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Falter by Bill McKibben (2019) (read in 2019)

Published by marco on

Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.

I read this book immediately after having read The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells. It compares favorably: the prose is easily as appealing, the facts just as eye-opening (many overlap, of course) and the conclusion just a bit more hopeful, in a very specific way.

It’s not a false hope, either. McKibben is deadly serious about the facts and their sobering implications. But he also spends a little time being in awe of what mankind has produced, despite how casually we’ve burned through resources—or how unevenly we’ve distributed benefits—to do so.

He doesn’t rubber-stamp these achievements as “worth it” like so many others (just because he happens to be a in a group that benefits) and he doesn’t diminish the evil that was an intrinsic part of how it came to be, but he does take a few minutes to describe it, if only to descry something worth saving. If mankind where to have wasted resources on only a handful of people while subjugating all others to produce total and useless crap, then a logical conclusion would be relatively easy: let it all go. We’re done here.

Even more than Wallace-Wells, McKibben points the accusatory finger at a system heavily influenced by the so-called American way of life, represented more recently by high-tech moguls and gurus who own vast swaths of the global economy and are no longer located exclusively in America (though many are in Silicon Valley).

He eloquently describes moments from his many travels. Instead of using numbers describing the tar-sands complex in Alberta, he tells us that “[b]ecause any bird that landed on the filthy water would die, cannons fire day and night to scare them away”, which cuts much, much deeper with its layered perversity. Or analogizing that “[t]he extra heat that we trap near the planet because of the carbon dioxide we’ve spewed is equivalent to the heat from 400,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs every day, or four each second.” Those facts sink in and don’t let go.

As with anyone attempting to inspire action, you have to make a decision on how to deliver the message: do you appeal to basic ethics or decency? Or do you appeal to personal danger?

Anyone arguing against going to war in a foreign country (like Iran) generally skips the first argument, though it’s the only one they should have to make. Instead, they end up talking about how hard it would be to defeat Iran, how much it would cost in lives and money and so on. The basic senselessness and immorality of it are quickly deemed as moot because people just don’t care.

McKibben must strike a similar balance: he spends a little time discussing just how wrong it is for 1% of the planet’s population to doom the other 99% for its own pleasure. But then he switches to the argument that is far more likely to hit home for those 1%: that they won’t be safe where they are for much longer. The effects of their behavior will soon affect them and the ones they love in addition to faceless and sub-human foreigners in dusty, squalid countries.

As does Wallace-Wells, McKibben discusses the shape of the global economy and the vast reductions or changes needed in order to combat the climate crisis. Unlike either of those authors, though, I think we should welcome a wholesale reduction of mankind (perhaps back to the population level the world enjoyed when I was born, about 4 billion). We can either do it voluntarily or let Mother Nature kill off slews that can no longer be sustained on a dying planet, watching our unthinking and unquestioning brethren grunt and breed and churn their offspring directly into the meat-grinder of an uncaring climate.

Unique among every other generation of mankind that came before us, we will have the dubious honor of knowing that “the size of the board on which we’re playing the game is going to get considerably smaller […]” Given this glaring and undeniable fact, we should really get squared with the notion that we can’t defend everywhere, we can’t save everything and we shouldn’t try.

It’s not a matter of money, but a matter of remaining resources. And I don’t mean we let people fry where they live; instead, as with cases of eminent domain, we should offer them a luxurious apology package to relocate while we focus our efforts on making wherever we relocate them safe from further climate-based predations. This obviously won’t happen, but it would be the right thing to do. We’ve grown used to getting what we want, to growing without restriction, and to not having to pay too much for our mistakes.

I fault McKibben in only a few places. One of them is in his treatment of Obama, where he writes,

“It’s not, at some level, Obama’s fault. He was elected to run a political and economic system based on endless growth. He feared that if he upset it too much he wouldn’t be reelected, which would have done no one any good.”

