Excerpt from The Suicidal Planet by Mayer Hillman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Suicidal Planet

How to Prevent Global Climate Catastrophe

by Mayer Hillman

The Suicidal Planet
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Apr 2007, 304 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Chapter One

Beyond the Planet’s Limits

Climate Change: Why, How, and What Next?

Climate change is the most serious environmental threat that the world has ever faced. The dangers can hardly be exaggerated. Climate scientists predict that by the end of this century, temperatures could rise 10°F worldwide. But even if they rise by “just” 5°F, major parts of the earth’s surface could become uninhabitable and many species on the planet could be wiped out. Just within the next fifty years, there will be more heat waves, higher summer temperatures, fewer cold winters, and rising sea levels. As a consequence, hundreds of millions of people will be at serious risk from flooding, there will be a huge loss of life from excessively hot weather, diseases from warmer regions will become established, some species and habitats will be lost forever, and patterns of agriculture and business will have to change radically. And then, before too long, the whole world may face the even greater dangers of long-term and irreversible catastrophic changes as warming threatens the Greenland ice shelf, the Gulf Stream, and the West Antarctic ice sheet.


Why Is the Climate Changing?
The climate is changing because the natural mechanism known as the “greenhouse effect” — which warms the earth—is being increased by human-induced emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases. As the concentrations of the emissions rise well above their natural levels, additional warming is taking place, as shown in the diagram below.

To explain this effect in somewhat more detail, the temperature of the earth is determined by the balance between incoming energy from sunlight and energy constantly being lost from the earth into space. The energy from the sun can pass through the atmosphere almost unchanged and warm the planet. But the heat emanating from the earth’s surface is partly absorbed by certain gases in the atmosphere and some of this is returned to earth. This infrared radiation further warms the planet’s surface and the lower strata of the atmosphere. Without this natural greenhouse effect, the planet would be over 35°F cooler than it is now—too cold for us to inhabit. However, the greenhouse gases we add to the atmosphere mean that more heat is being trapped. This is leading to global warming and other changes to the climate.

The primary cause of these climate changes is our use of coal, oil, and natural gas. Burning these carbon-based fossil fuels results in the production of carbon dioxide. Globally, these emissions contribute more than two-thirds of the warming and, within the United States, they account for five-sixths. Due to their chemical structure, different types of fuel give rise to different amounts of carbon dioxide per ton burned and per unit of energy produced. Coal is the fossil fuel that produces the most carbon dioxide per unit of energy, followed by oil and gas. (Energy use is explored in detail in the next chapter.)

In addition to fossil fuel combustion, land-use changes contribute to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. These changes stem from clearing land for logging, ranching, and agriculture, or switching from agricultural to industrial or urban use. Vegetation contains carbon that is released as carbon dioxide when it decays or burns. Normally, lost vegetation would be replaced by regrowth, with little or no extra emissions because the replacement vegetation absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it grows. However, over the past several hundred years, deforestation and other land-use changes around the world have contributed to one-fifth of the additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere attributable to human activity, mostly through cutting down tropical forests.

This book concentrates on carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use because these are the largest global source of greenhouse gases. However, it should be noted that, in addition to carbon dioxide, there are five other important greenhouse gases: methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, per-fluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. The most significant of these are the first two. Methane emissions come primarily from agriculture, waste, coal mining, and natural-gas distribution. They can be a major component of greenhouse gas emissions in countries with strong agricultural economies. For example, as a by-product of their digestion, New Zealand’s forty-five million sheep and eight million cattle produce about 90 percent of that country’s methane emissions, which equates to over 40 percent of the country’s total production of greenhouse gases. Nitrous oxide is generated from agriculture, industrial processes, and fuel combustion. The other greenhouse gases are emitted from a small range of industrial processes and products. With the exception of methane, these other gases are much easier to control through technological change than is carbon dioxide.

Copyright © 2007 by Mayer Hillman with Tina Fawcett and Sudhir Chella Rajan. All rights reserved.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Opposite of Everyone
by Joshilyn Jackson

"Quirky and appealing characters, an engaging story, and honest dialogue make this a great book!"
- BookBrowse

About the book
Join the discussion!

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: A Great Reckoning
    A Great Reckoning
    by Louise Penny
    Canadian author Louise Penny is back with her twelfth entry in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache ...
  • Book Jacket: Homegoing
    Homegoing
    by Yaa Gyasi
    It's all very well to challenge people to be the masters of their own destiny, but when you&#...
  • Book Jacket: When Breath Becomes Air
    When Breath Becomes Air
    by Paul Kalanithi
    When Breath Becomes Air is the autobiography of Paul Kalanithi, written in the time period between ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Victoria
    by Daisy Goodwin

    Daisy Goodwin breathes new life into Victoria's story, and does so with sensitivity, verve, and wit." - Amanda Foreman

    Read Member Reviews

Who Said...

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

The Big Holiday Wordplay:
$400+ in Prizes

Enter Now

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.