Study Questions from The Next One Hundred Years,
by Jonathan Weiner
Assignment: as you read each chapter of The Next One
Hundred Years, compose study-guide questions that could be used to test a
reader’s analytic comprehension.
When Weiner received his EcoSphere, the box was marked
Ironically, it was the sphere’s ill-handled rush through delivery
that accelerated its denizen’s demise. Hw are we rushing our own world into its manifest future,
and how is our mishandling of the Earth’s resources setting the stage for
our imminent destruction?
All living organisms engage in some form of respiration with
their immediate environment.
Conceive of humanity as a single organism, living and breathing on the
surface of the Earth. Our
respiration has remained fairly stable for the past 2 million years, but has
suddenly changed in nature. Our
inhalations have begun to extract huge quantities of materials from the
Earth’s reserves, while our exhalations spew tonnes of filth and
corruption into the atmosphere.
Can our respiratory cycles be made to fit the Keeling Curve? Why or why not? How might we as a race learn to better
control our breathing, and avoid “genocidal hyperventilation”?
Weiner speaks of the labored breathing a copepod falls into
when its grain of sand is stolen from its grasp. Humanity’s figurative grain of sand can be seen as
Tillich’s “vertical dimension.” However, our grain was not removed by some outside party,
but rather left behind by a race gone made for scientific knowledge. Comment.
David Thoreau compared the steam locomotive, the quintessential symbol of
19th century industrialization, to Atropos, the older and
uglier sibling of Clotho and Lachesis. Has humanity
irrevocably “cut its thread,” as the Fate’s name
implies? How can mankind
return to its Clotho/Lachesis phase, spending more of its time and energy
on the creation and weaving of new fabrics into fabulous tapestries
spanning nations and worlds?
mentions that each tree we hack down cuts not only into the planetary
ecosphere, but also into the Earth’s respiratory system. Even as we systematically poison
the atmosphere our planet is breathing, we tighten our grip upon its
throat, forcing each new breath to come more ragged than the last. How long can we maintain this
stranglehold upon our planet, before it convulses in a fatal spasm of
asphyxiation? What should we
be doing differently, now, to halt and release that deadlock?
of this chapter dealt with the swamp gas methane. As the author notes, this product
of breakdown and decay is so common to the Earth that it is known as
“natural gas.” Obviously,
every living organism, whether on a microscopic or planetary scale,
experiences periods of growth and decay; methane is simply one aspect of
the Earth’s natural decay and recycling system. However, observers are suddenly
noting an unexpected and inexplicable increase in the amount of methane in
the atmosphere. Is this a
final sign of the Earth’s fall into decay? Is the planet decomposing faster than it can restore
itself? Again, what steps may
humanity take to salvage our world before it falls into irreparable chaos?
uses the words of Joseph Conrad to warn us of the dire results of ignoring
the “Message of prophesy” etched into our atmosphere. However, he then reminds us of the
Greek roots of “prophesy,” meaning “ahead of fate.” Did the scientists’ warning
come indeed “ahead of fate,” or is our doom already fast upon
us? Modern connotations of “fate”
include strong implications of predestination; are we forever locked into
a rigid, preordained course, or have we a chance of turning aside? Even if our planet is in fact
locked into a future matching the broiling hell of its sister world,
Venus, are we not ethically bound to fight that progression hand and foot?
to a Swiss physicist, in his business, “You have to be rather
to what? To minute particles
of carbon floating in the atmosphere, or to the plight of 5 billion human
lives? (Discounting the
trillions of other, equally significant lower life forms, plus gazillions
of lives yet unborn.) Why
must only scientists exhibit this wonderful “sensitivity”? Surely, concern for one’s
environment is synnoetic, and should not require a Ph.D. to awaken. Where did humanity gain these
remarkable calluses that have impaired our natural sensitivity?
and Onward!” was C.S. Lewis’ path to Heaven and Salvation;
J.M. Mitchell used those same words to describe the Earth’s
progression toward a lethal global summer. Why must humanity’s forward motion always come at
a price to our environment?
Perhaps because we do not include the Earth in our profit shares,
do not regard it as a fellow entity deserving of growth and blessing? Mankind must come to realize that
its fate, at least for the moment, is inextricably bound up with its
progress we make must be shared with our world, else a fatal imbalance
will pull us all down into oblivion.
“Però t’assenno che, se tu mai odi
originar la mia terra altrimenti,
la verita nulla menzogna frodi.”
-- Canto XX
used those words, taken out of context from Dante’s Inferno, to exhort his readers into faith in his
message of global warming, against the adversities of media reactionaries and scientific
waffling. However, the
original thrust of Dante’s verse was much more appropriate and
foreboding. Virgil was just
describing how his home village of Mantua was built on the dead bones of
the Sorceress Manto, who was then incarcerated in the Eighth Circle of
Hell along with all the Diviners, Astrologers, and Magicians of the
ages. What are Keeling,
Hansen, and Schneider but our modern-day Wizards and Astrologers, trying
to forecast a dim and cloudy future through their meager Arts? Will future generations build
their airtight homes and domed cities over the bones of our laboratory
prophets, sages who receive little more respect today than Prestigiators of
the past? Let us pay close
heed to those few seers we have available, gifted souls with a sharper
vision than ours. Weiner
might well have closed with the words of another famous teacher, now long
“If any one is preaching to you
a gospel contrary to that which you
received, let him be accursed.”
-- Gal. 1.9
July of ’88, a Montana farmer took his two sons atop a hill and bade
them look down at the burning forests and dustblown topsoil. These, he told them, were sights
they would one day describe to their children. I wonder, though, if those were the sights his sons
will recall in thirty or forty years. Perchance their children will be all too familiar with
clouds of dust billowing over scorched fields, and with charred stumps
peppering wasted plains. I
think instead that they will spin nighttime faerie tales of a time when
the sky appeared as deepest azure, and woodland animals could be heard to
play among the foliage through huge tracts of virgin hinterland. What tales will we tell our children in the coming
centuries? How will they be
received? With disbelief? nostalgia?
grief? …or with a raging, white-hot anger…?