[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
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[L.Q. cover, quotes, and images from Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2019: CLIMATE, except where noted otherwise.]
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[NEW to Lapham’s Quarterly? See the standard notes at the end of this review. After 45+ LQ summaries I jump right in.]
[This is a READING section, for those who may stumble in looking for photography. There are pictures, too.]
The three sections of Voices In Time this issue are Forecast (27 items), Advisory (27), and Evacuation (25).
20. In 1992 W.G. Sebald states the obvious. The source of climate change is combustion. Burn, baby, burn. Ever since Man reproduced the phenomena of fire, we’ve been burning everything in sight. Steam power and coal furnaces multiplied that in the 18th and 19th centuries. Since then burning has increased exponentially. Referring to England, Sebald says:
”Whatever was spared by the flames in prehistoric Europe was later felled for construction and shipbuilding, and to make the charcoal that the smelting of iron required in vast quantities. By the seventeenth century, only a few insignificant remnants of the erstwhile forests survived in the islands, most of them untended and decaying. The great fires were now lit on the other side of the ocean. It is not for nothing that Brazil owes its name to the French word for charcoal. Our spread over the earth was fueled by reducing the higher species of vegetation to charcoal, by incessantly burning whatever would burn.”
“Combustion is the hidden principle behind every artifact we create. The making of a fishhook, manufacture of a china cup, or production of a television program all depend on the same process of combustion. Like our bodies and like our desires, the machines we have devised are possessed of a heart that is slowly reduced to embers. From the earliest times, human civilization has been no more than a strange luminescence growing more intense by the hour, of which no one can say when it will begin to wane and when it will fade away. For the time being, our cities still shine through the night, and the fires still spread.” (P. 57)
23. In his 1980 book Cosmos, Carl Sagan beautifully describes the climate on Venus and posits whether Earth is destined for a similarly wretched hell. Some say his science is outdated (there may be considerably less sulphuric acid in the atmosphere than he thought), but he makes a point.
“With searing heat, crushing pressures, noxious gases, and everything suffused in an eerie reddish glow, Venus seems less the goddess of love than the incarnation of hell.”
“It now seems reasonably clear that the high surface temperature comes about through a massive greenhouse effect.”
“There is an additional factor that can alter the landscape and the climate of Earth: intel- ligent life, able to make major environmental changes. Like Venus, the Earth also has a green- house effect due to its carbon dioxide and water vapor.The global temperature of Earth would be below the freezing point of water if not for the greenhouse effect. It keeps the oceans liquid and life possible. A little greenhouse is a good thing.“ (P. 61-62)
I highly recommend this extract. It is not free in L.Q. online, but you can find a good bit of it in Google Books preview here, searching for Heaven and Hell, page 101, paragraph starting “In ordinary visible light…” and reading to the bottom of page 105.
25. From An African In Greenland, Tete-Michel Kpomassie is amusing as he dreams of, and later realizes, moving to Greenland from Lome’, Togo.
26. Montesquieu, on the other hand, asserts in 1748 that the climates effect the nature and attitudes of the people, with temperate Europe and France being a superior balance. To his credit, he greatly influenced the writers of the American Constitution, philosophizing on separation of powers.
“Montesquieu’s philosophy that “government should be set up so that no man need be afraid of another” reminded Madison and others that a free and stable foundation for their new national government required a clearly defined and balanced separation of powers.” (Wikipedia)
How is that working for us? Be afraid. Be very afraid. This extract is free in L.Q. Online. Wikipedia is very informative, as always.
27. FORECAST closes with Timothy Morton, 2010, introducing new terminology.
“And curiously, capitalism creates things that are more solid than things ever were. Alongside global warming, “hyperobjects” will be our lasting legacy. Materials from humble Styrofoam to terrifying plutonium will far outlast current social and biological forms.”
”Climate change—the result of about two hundred years of human industry—could change Earth for thousands of years. Plutonium will be around for far longer than all of recorded human “history” so far.”
“Related is the popular systems-theory idea of “emergence,” that systems can organize themselves without much (or any) conscious input…”
“The ideology of emergence states that we don’t need to take responsibility for good decisions—they will just happen “naturally.” But to tackle pollution, climate disruption, and radiation, we must think and act big, which means thinking and acting collectively. This will take conscious input. We will have to choose to act and think together. We won’t be able to stumble upon the right solutions. Society isn’t like a bunch of molecules ran- domly jostling each other with Brownian motion.“
”We are becoming aware of the world at the precise moment at which we are “destroying” it—or at any rate, globally reshaping it.” (P. 67-69)
To be continued…