That’s a fucking copout. Obama didn’t get it, and he still doesn’t. He’s seen all of the data and he doesn’t care. He should have talked about nothing but climate change. He never mentioned it. He had the chance to rebuild the economy better. He put it back the way it was, but more unequal and more zombified. He didn’t even stand up once, not where he would have personally sacrificed something.

Similarly for bloody Trudeau of Canada, who’s also lying about caring about climate change. He’s a sociopath like all the rest. He and Obama should not go down in history as climate-change leaders who mysteriously took their countries in the exact opposite direction, despite their best intentions. That’s fatuous bullshit.

But otherwise McKibben savages the right people for the climate crisis, placing blame but also obligation to do something about it on the 1% that benefitted the most. He has a long section on the ideological underpinnings of the 20th century that led to this situation, in particular noting the insidious influence of Ayn Rand’s writings (who “might as well have written with a crayon”) on the idiotic American Business upper class. After reading through this, I was struck by the thought that Rand may have been the Soviet Union’s greatest sleeper agent—talk about playing a long game.

Speaking of the Soviet Union, McKibben lashes out at a country with,

“[…] its environment wrecked because people couldn’t protest pollution, its people demoralized because they were told what to do with their lives, its official art and literature a dim-witted joke.”

Are you hearing the irony in that statement, Bill? No? A pity. I suppose you are, after all, an American. As he mentioned earlier in the book,

“[his] naïveté stemmed naturally from the fact that [he] grew up at precisely the moment when America was making huge strides toward reducing inequality, when it seemed that the obvious task was to make our world fairer. I was born in 1960, between the New Deal and the Great Society.”

I guess the whole cold-war mindset was buried a bit too deeply, as well. There are other examples, in quick succession. In another story that immediately followed, he was outside the GUM department store in Moscow where he saw,

“[…] two long lines of people waiting, […] When the left door opened first, everyone on the right side simply went home: they’d guessed wrong and knew that whatever was for sale would be long gone before they made it inside.”

You have described an Apple store, Bill. You have not in any way described a uniquely Soviet failing. He still wasn’t done, though,

“An industrial society that can’t produce enough children’s coats for the Russian winter—that’s failure on a grand scale.”

His analysis seems to be entirely without self-reflection or ironic sense. He delivers these anecdotes complete devoid of any analysis of the economic war waged on the USSR by a rapacious, pitiless, and amoral power (the U.S.). He utterly fails to not even mention the same, or worse, level of failure in America since Reagan. The depth of anti-communism and Russophobia in the U.S. is so staggering that it rears its ugly head even in the most otherwise carefully researched book.

Finishing up with Rand, he discusses the central tenet of Atlas Shrugged—which so many of America’s political leaders have taken to heart—that the smart and strong will always have to put up with moochers. The reason it’s so appealing is that it’s not wrong. There are moochers. There are nearly utterly useless people, unsuited to not only the purpose for which they are employed or invest themselves, but for anything. Dumb, lazy, bored, depressed, untrainable: it doesn’t matter; someone else has to cover for their needs.

The conceit lies in the idea that the dividing line between the groups of productive and unproductive runs right along rich/poor (or black/white or whatever). The problem with Rand’s philosophy is that it doesn’t account for good or bad luck or drastically staggered starting blocks. It doesn’t account for moochers who were “born on third and think they hit a triple.”

The true moochers are ladder-climbers, middle management and greedy bosses, sitting on the necks of the productive, bleeding them dry. Those with ability should be looking up for moochers, not down, as Rand instructed them.

McKibben sums up how this whole philosophy relates to climate change.

“Once the Arctic melts, there’s no way to freeze it back up again, not in human time. The particular politics of one country for one fifty-year period will have rewritten the geological history of the earth, and crimped the human game.”

In a dark mood, it might strike one as a delicious irony that humanity will have been killed by a parasitic meme—a parasite so stupid that it kills its host. A poisonous and selfish worldview leads to rapacious and immoral individualism leads to lying about climate change to protect business leads to inundation and extinction. Well done. With a whimper indeed. Humanity gets a fucking Darwin Award.

