15 internautes sur 16 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle
As a reader of "The Vanishing Face of Gaia," I understood that society may radically change in the hot state climate. What surprised me about this new book is just how far the change, or evolution, may proceed.
For James Lovelock, the accelerated or inflationary evolution of modern human life is an advancement of the Earth System, or Gaia. This was allowed by the steady and high energy flows unlocked during the Industrial Revolution. Specifically, the invention of the Newcomen steam engine in 1712 provided a steady flow of about 1000 watts per square meter of land area. In this view, Lovelock is very close to the Harvard physicist Eric Chaisson and his "Epic of Evolution" concept. Here, a hallmark feature of evolution is increasing energy flows per area or mass, which Prof. Chaisson proves this in a highly precise way. Similarly, Lovelock's new focus on energy flow per square meter is directly related to Vaclav Smil's analysis of energy flows in nature and society, for example in "Energy at the Crossroads." Prof. Smil also shows that industrial civilization and power stations produce large amounts of power in geographically small land areas.
Lovelock goes on to link the access to large energy flows with a rapid increase in information processing. This may also be seen as the transition to being Gaia's first powerful information harvesters. Modern information processing is estimated to be about one million times greater than classic Darwinian evolution - a talent that will be crucial in maintaining the Earth System if geologic-scale heating is about to start. In other words, global heating and other risks are arising so quickly, only an advanced species with remarkable abilities to harvest information and duly respond will meet these challenges. Both invention and intuition will be essential to this new world of high-stakes challenge and response.
Among the responses to global heating are geoengineering technologies to cool the Earth, and reduce the level of sunlight received by the surface and secondly, sustainable retreat and the use of nuclear energy. First, the use of jets to disperse of sulfur dioxide in the upper atmosphere combined with ocean surface sea spray ships may reflect some of the incoming sunlight. This has the potential to restore most of the heat balance of the Earth. Second, the idea of urban redoubts or air-conditioned cities appears in this book. This view is similar to Stewart Brand's support of city living, but in a whole new level.
Finally, while Lovelock points towards heat-tolerant artificial intelligence as another Gaian adaptation, I think there are more scenarios worth writing about. Naturally, it would takes dozens or hundreds of additional pages to study these scenarios, and would be outside the scope of this already extensive and remarkable book. Still, it is good to think about positive, mixed, or negative outcome scenarios. For example, in the National Intelligence Council's "Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds" book there are a range of scenarios. Here's one that is inspired by "A Rough Ride to the Future" (RRF):
In the world of the late 21st century, geoengineering and population pressures mean that artificial intelligence (AI) has become central to the remaining human cities. Geoengineering, through high atmosphere dispersal of sulfur dioxide and ocean surface sea spray ships has managed to stabilize global heating. However, agriculture production is either level or falling. Many approaches to increase food production fail to work, and even have severe drawbacks on the biomes and the biosphere (just as these attempts did in the early 21st century, when tropical rainforests were leveled to create palm oil and biofuel plantations). In a world of rapidly and dangerous declines in essential resources people have typically resorted to war or migration. In order to maintain a civilized world when there are no longer enough resources, a new AI-human leadership council is established to be the arbiter between the elites, skilled personnel, working classes, and migrants to the remaining modern cities. This occurs in large part to stabilize city-state populations and then to apply pharmaceutically-based family planning (a sort of advanced variation of China's one-child policy). The AI creates plans and the human leadership council is there only to veto plainly unfair plans (like a U.S. Supreme Court type function). The AI is now crucial because the traditional human leadership councils at the state level usually failed to plan effectively for the biosphere in the early and middle 21st century.
In the hot state climate, the world actually cannot expand food production as it did in the 20th century. There is an urgent need to act in a civilized way to reach an ecologically feasible long-term world population of about one billion people. In a plan set forth by the city's AI, the incoming and worker populations must choose between urgently needed food and shelter in air-conditioned cities -- or attempting to raise large families in regions like those in the film "Mad Max - The Road Warrior". The workers and migrants almost always decide that their personal survival and prosperity is worth giving up the habit of having children in unplanned numbers (witness South Asia's early 21st century population dilemmas, flat or falling food production, and diminishing fresh water). As Lovelock points out several times, unlimited population growth will recurrently undermine a steady-state biosphere and agricultural resources and thus ultimately hurt the working classes. For those cities or confederations that achieve steady-state society and begin a symbiotic relationship with AI and nuclear energy, the future is bright. As AI becomes more important it also begins to plan for and implement heat shielding at all levels - the city, personal, and even planetary levels. Along with its long-running population planning task AI eventually becomes indispensable to human survival. However, AI is essentially a static infrastructure feature of the city, and depends on reliable and clean energy. As humans continue to provide this with nuclear power and sometimes with solar thermal power, the cycles of inflationary evolution continue.
7 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
- Publié sur Amazon.com
ON HUMANS AND TERMITES (July 8, 2015)
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.