Reprinted with permission. Published by Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc. Copyright © 2009 by Dianne Dumanoski.
In this nonfiction treatise about global warming and other ecological dangers, the author details why our environment is in much worse shape than we thought. In this excerpt, Dianne Dumanoski notes that, far from taming Mother Nature, our factories and habits have only enraged her, which could lead to Earth's inability to sustain life. In other words, we're all gonna die — enjoy your summer!The hyperactive growth of industrial capitalism and the burden of increasing human numbers constitute a planetary force comparable in disruptive power to the ice ages and asteroid collisions that have previously redirected Earth's history.
Since the first Earth Day in 1970 and the 1972 global conference on the environment in Stockholm, there has been growing alarm about the ways human activity everywhere around the globe undermines the renewal powers that sustain local and regional ecosystems.
More recently, however, scientists began reporting ominous developments heralding dangers of a whole new order.
In the second half of the 20th century, the relentless expansion of modern industrial civilization started to impinge on the invisible, global-scale cycles that make up the Earth's essential life support. The human enterprise had become an agent of risky global change that now threatened to undermine fundamental parts of the Earth's metabolism.
In the ultimate irony, however, human domination of the Earth has not brought with it the control of nature promised by the modern era's guiding myth of progress. Nor has it brought "the end of nature" as the author of an early book on global warming lamented. Rather we are already witnessing nature's return to center stage as a critical player in human history. This development, more than any other, will shape the human future. The urgent question is, simply stated, whether in the face of these changes, the Earth will remain a place that can support complex, interconnected global civilization or, in the extreme, sustain human life.
Over the past two decades, attention has focused on specific symptoms of humanity's global-scale disruption of the environment: the destruction of the ozone layer, climate change, the worldwide loss of species, the growing threats to oceans, pervasive chemical contamination of food webs everywhere on Earth. But these are only signs of broader planetary distress, aspects of a larger story. We need to press beyond the symptoms to discover what fundamentally ails us and to gain a clear-eyed view of where we now find ourselves.
Humanity has “the obligation to endure.” Biologist Jean Rostand’s resonant phrase, famously quoted by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, asks us to see ourselves in a longer perspective than our own lives; it reminds us of our responsibility in life’s compact across generations to those who preceded us and to those who will follow. It is time to confront our dilemma squarely and learn how and why we have arrived at this perilous juncture. We need to understand what we are up against if we are to make wise decisions about how to proceed in a time of growing danger.