Focus; The End of Nature
Fear takes forever that time seems imponderable the long and the earth seems inconceivably huge. The future seems very very far away. And he writes in the beginning of his book our comforting sense of the permanence of our natural world our confidence that it will change gradually and imperceptibly if it all is then the result of a subtly warped perspective changes that can affect not just changes like wars but bigger and more sweeping events. He says I believe that without recognizing it we have already stepped over a threshold of such a change that we are at the end of nature as we talk here this morning with Bill McKibben. You are certainly invited to call in the local number here is 3 3 3 9 4 5 5 and toll free 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5. Mr. McKibben Hello. Oh thank you very much for joining us this morning. Thank you for having me. Tell us some more about what you mean by the end of nature.
Sure. I'm really touched anything discussion. The greenhouse effect and has is you and your listeners I'm sure know there are now a lot of scientists and politicians things who believe that in the course of the next century our exhaust gases and burning rainforest things will raise the temperature on a 3 to 9 degrees. So I talk about a lot of the physical effects of that possible physical effects. But also I'm very interested in the kind of you might see philosophical effects of that. What does it mean if in 20 years I walk out my back door which opens on to 100000 acres of pretty pristine wilderness and the temperature is 70 degrees instead of 65 because of all our car exhaust. It seems to me that then one standing in the equivalent of a heated room and in a way it makes very little sense to talk about the wild any more that we will manage to tame the whole surface of the globe in some way and it strikes me as important threshold that we will have stepped over you know you're right about it in the sense that we we have almost always defined nature by saying that it is something that is completely apart from us.
It's independent from us and that now we with the the changes in in the climate on a global scale. We there is there is no place on earth really where nature is untouched by the work of humans.
Yes we may soon be. Yeah that's right I mean me. And as a special case in regard to nature he's obviously part of nature in a way. You know we're actual creatures on the other hand we're the one creature that can that can see ourselves that outside of nature too which is why you know I mean one could make the argument that it's a phenomenon like say acid rain was completely natural. You know it resulted from a biological beings doing what they were doing.
It's just that I don't think almost anyone really feels that if they're up hiking a mountain someplace and there's some 10000 spruce in front of them because it's a power plant someplace.
How how do you think we will be. In a continuing to talk for a little bit in a in a philosophical frame. How how we will experience this in it. Obviously this when we talk about the End of Nature in the way that you're talking about it either it has already happened or it is soon to happen and yet it could well have escaped our notice of many people. Well how would you know how and when do you think will really begin to feel it.
Feel it feel it in a philosophical sense. Well yeah I guess that I mean there's a there's so many different kind of paradigms that are involved here. Let's take just one. An awful lot of I would say all Western religion and perhaps a lot of other religions too although I know less about them are based on the idea of of Earth have at some part of their core the idea that some deity created our planet and has some kind of power over it. If it turns out that we are affecting and changing the most basic and fundamental forces of nature the things that seem most outside of our control the weather the temperature. Then in some ways that paradigm is going to have to change I think and and that'll be a big Get be a big shift for a lot of us to deal with. I don't think it will. I don't think it will get us all of a sudden. But I think that I try to think of a good analogy like you know in the in the 1890s Frederick Turner announced that the frontier had been closed you know in America and we'd gone all the way across the country and that sort of epic was over and I don't think that we've got anyone right at the time sort of realized it or felt that. But in retrospect it's become clear what an important force the frontier was in American history and how its closing changed our culture.
Maybe this is in some way analogous and I think it one point you're right that one of the results is that we can no longer imagine that we are part of something larger than ourselves. And I think that that's a I mean if if that is if that is true that comes to pass that puts us in a very dangerous point.
Yes I completely agree with that. If there's been that's one of the sort of restraints on our actions it seems to me the idea that we're good that there are other things that that are created is well on that have value in and of themselves. And if we become the sort of undisputed dominators of the planet then I write a little bit about genetic engineering in the book which seems in an odd way to me connected to some of these environmental problems because I'm afraid that the way that will attempt to overcome things like the greenhouse effect is not through is through more and more management and domination of the. Planet instead of less that will say well look it's we've made it hot. Now let's create plants and animals that can stand you know hundred in 30 degree heat or whatever. And that was true. And those tools and techniques are quickly becoming within our grasp and that if we follow that path which seems to me the obvious and easy path for us to follow We're on a kind of spiral into an ever more human dominated world.