The next section of the book gets more optimistic, discussing germ-line editing and cybernetics. I’m not convinced that’s going to help. But it’s not like we’re going to stop breeding, because that’s obviously not an option. Instead, we’re totally going to let the rich edit germlines, so even more people can viably breed.

He even gets to Stephen Pinker (who Wallace-Wells also discussed), who he cites as writing that artificial intelligence is “like any other technology […] tested before it is implemented and constantly tweaked for safety and efficacy.” Sweet God, the naiveté. It’s like he doesn’t even live on the same planet. That is absolutely the opposite of how we introduce technology. We have much more of a “throw shit on the wall and see what sticks” approach, which is marvelously suited to AI—which may end up sticking very well, indeed, whether we like it or not.

After Pinker, cue Kurzweil, who McKibben knows and who he cites about death, “If someone dies, our immediate reaction—it’s considered a tragic thing, not a triumphant thing.” I think this infantile, stunted and uniquely western philosophy is fucking ruining everything again by inventing and promulgating so-called needs. A life well-lived can absolutely be triumphant. Lingering on is embarrassing. Kurzweil and his ilk suffer from a surfeit of ego. I’m happy as I am. What’s the point of starting over again later, almost certainly completely unadapted for my new life? To whose benefit? Let it go, Ray. Life mattered and matters little, even the first time through.

However, I don’t agree with the critique that Kurzweil’s philosophy is bad because it “limit[s] new entrants to the human race”. I don’t share McKibben’s and society’s seeming preference for the young or unborn. How is a philosophy that favors future generations morally better ? If people become immortal, then we either need a lot more room or we need fewer entrants. It’s logic. We need fewer entrants as well if resources dwindle, as they will.

He finally gets to his pièce de resistance: the solar-power market, which he manages to finally put into terms that look quite hopeful, even to me. Here’s the money shot:

“The manufacturing process for solar panels has become so efficient that the panels pay back the energy used to make them in less than four years. Since they last three decades, that means a quarter-century of pollution-free operation.”

Will we be allowed to have this thing? Not if the powers-that-be have anything to say about it. They all benefit from sunken investments in infrastructure—subsidies over nearly a century of decades—that continue today. They’re lying about catastrophic downsides to their own energy sources and torpedoing alternatives that are not personally lucrative but would be better for everyone else.

“That’s why Exxon hates solar: you put up a solar panel and the energy comes for free, which to the corporate mind is the stupidest business plan ever.) The cash you spend for energy stays close to home; there’s no way for the Koch brothers to become our richest and most powerful citizens simply by shipping fuel hither and yon.”

With all of this tech talk, McKibben returns to asking whether we’re not already good enough, circling back to the initial theme of asking what is uniquely worth saving about humanity? He discusses resistance and never giving up, even in the face of horrible odds. He wonders again whether we shouldn’t just be happy with what we’ve got, “Given that there’s no finishing line to the human game, no obvious goal toward which we are racing, then why exactly are we so intent on constantly speeding up?”

I think it’s an important book that asks the right questions and delivers a tremendous amount of vital information in an interesting, well-written and, at times, poignant read. He strikes the right balance between science and philosophy—because it’s the deficit of the latter that aided the former in running roughshod over us all. I’ll let McKibben have his eloquent last word.

“But if the bird’s special gift is flight, ours is the possibility of restraint. We’re the only creature who can decide not to do something we’re capable of doing. That’s our superpower, even if we exercise it too rarely.

“So, yes, we can wreck the Earth as we’ve known it, killing vast numbers of ourselves and wiping out entire swaths of other life—in fact, as we’ve seen, we’re doing that right now. But we can also not do that.”

