Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Tag: greenhouse effect

The Sea and the Summer by George Turner

“Nothing can save this crumbling planet except the elimination of three quarters of it’s people.  And we know that can happen.”

A few months ago I discovered George Turner. For someone who loves science- fiction, not to know George Turner is frankly embarrassing. My only excuse is that The Sea and the Summer does not feel like a science-fiction.  It is so closely based on extrapolation of proven scientific facts that it is difficult to describe it as science fiction at all. The plot is not great but the structure of the story is interesting and complex. There is an intense human feeling throughout the book; the novel is character-driven rather than plot-driven.

Born in 1916, George Turner was already an accomplished novelist before he started writing science- fiction in the late ’70s. The Sea and the Summer first published 30 years ago, in 1987, but it still holds remarkably well. The story sets in mid-21st century Melbourne; global warming, rising temperatures and sea-levels (from the greenhouse effect) combined with automation and economic collapse has created a caste line system between those with jobs “the Sweet”, and the unemployed welfare takers “the Swill”. The Swill (90% of the total population) live in big towers, in enclosed overpopulated enclaves at the edges of the cities, with just enough to survive on. It is a vertical slum in the Greenhouse Years.

There are also the people who live in “the Fringe”, a place between the two camps where the people who lose their jobs end up before being absorbed by “the Swill”. It is there, in the Fringe where the two brothers, Teddy and Francis Conway, end up after the death of their father.  They react differently in this change; Teddy passes a special exam to join a special police force, and Francis uses his talent for numbers to join the back market working for a Sweet wealthy businesswoman.

George Turner examines several issues in this novel. Overpopulation, environmental destruction, economic collapse, and the inability of our societies to distribute resources and opportunities in a fair and equitable manner. There is also a second shorter story with the main story, that takes place in the distant future. Humanity has survived the Greenhouse Years, and is preparing to face another Ice Age

The Sea and Summer is not an entertaining story. It is a vivid, remarkable and uncomfortable account of life on the edge.

The novel won the second Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1988.

Climate Histories: The hellish planet and the super-organism Gaia

On December 14, 1962, after a three-and-a-half-month journey of 293 million kilometres from Earth, NASA’s Mariner 2 spacecraft, approached Venus. Forty-four minutes before closest approach – at a distance of 34,773 kilometers from Venus, Mariner’s 2 radiometers began to scan the planet’s dayside.

On January 3, 1963, twenty days after passing Venus, Mariner 2 transmitted half an hour of telemetry and then went silent. Radio contact was lost for ever. Mariner 2 became a mute piece of metal, endlessly circling the Sun in a heliocentric orbit.

Mariner 2 was the first spacecraft to successfully flyby another planet. The mission was an outstanding success and it created a great deal of publicity. William Pickering, the director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which was responsible for designing Mariner 2,  found himself featured on the cover of Time Magazine and rode as Grand Marshall of the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena.

William Pickering, on the cover of Time magazine. Cover Credit Boris Artzybasheff

In the meantime, the scientific debate over what Mariner 2 might find at Venus had been intensified.  Radio observations in the 1950s gave rise to two interpretations – an extremely hot planet, with surface temperature at least at 342°C or a planet with a relatively benign surface temperature. But all the evidence from Mariner 2 seemed to confirm the high surface temperature interpretation. Venus was a hellish world. Ground temperatures were as high as 428oC (800oF). There was no evidence of a magnetic field around the planet and they couldn’t detect any water vapour in its atmosphere. Five years later, Mariner 5 revealed a thick cloud-covered planet with even higher temperatures and a crushing atmosphere.

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Climate Histories: Glen T. Trewartha and “the so-called greenhouse effect of the earth’s atmosphere”

It is mid-thirties, and the United States is in the middle of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. The drought that has struck Texas and Oklahoma is wreaking havoc in the American prairies. Lacking the strong root system of grass, the winds easily pick the loose topsoil and swirl it into dense dust clouds, known as the black blizzards. The dust chokes thousands of cattle and drives 60 percent of the population, later they called them exodusters, first in the cities, and later in the agricultural regions in the Far West.

At the same time at the University of Wisconsin, the geographer Glen Thomas Trewartha keeps himself busy investigating the weather and the climate elements, such as temperature, precipitation, and storms and their relative significance in contributing to an understanding of regional climates.

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