Yeah. To talk a little bit about the the the physical reality that has brought us to this to this philosophical point. You present the the information that has been gathered over some period of time about the greenhouse effect and about global warming which are really not really new ideas that some scientists have been looking at these things for a long time.
Sure the first scientists to you know to speculate about it was in the in the 19th century and he his estimates are surprisingly close to the sort of current computer models about what increases in carbon dioxide.
The temperature that we are as a result of burning of fossil fuels production of coral floral carbons the CFC use. We are getting to a point where we have substantially altered the atmosphere of the entire earth and that the consequence many people say is that we are moving towards a a warming of the earth and that is the the the global average temperature. It's been projected will increase between 3 and 8 degrees Fahrenheit.
Yes if I say in the book it's very uncertain exactly what will happen. Most scientists seem to agree on a direction of change in terms of warmth although there are some who disagree and think that we could produce a sort of greenhouse. I see that's a that's a distinctly minority view point the point is however that we've just introduced more. Energy into the system you know by trapping all this warmth that would otherwise radiate back out space and therefore something is likely to and most people think it will be a warming of the planet.
Now this is the kind of change that we're talking about. It's it's going to be gradual it's nothing like it's going to happen overnight.
Well it could be pretty quick. You know if the estimates are correct there's one scientist Jim Hansen who said that the average summer of about 10 years from now they closely resemble the summer we had in 1998 when it was at least a year to tail. And and so depending on one's definition of quick that seems pretty quick to me.
Well I guess that goes back to what I was saying in the beginning about how you know we know about our ideas about time and about how things are going to take forever and it may be that that that is why this discussion doesn't seem to have much of an of a sense of urgency about it.
Yeah I mean people are used to the idea that natural change takes place at a so-called glacial pace. And that that may very well turn out to be true. We may you know we're talking about changing according to a lot of estimates changing the earth's climate at a rate of 10 to 60 times faster than it's ever. Change during human history.
Well you know what. What can what confuses me and I what I think confuses a lot of laypeople when we talk about issues like this one is that we and I think often in the the media community I mean we're guilty of reinforcing it is what we do is we present people with the battle of the scientist. We go out and get one scientist who says one thing and then we go out and get another scientist who says the opposite of the opposite. And then I think and you know what we've ended up telling people essentially is nothing. And so it seems that the discussion still does seem to have much urgency to it and that we have these we have continue to have scientist who will say about global warming and about acid rain and about other things well the jury is still out we still don't know they're there although some of those issues.
For instance acid rain. Curious no I don't think anyone yes anyone to look at it. But the jury's out on acid right. Turns out the scientists. Twenty five years ago said that it was destroying trees were absolutely right and we should have done something 25 years ago. Still haven't done anything but perhaps we will now that we have an environmental president. On another questions yes there is to some degree still a lot of there's an enormous amount we need to know. The problem is if we wait until we know absolutely everything and until it's completely clear what's going to happen then we probably waited too long and a certain large number of leaders around the world it seems to me are beginning to wake up to this. Margaret Thatcher was in New York two weeks ago at the U.N. and she is not you know what you would call a kind of left wing lunatic. In fact she's been a terrible environmental record and been can consistently at odds with environmentalists in Britain. But she's a chemist by training. If someone talks to her about the heat trapping properties. Carbon dioxide I don't think that her eyes are rolled back in her head and she's came out very very strongly for limitations on CO2 emissions. In fact 57 of 60 countries at this U.N. gathering were eager to put some kind of cap on CO2 emissions. The three countries to coopt it United States the Soviet Union and Japan.
When do you think that that we will get to the point where where we're nobody is going to be able to deny this anymore and if and at that point will it be too late to. There's a strange question and that's that's a good question and I.
It's impossible to tell. You can't say 12 years 18 years I mean the science is nowhere near that exact. I do think we're beginning to to see if there's a real momentum building behind this and a lot of other environmental issues. I think people realize who would have when the planet is strained to support the population it supports that we're probably going to double that population in the next generation. And we think that the Earth is in desperate straits and I think people are ready finally to do something about that and a lot of fields.
