Friday, June 29, 2012

Bill McGuire

Bill McGuire is an academic, science writer and broadcaster. He is currently Professor of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London. Bill was a member of the UK Government Natural Hazard Working Group established in January 2005, in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami, and in 2010 a member of the UK government’s Science Advisory Group in Emergencies (SAGE) addressing the Icelandic volcanic ash problem. In 2011, he was one of the authors of the IPCC report on climate change and extreme events. His books include A Guide to the End of the World: Everything you Never Wanted to Know, Surviving Armageddon: Solutions for a Threatened Planet and Seven Years to Save the Planet. His latest book is Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanoes. McGuire presented the BBC Radio 4 series, Disasters in Waiting and Scientists Under Pressure and the End of the World Reports on Channel 5 and Sky News. He has also contributed to countless other television and radio programmes and was consultant for the lauded BBC Horizon films; Supervolcanoes and Megatsunami -Wave of Destruction, as well as for the BBC drama, Supervolcano. He lives in the English Peak District with his wife Anna, sons Jake (3) and Fraser (8), and cats Dave and Toby.

A few weeks ago I asked McGuire what he was reading. His reply:
I have just finished reading a couple of books that may, superficially, seem very different, but which hold in common salutary warnings for the future of our race as we rush headlong towards a maelstrom of climate chaos and resource depletion and the tearing apart of our cosy, comfortable, world. In the first part of his ‘The Century’ trilogy, Fall of Giants, Ken Follett immerses us brilliantly in the horrors of the First World War and highlights the sabre-rattling, intransigence and sheer lunacy of the political machinations that led to its onset. Looking forward rather than back – and needing no introduction, Suzanne Collins – in The Hunger Games - excels at building a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world of totalitarian government, repression, and televised child-on-child violence that is often visceral and which must – at times – shock the young adults at whom it is primarily aimed. As a geologist and climate scientist with an informed dread about what the future will hold for my – and everyone’s – children and grandchildren, both books struck particularly loud and dissonant chords.

Follett’s work reminds us – if we need reminding – that the human race is depressingly short-sighted, with a seemingly in-built inertia that precludes rapid action in the face of looming catastrophe, however obvious. In 1914, world leaders could see the Great War coming, but none had the will or the savvy to do anything to stop it. Nothing ever changes, so that today heads of government display exactly the same attitude in relation to anthropogenic climate change. Notwithstanding the fact that this is the greatest threat our race has ever faced, we continue to sprint headlong towards a metaphorical precipice with little or no regard for the devastating consequences once we reach the rim.

It is hard to imagine, from the perspective of the early 21st century, what form a future Hothouse Earth, in which the global economy has collapsed and the social fabric has been torn apart, will take, and possible scenarios are really only limited by our imagination. In this regard, Suzanne Collins’ fictionalised Panem, presents us with a microcosm containing many of the features that are likely to characterise such a broken world; the emergence of despotic regimes; the manifestation of cosseted and exploitive elites and the wholesale repression of the masses under conditions of grinding poverty. There may well be no televised fights to the death, but in all other things the world of Panem may well provide a credible template for late 21st century Earth.
Visit Bill McGuire's website.

Waking the Giant is one of Fred Pearce's top ten eco-books.

The Page 99 Test: Waking the Giant.

--Marshal Zeringue