Citations

“I write, for instance, I’m listening to Orchestra Baobab on Spotify. It was the house band at a Dakar nightclub in the 1970s, where its music reflected the Cuban beats that came with sailors to West Africa in the 1940s; eventually the group recorded its best album at a Paris studio, and now it somehow resides on a computer server where 196,847 people from across the planet listen to it each month. Try to parse the play of history and technology and commerce and spirituality and swing that make up the sound pouring into my headphones—the colonialisms layered on top of one another; the questions of race, identity, pop, purity.”
Page 9
“But I think it’s best to begin by stressing not the shakiness of the human game but, instead, its stability. For humans, all of us together, have built something remarkable, something we rarely stand back and simply acknowledge. The sum of the projects of our individual lives, the total of the institutions and enterprises we have created, the aggregate of our wishes and dreams and labors, the entirety of our ceaseless activity—it is a wonder.”
Page 10
“Dignity, in the context of the human game, can be measured in many ways: enough calories, freedom from fear, clothes to wear, useful work.”
Page 10
“Women, with more education and at least a modicum of equality, have gone from having more than five kids apiece on average in 1970 to having fewer than two and a half today, probably the most rapid and remarkable demographic change the planet has ever witnessed.”
Page 10
“On his way to the theoretically groundbreaking Rio environmental summit in 1992, the first President Bush famously declared, “The American way of life is not up for negotiation,” and as it turns out, he was correct—and speaking for much of the world. And so far, we’ve gotten away with it: even as we keep accelerating, the game spins on.”
Page 14
“And as we shall see, because of the radical inequality we’ve allowed to overtake our society, the key decisions have been and will be made by a handful of humans in a handful of places: oil company executives in Houston, say, and tech moguls in Silicon Valley and Shanghai. Particular people in particular places at a particular moment in time following a particular philosophic bent: that’s leverage piled on top of leverage. And their ability to skew our politics with their wealth is one more layer of leverage. It scares me.”
Page 16
“To walk the roads through even a corner of Alberta’s vast tar sands complex is to visit a kind of hell. This may be the largest industrial complex on our planet—the largest dam on Earth holds back one of the many vast settling “ponds,” where sludge from the mines combines with water and toxic chemicals in a black soup. Because any bird that landed on the filthy water would die, cannons fire day and night to scare them away.”
Page 18
“The extra heat that we trap near the planet because of the carbon dioxide we’ve spewed is equivalent to the heat from 400,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs every day, or four each second.”
Page 22
“[…] marvel at the magnitude: the extra carbon released to date, if it could be amassed in one place, would form a solid graphite column twenty-five meters in diameter that would stretch from here to the moon.”
Page 22
“Nora Gallagher again: “Climate believers, climate deniers, deep in our hearts we think it will happen somewhere else. In some other place—we don’t actually say this but we may think it—in a poorer one, say, Puerto Rico or New Orleans or Cape Town or one of those islands where the sea level is rising. Or it will happen in some other time, in 2025 or 2040 or next year. But we are here to tell you, in this postcard from the former paradise, that it won’t happen next year, or somewhere else. It will happen right where you live and it could happen today. No one will be spared.””
Page 33
“A four-degree increase—which is where our current trajectory will take us—would cut the crop almost in half. The United States is the world’s largest producer of corn, which in turn is the planet’s most widely grown crop.”
Page 37

Flip: cut the population in half and problem solved. I think these authors express horror at the reduction of mankind, at a loss of ground gained. I welcome it.

“India alone could lose 5 percent of the protein in its total diet, putting 53 million people at new risk for protein deficiency. The loss of zinc, essential for maternal and infant health, could endanger 138 million people around the world.”
Page 38

I’m not sure we have to worry about mineral deficiencies in people who are going to drown anyway.

“A team of economists predicted a 12 percent risk that global warming could reduce global economic output by 50 percent by 2100—that is to say, there’s a one-in-eight chance of something eight times as bad as the Great Recession.”
Page 42

We don’t learn lessons that don’t hurt.

“Privilege lies in obliviousness. (White privilege, for instance, involves being able to reliably forget that race matters.) One of the great privileges of living in the affluent parts of the modern world is that we’ve been able to forget that the natural world even exists. In our lifetimes, and the lifetimes of our parents, it’s served mostly as a backdrop. A subdivision is named for what used to be there: Fox Ridge. A suburb is designed to hide the natural world: where, amid the curving streets, are the creeks?”
Page 55

In fairness to some regions, like Switzerland, this is a uniquely Americanized approach to residential living.

