Global Catastrophes: A Very Short Introduction by Bill McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book explores a select set climatological, geological, and extraterrestrial impact disasters and their potential planet-wide repercussions. About half of the book deals with climate: global warming and the next ice age. [Those sound like completely unrelated topics, given global climate disruption is largely about a rise in average temperatures (which has been caused by human activities) and the coming ice age is about cooling (which is mostly because of factors outside our control — e.g. our orbital path and axial tilt — but there’s a discussion about how global warming might hasten (rather than stave off) the ice age.]
The other half of the book is about the more dramatic geological and extraterrestrial threats. There’s a chapter (ch.4) about volcanos, earthquakes, and the tsunamis they cause, and the last chapter (ch. 5) is about comet and asteroid impacts.
The book contains a great deal of thought-provoking information. There are two major criticisms to be leveled. First, it leaves some important items undiscussed – e.g. there’s nothing about the solar storms that I’ve heard constitute a planetary risk. (I do understand that technologically induced catastrophes are another book entirely.) Also, there’s little mention of the mitigative activities that are in place and what impact they might have. For example, I know NASA and others have developed technologies to not only monitor but also destroy impactors. (The author mentions monitoring but says nothing of mitigative activities.) I can’t condemn these omissions severely because this is a “very short” guide. The second criticism is potentially more concerning and that is that the tone isn’t the completely objective one we’re used to hearing on scientific subjects. I don’t fault the author for having some angst about climate change or super-volcanoes, but I am left to wonder degree of confirmation bias crept into the selection of research presented. (All “sky is falling” with no discussion of possible mitigative events or best-case scenarios sets my Spidey-sense a tingling.)
This is a fascinating look at catastrophes, though the complete doom and gloom tone of the author made me wonder whether confirmation bias might be at play (or maybe there was a presumption about what people who would read such a guide may want to hear.)
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