We're talking this morning with Bill McKibben about his book The End of Nature it is published by Random House who would be interested in having your comments to the telephone number here 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. Toll free 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5. I have a call I will get to in just a second let me just real quick tell you again one of the programs for the rest of the week. Tomorrow morning at this part of the show we'll be talking about Iran with Marvin Weinbaum. You have my political scientist recently returned from a tour of Tehran in the Persian Gulf on Friday 11 will talk about children's books with Leslie Edmonds from the School of Library and Information Science once again she'll have a book list for us. You're thinking about books as gifts for the kids in your life. Next week on Monday we'll talk about the care of houseplants with Marvin CARBONELL professor of Flora culture extension at the U of I. On Tuesday next week the topic sexual harassment with Deborah Allen and Joan Erickson in the next week Wednesday we'll talk about groundwater the link to sustainable agriculture with Jerry Nelson of the McHenry County defenders who are here weekday mornings starting at 10:00 with the 10 different topics for you every week. We always encourage you to call in if you have questions. The number here 333 wy allowed toll free 800 to 2 to WLM and we'll go to a caller right here on line number one.
Hello good morning. I have a number of questions but I had 20 other people waiting I'd like to ask.
Sure you know you're the only you're the only one to go.
Well a number of things I've jotted down. I've been reading your book Mr. McKibben I'm unfortunately have not finished yet and I wish I had before before this but I find it fascinating reading. You mentioned a couple places in the car one place in the book you're talking about how some of the more radical storms may change as the at the surface temperature of the ocean increases and as they put one penetrate farther into the depth of the ocean and you made a comparison with a Hurricane Gilbert can you compare Gobert versus Hugo you mentioned there that one person kind of studies. But Gilbert was about at the upper bounds of a storm of that type.
Yeah I don't think Hugo was quite as strong as it is to a bird. I don't know I don't know precisely but I think you're over represented as strong a hurricane as you could get with just about with temperatures the way they are at the moment. And if they warm significantly you can get a much much stronger storm over what kind of period of time are we talking about storms like that actually changing I mean. Well if you mean if the Earth's temperature goes up in the next 50 years considerably so will sea surface temperature right.
I would Which brings me to another area here we talk about the Petain temperature being between 1 3 and the Fahrenheit right over what period of time are we. Is the most likely.
Those those figures are for the next. Over the course of the next century there's a lot of debate about when the worst of the warming will kick in. Some people say after 20 40 or 20 30 something like that others think it'll happen more rapidly.
OK because that was the point of the point of your career talking about the year 2025 seeing some significant losses in Sherline even for instance in Massachusetts. Yeah and I was wondering what that was based upon.
Well those are all I see all these studies assume a certain is certain increase in temperature by the year 2025. This is what will happen. And as I say the science is remarkably an exact and in a way that's the scariest part of the whole thing. If we knew precisely what was going to happen if we could say 2060 average will be so and so at this in this place then we could take you know it would be it would be bad enough we could least know what we're planning for and could take steps to to to deal with it. Since we don't know that it seems to me all the more reason to try to slow things down as much as we can.
Is there some publication currently out that that actually take these different studies and compare them in a you know want to charge form or even in a discussion and says well if you take this one and take this there's a worst case scenario.
The EPA did a pretty good a pretty good. It's hard to in the you know forgetting the name of it at the moment but it's referred to I think in the IOM acknowledgements of the book. OK the EPA is done. Huge report for Congress last year came out in the first part came out in the fall of last year in the second part in the spring of this year and I think the part about the fall of last year had a lot of targeted by the various computer models gave some in there in fact it talked a lot about the various computer models of the Great Lakes area and gave examples of what they were predicting was this damage to the ocean front by 2025 was that based on a one meter rise.
I can't remember but I imagine it probably was because that seems to be kind of the the base they get there when you get it sort of close to the consensus because I mean that's.
You're talking about an awful lot of ASA land in Florida. I mean if you're going to level a meter in Florida then you're going to lose a tremendous amount of your time.