“Life as we know it won’t suddenly end, but it will be crimped; in many places, it already is. To use our metaphor, the size of the board on which we’re playing the game is going to get considerably smaller, and this may be the single most remarkable fact of our time on earth.”
Page 56
“Many of us descend from Europeans who, fed up with the crowded conditions and religious strictures of the Old World, came to a new one. Upon arrival, they slaughtered or pushed aside the people already inhabiting this continent, and then imported boatloads of human chattel to do much of the work of building the “New World.””
Page 56
“Our world has been broadening for centuries, and that broadening is, to a large degree, what we think of as normal and ordinary: if the economy doesn’t grow larger each year, we now suffer as a result, because our systems, and our expectations, have become dependent on that growth.”
Page 58
“But that 2 percent of the surface contains 10 percent of the people, and generates 10 percent of the gross world product.21 And it’s not defensible, not most of it—no one is going to pay to build a seawall around the Bengali coast; or to defend Accra, the capital of Ghana, which already floods during storms. “On the outskirts of Lomé, the capital of Togo, rows of destroyed buildings line the beaches,” Jeff Goodell reports.22 Anyone want to estimate how much money the world is likely to spend defending the capital of Togo?”
Page 62

We should retreat everywhere. Don’t waste money or effort defending.

“Orrin Pilkey wrote in 2016. “Our retreat options can be characterized as either difficult or catastrophic. We can plan now and retreat in a strategic and calculated fashion, or we can worry about it later and retreat in tactical disarray in response to devastating storms. In other words, we can walk away methodically, or we can flee in panic.””
Page 62
“California’s snowpack keeps dwindling as hot, dry years pile up; the state faces a drop of as much as 70 or 80 percent in its water supply.”
Page 63
“Lots of people already hesitate to walk across a grassy meadow because hot weather has spread ticks bearing Lyme disease. On plenty of beaches, people now sit stranded on the sand because jellyfish, which thrive as warming seas kill off other marine life, have taken over the waves.”
Page 64
“It’s not, at some level, Obama’s fault. He was elected to run a political and economic system based on endless growth. He feared that if he upset it too much he wouldn’t be reelected, which would have done no one any good.”
Page 69

Fucking copout. He didn’t get it, he still doesn’t get it. He doesn’t care. He should have talked about nothing but climate change. He never mentioned it. He had the chance to rebuild the economy better. He put it back the way it was, but more unequal and more zombified.

“And yet, Trudeau’s country contains one of the two largest deposits of tar sands on earth, that vast swath of Northern Alberta that can, at great cost to water and forest, be mined for sludgy oil. And Trudeau refuses to slow its expansion.”
Page 69

Which means he’s lying about caring about climate change. He’s a sociopath like all the rest. He and Obama should not go down in history as climate-change leaders who mysteriously and despite their best intentions took.their countries in the exact opposite direction. That’s fatuous bullshit.

