H A&S 222d Introduction to Energy and Environment
I. INTRODUCTION TO HUMAN ENERGETICS
We will encounter several very different views of the environment: McNeill’s
history (which has considerable sociology and philosophy built in) which though inspired still
leads to gloomy feelings;
the up-beat can-do environmentalism of Amory Lovins (the book
www.rmi.org); the skeptical conservatism (hey, no problem) of Bjorn
Lomborg (the book
The Skeptical Environmentalist,
) and the opposing views
of scientists (www.anti-lomborg.com).
The early part of McNeill’s book (up to p20) briefly reviews the historical trends that
lead up to today. The combination of great increases in
, economic activity (related to
‘wealth’ or ‘
) and level of
all multiply together to define the impact…the
‘footprint’… of mankind on the environment.
This trio of effects has often been described, for
example by Paul Ehrlich in his early books,
The Population Explosion
where it is called ‘
’ as an aid to memory
[McNeill only mentions the first two of these].
McNeill is one of a growing number of scholars trying to put both ‘the planet’s history’ and ‘the
people’s history’ together, with the aim of improving our (and its) future.
We will talk this term
about some deep problems relating to life on Earth, and in the grandest notion of all, the life ‘of’
the Earth, described as a problem of evolution.
McNeill talks about ‘rats’ and ‘sharks’: versatile adaptability (rats) vs. supreme adaptation to
exploit one particular environment (sharks). 20
C. humanity is more shark-like: stable climate,
cheap energy, but this is dangerous strategy. “In the 20
Century, societies often pursued a shark
strategy amid a global ecology ever more unstable—and hence more suitable for rats….The same
characteristics that underwrote our long-term biological success—adaptability, cleverness—have
lately permitted us to erect a highly specialized fossil-fuel based civilization so ecologically
disruptive that it guarantees surprises and shocks…we have created a regime of perpetual
.” (McNeill p xxiii).
“ The human race, without intending anything of the sort, has undertaken a gigantic, uncontrolled
experiment on the Earth. In time, I think, this will appear as the most important aspect of
twentieth-century history, more so than world war II.” (McNeill p 4). This ‘experiment’ has many
One is global climate: the temperature, rainfall, winds, soil moisture, Arctic ice and so
We will consider the greenhouse ‘experiment’ in the Air and Water units. Another is the
development of diseases and epidemics: the combination of individual health and transmission
and evolution of disease in crowded, fast-moving global populations.
While we cannot study
health issues in detail, they are much in our minds. However, it is the health of the planet and all
its creatures that should concern us. Human beings are just one, dominant species.