I was on a reporting trip earlier this year to the mall the violence in the Indian Ocean. Incredibly beautiful archipelago of fifteen hundred islands most of them but the size of a football field. They're very you know they're truly paradoxical. And they are there he allegedly found in a lot of ways you know people fish with canned lines and fish population is as healthy as it ever was and so on. Unfortunately these islands are all about five feet above sea level and they're going to be in desperate trouble when if the sea level rise. Anything like the kind that people are talking about takes place.
You mentioned also that that the ice that currently the ice is currently floating in the ocean would not have any effect on that except that wouldn't that actually have a slightly ameliorating effect in that frozen water does have a greater volume if you melt that all that sea ice is actually going to. It might I suppose. I'm not sure I mean very minor but you are going to be studies that you know of that that start to take a look at these things do in fact continue where the better places to live. I mean if you're planning to live where she did before.
Well I might. There was a lot of sort of 10 years ago or five years ago before time of the greenhouse effect there was a lot of discussion of kind of winners and losers in the greenhouse world and I think the sort of consensus now is that. The place is going to be in big trouble. We have these kind of changes. And that it's impossible to really predict where or where you know will be most stable because some places are having some indication that temperature changes might be greater at higher latitudes. And that mean more radical. Yes. Yes and the more tropical latitudes might have a less less absolute increase in temperature so that we would see still drastic winter to me see more drastic winters and more drastic summers in say in in Canada even though you'd think you'd see warmer weather year round and in.
OK so you would not you don't expect to see harsher winters I don't know although as I say there are people who look into the numbers and see the possibility for harsher winters.
What are there effects that we see now other than acid rain that but I mean other meteorological effects that we can see now we can look back 25 years and say oh well this is changed now.
There's some evidence that the sea level has begun to rise in the last 50 years and studies too. University of Toronto researchers reported this spring I think it said that it did measured sea level at all 460 locations around the planet that they were detecting no noticeable rise in sea level. So that that would be headed you are confirming a degree and we would expect these things to start increasing much more rapidly.
Yes that's correct. If we use the if the models are at all correct that's right in the year 2000 or something people will start saying gee my doc seems to be a baby. One last question Ed I'm taking a class on fuel. Tourism So if we want to have them and I'm really interested in the back of the topic for me. If you were to turn off a lot of people are extremely skeptical of this or say well there's nothing I can do about it. Or well you know everybody disagrees and David was saying you can find it. You seem to be able to find a scientist to disagree with any other scientist kind of like lawyers always find your own experts. What what if you had one thing to say to somebody to try and get your your point across here to to convince them to at least seriously consider this what would you say to them.
Well I'd say that if you if you would conduct a top of a mountain or some remote place in 1960 and taken an air sample and kept it in a bottle someplace and went up the same mountain out to another air sample you'd have dramatically different levels of gases. The atmosphere the composition the atmosphere is changing. That's beyond question and that it's only logical to assume that will have some effect since the composition the atmosphere is important.
That's a good point I was in Monterey California back in the Adelaide sixties and one upon top of a mountain it's called CHUs ridge where there was a Forest Service lookout station with a gentleman who spent all his summers up there with a rather elderly gentleman to do them. I don't know how many years. And he pointed up toward the valley towards San Jose that area and he commented how every year he could see the smog of the pollution creeping farther and farther and farther down he just watched over his wife and says that he can't see. I don't get it. Thank you very much I want you to finish your book for good work.
Thank you and well thanks for the call this morning our guest is Bill McKibben and we're talking with him about his book The End of Nature. Bill McKibben is a journalist he he has done a lot of writing for The New Yorker. His work has also appeared in The New York Review of Books in the New York Times and other publications. The End of Nature is published by Random House. If you have questions comments please do give us a call 3 3 3 9 4 5 5.
Toll free 800 2 2 2 1 9 4 5 5. It's when we could go on for for such a long time to talk about what seemed to be the likely consequences of global warming and it seems that there is no there would be no part of the earth no aspect of life virtually would be untouched. Humans and their life agriculture the wild animal population the sea level.
Just so you could go off correctly go on in it.