“Like so many politicians, he turned out to be unwilling to relinquish the power that oil represents. In the spring of 2017, Trudeau told a cheering group of Houston oilmen that “no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.” And yet, just leaving them there is exactly what he’d have to do if he were even slightly serious about taming climate change. If we burn that 173 billion barrels of oil, the carbon dioxide will take us 30 percent of the way to the 1.5 degree target that Trudeau had insisted on in Paris. That is, one nation with one-half of 1 percent of the planet’s population is laying claim to a third of the atmospheric space between us and disaster.”
Page 69
“As early as 1959, at a symposium called “Energy and Man,” organized by the American Petroleum Institute to mark the centenary of the global oil business, the physicist Edward Teller told the industry’s most important executives, “Carbon dioxide has a strange property. It transmits visible light but it absorbs the infrared radiation which is emitted from the earth.” The temperature, Teller predicted, would rise, and when it did, “there is a possibility that the icecaps will start melting and the level of the oceans will begin to rise.””
Page 73
“We know that Exxon executives took these warnings seriously. Internal documents show that the company (and other oil giants) built their new oil drilling platforms with higher decks to compensate for the sea level rise they now knew was coming. In the Arctic, a team assigned to investigate the effects of warming concluded that “global warming can only help lower exploration and development costs” in the Beaufort Sea.”
Page 74
“My naïveté stemmed naturally from the fact that I grew up at precisely the moment when America was making huge strides toward reducing inequality, when it seemed that the obvious task was to make our world fairer. I was born in 1960, between the New Deal and the Great Society. My childhood featured the civil rights movement and the women’s movement. I thought that was what politics was about. The year I graduated from high school, 1978, was the year the top 1 percent of Americans saw their share of the nation’s wealth fall to 23 percent. Which, as it turned out, was as low as it would ever go. Since then, the wealthy’s share of the take has doubled. CEOs made less than 20 times as much as the average worker when I was born; now they make 295 times as much.”
Page 84
“Within days of the UN special rapporteur’s report on extreme American poverty, the U.S. Congress responded by passing a massive tax cut that virtually every economist predicted would make that inequality much worse. As the UN expert noted in his official report to the world body, “The strategy seems to be tailor-made to maximize inequality.… It seems driven by contempt, and sometimes even hatred, for the poor, along with a ‘winner-takes-all’ mentality.””
Page 86
“In 2016, Alan Krueger, the former chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, released a study showing that half the prime working-age men who’d dropped out of the labor force were taking pain medication daily. They were also, on average, watching screens of one kind or another forty hours a week, as if it were a full-time job.16 That’s life for a great many people in the richest, and most unequal, society the world has ever built.”
Page 88
“The kind of capitalism turning America into a creepy jungle is very different: call it laissez-faire, or neoliberalism, or “getting government out of the way,” or being “corporate-friendly.” Whatever you call it, it’s a particularly rapacious variant that’s causing our current problem, one that’s worth careful study.”
Page 89
“This ideological energy needs to be understood. Something else has happened here, alongside profit-seeking and race-baiting. Some of us have come, in short order, to have a very different sense of what it means to be a person. Basic human solidarity has, especially for the most powerful among us, been replaced by a very different idea.”
Page 89
“At one level, that’s nonsense. Rand might as well have written with a crayon; her ideas about the world are simple-minded, one-dimensional, and poisonous. But you don’t need to be right to be influential. Her books animated many of the people who dominated American politics at crucial moments. When the United States was occupying the role of superpower, charting the course for a planet, she was occupying the hearts and minds of many of its most powerful people.”
Page 90
“Rand had not done it by herself—as we shall see, there were other, far more systematic thinkers working the same ground, and far more diligent and effective political organizers—but she had told a story that made enough emotional sense to enough people at the top of the heap that it helped reshape the workings of her adopted nation.”
Page 100

She was the Soviet Union’s greatest agent.

“[…] its environment wrecked because people couldn’t protest pollution, its people demoralized because they were told what to do with their lives, its official art and literature a dim-witted joke.”
Page 100

I can never tell if Americans can hear the irony in what they’re saying. McKibben should have quit while he was ahead.

“I remember standing with my wife outside Moscow’s most prestigious retail outlet, the vast GUM department store. There were two long lines of people waiting, one outside the left door and one outside the right. When the left door opened first, everyone on the right side simply went home: they’d guessed wrong and knew that whatever was for sale would be long gone before they made it inside.”
Page 101

You are describing an Apple store, Mr. McKibben.

“An industrial society that can’t produce enough children’s coats for the Russian winter—that’s failure on a grand scale.”
Page 101

Let’s just go ahead and analyze that anecdote complete devoid of the economic war waged on it by a rapacious, pitiless, and amoral power. Also, let’s not even mention the exact same level (or worse) of failure in America.

