who insist the sky is falling (and can
generate plenty of evidence to that effect); and on the
other side, you get corporations (specifically the energy
companies) who insist that there's no problem (and can
produce evidence to that effect). I've had a lot of
trouble getting to the truth of the matter - but I've had
some great resources.

At the risk of trotting out too much data, and rehashing
the whole debate, I will note:

* A couple of nights ago, I saw Jared Diamond (author of
"Guns, Germs, and Steel" - as well as his new book,
"Collapse - How Societies Choose to Survive or Fail")
speak at the Royal Society. (You know, the Royal Society
whose past presidents have included Newton and Kelvin;
and whose fellows have included Darwin, Dawkins, and
Hawking.) His topic wasn't precisly on climate change,
but rather on the subject of what we can learn from past
societies that totally screwed themselves, such as the
Mayans and the Easter Islanders. He happened to say, and
I quote, "Every serious scientist who is doing work on
global warming is now in agreement that it is happening."
You can watch the session yourself at 
http://www.royalsoc.org/event.asp?id=2662. It's good
stuff. He also pointed out the frightening fact that as
most of the developing world (particularly China and
India) achieves first-world living styles, the overall
impact we're going to be having on the planet (water use
and pollution, emmission of greenhouse gases, production
of waste, use of antibiotics, etc.) is going to increase
by about a factor of 9.

* Probably more to the point, I saw a panel discussion,
also at the Royal Society, on the subject of global
climate change. Panelists included the president of
Friends of the Earth, some leading British climatologist,
some expert in corporate enviro-strategy - and Bjorn
Lomborg, author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist".
Lomborg, if you don't know him, is pretty much the poster
boy for, well, environmental skepticism. Even HIS
position is, basically, Well, global climate change is
happening; but we need to assess how big a problem it
really is, versus other huge problems - such as AIDS,
malaria, malnutrition, drinking water - which we could
address to much better effect for much less money. The
consensus of the other climate experts on the panel was
"Global warming is happening. No, we don't know for sure
how much. And, no, we don't know for sure what percentage
of it is due to carbon emmissions and other human impact.
But we know it's happening."

* The scariest thing I've learned recently is from a book
entitled "The Ingenuity Gap" by Thomas Homer-Dixon. The
book's basic thesis is that we've created a world for
oursleves (one good example is financial systems - and
crises) that is increasingly complex and increasingly
taxing the ingenuity we have available to solve problems.
He addresses the issue of the environment by interviewing
some top scientists working in the field. One thing he
reports is that - looking at the history of Earth's
climate in ice cores - the Earth has exhibited
significant nonlinear behaviour in its climate,
specifically phase shifts where, for instance, the
temperature has climbed 9 degrees Celsius in 30 years.
It's happened again and again. Nonlinearity is not that
surprising in a system that massively complex. One
example of the potential problem: there's a current, the
"Atlantic conveyor" that circles the globe: I forget the
exact details, but the basic notion is that water in the
North Atlantic cools rapidly, drops to the ocean floor,
circles round the Cape of Good Hope, ends up somewhere
else, warms up again, etc. And this cooling of water in
the North Atlantic heats up Europe on the order of 25% of
the amount that solar radiation does. A quarter! What
happens if this flow stops or reverses? Global warming is
causing increased rainfall and increased melting/runnoff
in Antarctica, which is resulting in decreased salinity
in ocean water, and changes in salinity change buoyancy
of water - which could stop the conveyor. Thus, global
warming could actually plunge Europe into a deep freeze.
But the main take-home of this one leading scientist, who
has been studying this stuff for 35 years, is "We've
radically underestimated the complexity of ecological
systems. We're making progress in our understanding, and
creating better models, but the horizon is receding
faster than we are proceeding - the main thing we're
learning, all the time, is how much more complex it is
than we thought." Another example is Biosphere 2. This was
an attempt to create and maintain a small eco-system. They
got a bunch of top scientists and naturalists together,
and built this dome, and populated it with like 325 plant
and animal species, and put some people in there, and
tried to make them self-sufficient for a couple of years.
A *very* simplified model of our eco-system. And it all
went to hell, typically for reasons they didn't
understand. I wish I had the book in front of me, but it
was this litany of horrors: most of the animal species
went extinct; all of the insects went extinct - thus
stopping pollination; the oxygen level plummetted, for
reasons they couldn't figure out initially, necessitating
pumping in a few tons of oxygen to keep everyone alive;
the soil acidity went through the roof. There's more. The
lesson being: we are not *anywhere* close to being able
to manage the Earth's bio-physical and geo-chemical
systems. If we screw it up, for the forseeable future, we
are screwed.

I agree with both Lomborg and Crichton that we are going
to develop technological marvels which will improve
things in ways we can't imagine. But I can't possibly
argue with the grizzled scientist in the book who said,
"Climate is an angry beast - and we are poking it with
sticks." Moreover, you can't afford to be wrong on this
one, because we've got no where else to go.

So maybe you should think about taking up recycling. ;^)


michael stephen fuchs

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close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

You can reach him on .

THE MANUSCRIPT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
PANDORA'S SISTERS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
D-BOYS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
COUNTER-ASSAULT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book One - Fortress Britain, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Two - Mogadishu of the Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Genesis, by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Three - Three Parts Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Four - Maximum Violence, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Five - EXODUS, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs

ARISEN Book Six - The Horizon, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Seven - Death of Empires, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eight - Empire of the Dead by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : NEMESIS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Nine - Cataclysm by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Ten - The Flood by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eleven - Deathmatch by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Twelve - Carnage by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Thirteen - The Siege by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Fourteen - Endgame by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Fickisms
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