We're talking about one of the kind of peaceful times. The biosphere the weather and it changed dramatically what changed everything that you do and you talk about.
In my response to this you seem to be saying that we're presented with with two possible paths or one would be the path that goes along the line that says technology can fix problems technology has created and that that that is the way that we have managed to dig ourselves out of this. So which means essentially that branch of the path is we continue to change the world and continue to try to change the world to cope with changes that we have already brought about. But the other path is that instead of trying to change the world even further that what we could try to do is essentially is to change ourselves to change our ideas about economic growth about what it means about how you measure it about what kind of life we want to live you know that that that nasty word lifestyle way of life. Yeah you know that that we could change our way of life. So you are presented with those who are sort of at this point in the road where not too far down the road there is there these divergent path.
That's right. To Seems to me that you do see that there is a choice to be made and that we could decide really for the first time to to restrain ourselves in both our numbers and our life. To live a little bit more humbly so that the rest of creation has some chance to think as well because otherwise our domain in every way keeps expanding constantly. And pretty soon I think it will be nothing short of left but us and our planet in size to do what's go on here talk with some other folks go to the top of the line I think next.
Hello good morning. Yes I know we got you.
I'm X but thank you for that comment that I want to make it into gosh about the argument about the damaged right off because it reminds me of like a bunch of people on a runaway train that are arguing about the probable death rate and instead of trying to stop trying you know what then are you like you said twenty five years ago they said acid rain is a rain forest for the candidate I did out fine nobody did anything about it and now we're stuck with a bunch of dead trees.
Seriously the image among the walking there the people that need to hear about this I think are busy out there can you try.
Yes well there's always that even if we can be good and that's my concern you.
You said at the very beginning of the program that in a way we're tied to major in a way you know in a way we're part of nature in a way or not I take that because I think we're in it to put in extra goodly part of nature. You cannot talk about the eco system you cannot talk about the planet without talking about our focus on it.
Right because we're part of that we're part of the team and fortunately donating and I think there's a chance for real kind of political action on these things. I think people one thing that really encouraged me not only in the book but what a good reception here in this country but the publishing of next year and 12 or 13 foreign countries and I'm going to England in a month to promote it and things and I get the sense that the rest of the world is perhaps ahead of America or at least large parts of the rest of the world are ahead of America beginning to deal with these issues and you know one reason for instance Margaret Thatcher can deal with it perhaps is that she's a chemist. But another is that environmentalist have begun to to become a very important part of the political landscape in Great Britain and she's responding to. There are concerns. And so I think that you know that in a way the environmental there was a sort of environmental movement growing up in the late 60s and early 70s and even through the 70s and then it was interrupted quite dramatically present by the Reagan administration which was remarkably anti-environmentalist in the police to the sort of issues and that that there's a chance that interruption is now over and we're ready to go back in and in even bigger ways to thinking about the harm.
I would have it. I'm trying to kind of emulate what it is and how can I help.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
- The End of Nature
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- WILL (Radio/television station : Urbana, Ill.)
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- WILL Illinois Public Media (Urbana, Illinois)
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- Author and climate change activist Bill McKibben discusses his first book "The End of Nature." During this episode of Focus, McKibben talks about causes of the greenhouse effect on the climate, and that in order for our planet to be sustain life we need a massive fundamental and philosophical shift in the way we view our relationship to the Earth. Since 1989, McKibben has published other books, including his most recent "Eaarth," in which he discusses the impacts of climate change that we have begun to and will continue to experience; now, he argues, we need to learn how to adapt and live on a new planet. Bill McKibben is founder of 350.org, an international movement and organization to mobilize people across the globe to act on climate change.
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Guest: McKibben, Bill
Host: Inge, David
Producer: Brighton, Jack
Producer: Brighton, Jack
Producing Organization: WILL (Radio/television station : Urbana, Ill.)
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Illinois Public Media (WILL)
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- Chicago: “Focus; The End of Nature,” 1989-11-29, WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 18, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_16-p843r0qc0z.
- MLA: “Focus; The End of Nature.” 1989-11-29. WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 18, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_16-p843r0qc0z>.
- APA: Focus; The End of Nature. Boston, MA: WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_16-p843r0qc0z