This summer’s hurricanes in Florida, coupled with even more destructive monsoons in Bangladesh; last year’s European heat wave that killed thirty thousand and massive wildfires that scalded Australia: suddenly, people everywhere are beginning to wonder what’s afoot. Might we be in the grip of a warming process that is tipping the Earth’s ecological balance, knocking the whole thing off kilter? Is there some way to stop it?
With each new scientific report, the data seem to grow starker. Average global temperatures rose one degree Fahrenheit last century, and that increase is more than likely to double in the century ahead. Mt. Kilimanjaro’s once majestic snowcap has melted to the point where it will now disappear by 2020.
But while temperatures are rising, the actual amount of sunlight reaching the Earth has fallen 10 percent since the late 1950s. The cause is pollution and the resulting heavier cloud coverage. A group of nineteen eminent California scientists recently warned that the state’s water resources and its agriculture sector are imperiled by such trends. As James Gustave Speth notes ruefully in his recent ecological call-to-arms, Red Sky at Morning (Yale University Press), “in a book containing as much bad news as this, one must hope that some of it turns out to be wrong.”
There is hope. After all, on the eve of the Republican National Convention, the Bush administration finally...