I’ve spent a lot of time with academics. Having been one myself, I know something of their habits. Getting through a doctoral program involves, at least in some fields, becoming the specialist on a very tiny piece of information. Since people have been thinking about things for millennia, finding something new to say can be a challenge. Often, by the time they’re done, newly minted doctors know an incredible amount about a very specialized topic. This is, in many ways, simply an intensification of the human experience. We think small. Part of the problem is that our brains haven’t evolved to think big. Having learned an awful lot about the weather in the book on Psalms, I have instinctively taken an interest in natural disasters. Charles Officer and Jake Page share this interest, as is evident in When the Planet Rages: Natural Disasters, Global Warming, and the Future of the Earth. This, however, is a big idea book. Globally big.
Throughout the first two sections of the book, which deal with humans in the face of nature, God often comes up. As scientist and science writer (respectively) Officer and Page simply reflect common beliefs. Nowhere do they advocate invoking God, but they note that throughout history, in the face of just about any species of natural disaster, people have. Many people still do. Disasters and God. What a team! We worship what we fear. Once Officer and Page reach the third section of human impacts on nature, however, God drops out of the picture and the fingers are pointing solely at us.
When I read about what we’ve already done to this planet, I, as a colleague once said, start seeking another species to join. We have destablized the atmosphere so throughly that it will take at least ten-thousand years to return to it’s pre-Industrial Revolution state. Ten-thousand years. At the same time, the largest industrial pollutor (the United States) has jury-rigged politics so that only the wealthy can attain high office. Votes can be bought and we simply won’t sign the Kyoto Protocol. Those who knowingly doom their children are the smallest thinkers of all. We have changed the course of the biosphere well beyond our share of time, and even those scientist who deny global warming know that it is true. You don’t bite the hand that signs the pay check. After all, specialists have a tendency to be very small thinkers.