BOOK REVIEW: Global Catastrophes: A Very Short Introduction by Bill McGuire

Global Catastrophes: A Very Short IntroductionGlobal Catastrophes: A Very Short Introduction by Bill McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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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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Eruption [Free Verse]

It's such a peaceful cone,
 but I think of Krakatoa.

How much patience
 can a volcano have?

It's got just the two speeds:
 static & exploding.

A human, given those choices,
 would choose to spend its time
  in explosion. 

The calm of perfect stillness
 could last only so long
  before it made one itch
   and scream. 

Someday, it will blow its
 beautifully symmetric top,
  leaving a jagged rim,
   and smoking like a 
    postcoital movie character.

The Great Roundness [Free Verse]

As in Hokusai’s Great Wave,
I watch waves roll over,
before a volcanic cone.

Though these waves are
small & close,
they are perfectly rounded.

And though the distant volcano
looms large over the shore waves,
it has perfect symmetry.

I feel the roundness
&
simultaneous devastating power
of both elements at once.

Maker & Destroyer [Haibun]

A volcanic cone looms in the distance, far but not so far that it can't lend perspective. The cone draws the eye, beautifying the backdrop, crediting the city character, but - also - making it seem small. The volcano plays the stalwart guardian, but stands as the destroyer, promising devastation on some dark and distant day. The citizens love living under the great volcano, but one day it will spit fire, raining down a dense dust, pelting the city with rock chunks that fall like fiery hailstones.

the volcano
features in every photo,
but heed its rumbles