“the tiny group of men who are his economic peers have come to dominate our political life, making precisely the choices that may cut short the human game. And their language is always the same: the “producers,” the “creators,” the “people of value” are threatened by the mob. And so, they must organize and fight. Most of them aren’t quite as blatant or as public as Perkins, who a month after his “Kristallnacht” letter told an audience that, in his ideal world, “you don’t get the vote if you don’t pay a dollar in taxes. But what I really think is it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars, you get a million votes.” Still, in essence, they’re thinking just like him.”
Page 103
“Just to be clear: I’m arguing that a systematic idea about the world emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century, an idea as potent in its way as Leninism had been in the first half. This idea (that government was bad, and that productive individuals and their corporations needed to be freed from its clutches) changed the politics of America,”
Page 103
“This belief, that they were being unfairly taxed to support the lazy, was at the core not just of their politics but of their emotional worldview. When Charles Koch decided to get married, he insisted that his wife be “indoctrinated with these ideas, lest their marriage lack harmony of purpose.” The wedding couldn’t take place until this “intense training” had succeeded, which apparently didn’t take too long: Elizabeth Koch was soon complaining that America had become “a country of non-risk-takers,” the sort of people “who just want to be coddled and taken care of.””
Page 107
“As Galt explains to a supposedly fascinated nation, “The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him but receives the bonus of all their brains.… Such is the pattern of exploitation for which you have damned the strong.””
Page 98

This is not 100% wrong. It’s incomplete. There are moochers. There are nearly utterly useless people, unsuited to not only the purpose for which they employed or invest themselves, but for anything. Dumb, lazy, bored, depressed, untrainable: it doesn’t matter; someone else has to cover for your needs. The conceit lies in the idea that the dividing line between these groups is rich/poor.

“Even in corporate life, it turns out, those who “offer assistance, share valuable knowledge, or make valuable introductions” turn out to be far more useful for a business than those who “try to get other people to serve their ends while carefully guarding their own expertise and time,” according to the Harvard Business Review.”
Page 113

Exactly. Because the true moochers are ladder-climbers, middle management and greedy bosses, sitting on the necks of the productive, bleeding them dry.

“In truth, this crudeness seems to affect most deeply those who study economics: researchers found that third-year students in economics rated altruistic values such as helpfulness, honesty, and loyalty as far less important than freshmen”
Page 115

Humanity will have been killed by a parasitic meme. Killing the host, indeed. A poisonous and selfish worldview leads to rapacious and immoral individualism leads to lying about climate change to protect business leads to inundation and extinction. Well done. With a whimper indeed. Humanity gets a fucking Darwin Award.

“Nuclear war with Germany might have been leverage enough to fundamentally and permanently alter the globe.”
Page 118

Instead, capitalism won and we did it anyway, but (relatively) more slowly. As outlined earlier, the acceleration in the eighties and nineties was made possible by fortunes won by procuring for the Nazis. Prescott Bush, Fred Trump, Papa Koch.

“And again, the people who were telling the lies knew they were lies. This wasn’t a hard conspiracy to organize—just one hundred firms in the fossil fuel industry account for 70 percent of the planet’s emissions. But it wasn’t based on simple greed, either. Self-interest mixed perfectly with ideology. Remember the CEOs gleefully handing one another copies of Atlas Shrugged and the billionaires who had grown up in the fever swamps of the antigovernment movement? These guys thought they had cracked the code of history. Climate change was, for them, inconceivable because it would get in the way of profits—the Koch brothers run enormous pipeline networks; they are among the biggest leaseholders in Canada’s tar sands—but also because it marred the purity of their belief system.”
Page 118
“The antigovernment forces had, at some level, no choice but to deny global warming, because tackling it would have required governments to take strong action—at the very least, to set a price on carbon so that markets could then work their putative magic.”
Page 119
“Eventually, North Carolina decided that it would ban state policy makers from using scientific estimates of sea level rise in the coastal planning process.”
Page 122

Smort.

