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.


Chapter 1:

When Weiner received his EcoSphere, the box was marked “Rush.  Perishable.”  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?

Chapter 2:

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”?

Chapter 3:

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.

Chapter 4:

  1. Henry 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?
  2. Weiner 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?
  3. Much 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?

Chapter 5:

  1. Weiner 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?
  2. According to a Swiss physicist, in his business, “You have to be rather sensitive.”  Sensitive 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?
  3. “Upward 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 homeworld’s.  Any progress we make must be shared with our world, else a fatal imbalance will pull us all down into oblivion.

Chapter 6:

  1. “Però t’assenno che, se tu mai odi
    originar la mia terra altrimenti,
    la verita nulla menzogna frodi.”
    -- Canto XX

    Weiner 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 dead:

    “If any one is preaching to you
    a gospel contrary to that which you
    received, let him be accursed.”
    -- Gal. 1.9

  2. In 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…?