“I remember, way back in 2004, interviewing Senator John McCain, who had decided that global warming was a crucial challenge. “I do believe that Americans, and we who are policy makers in all branches of government, should be concerned about mounting evidence that indicates that something is happening,” he said, and he convened hearings on climate science that led to a modest bill. It lost 55–43, but it seemed like a start. “The race is on,” he told me. “Are we going to have significant climate change and all its consequences, or are we going to try to do something early on? Right now, I don’t think we’re going to act soon enough without significant degradation of our environment. I hope I’m wrong.” He was, of course, not wrong—in fact, after a Koch-backed Tea Party challenger came after him, McCain himself started blasting away at those he’d once agreed with. When Secretary of State John Kerry called climate change a “weapon of mass destruction,” McCain responded, “On what planet does he reside?” By 2014, when McCain made that sneering jape, only 8 of 278 Republicans in Congress were still willing to acknowledge that man-made climate change was real, much less do anything about it.”
Page 122

I was hopeful, but then the real McCain came out, in the end.

“The Paris Agreement had been essentially voluntary anyway—the rest of the world had given up on negotiating a real treaty because they saw, after the Kyoto talks in the 1990s, that the power of the fossil fuel industry meant that the U.S. Senate would never muster the two-thirds vote needed to ratify a treaty. Hence, international diplomats knew the best they could hope for at Paris was a set of pledges, and even those were nowhere near rigorous enough to meet the targets they set of holding the planet’s temperature increase below two degrees Celsius.”
Page 126
“It’s not that we’ll never have a world that runs on sun and wind. We will—free energy is hard to beat, and seventy-five years from now that’s what we’ll use—but if we tarry along the way, that wind and sun will be powering a badly broken planet. These men happened to be in a place where they could use their power to slow us down precisely at the moment when we needed to speed up, at the moment when one more burst of carbon would break the planet. And so, they’ve become permanently powerful. Millennia after they’ve lost the ideological fights, the sea level will still be rising. They’ve scrawled their names into geological history, ugly graffiti that scientists will be deciphering millions of years into the future (assuming there are scientists). Many of the same people managed to cripple Obamacare, too, which is a tragedy—it means lots of people will suffer unnecessarily and die. But when eventually our politics escapes their grip, it won’t be impossible to build a health care system like those in all the other nations of the world. Climate change is different. Once the Arctic melts, there’s no way to freeze it back up again, not in human time. The particular politics of one country for one fifty-year period will have rewritten the geological history of the earth, and crimped the human game. That’s what leverage looks like.”
Page 127
“This time that’s not a problem, given that the big new brain is external: “My thesis is we’re going to do it again, by the 2030s. We’ll have a synthetic neocortex in the cloud. We’ll connect our brains to the cloud just the way your smartphone is connected now. We’ll become funnier and smarter and able to more effectively express ourselves. We’ll create forms of expression we can’t imagine today, just as the other primates can’t really understand music.””
Page 135

For a select few. Again. And it will be bullshit. Again.

“The first category, as I’ve said, is called somatic genetic engineering; this second approach usually travels under the name of “germline” genetic engineering, because the germ line consists of those cells that pass on their traits in the course of reproduction. You could also call it heritable genetic modification. “Now, for the first time ever,” says Doudna, we possess the power to “direct the evolution of our own species. This is unprecedented in the history of life on earth. It is beyond our comprehension.””
Page 143
“She had shifted her thinking, she said, after reading letters from people with genetic disease in their family. She’d received one just the other day, from a mother with a son diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease. “He was this adorable little baby, he was in his little carrier and so cute,” she recalled. “I have a son and my heart just broke.… And you think, if there were a way to help these people, we should do it. It would be wrong not to.””
Page 144

Or you could stop breeding, FFS. But that’s obviously not an option. Instead, we should totally edit germlines, so even more people can viably breed.

““Since the wealthy would be able to afford the procedure more often,” Doudna points out, “and since any beneficial genetic modifications made to an embryo would be transmitted to all of that person’s offspring, linkages between class and genetics would ineluctably grow from one generation to the next, no matter how small the disparity in access might be.” (She’s generously considering how this will play out “in countries with comprehensive health-care systems,” which is a polite way of saying “not America.”) “If you think our world is unequal now,” she adds, “just imagine it stratified along both socioeconomic and genetic lines.””
Page 152
“Genetics plays a part in determining who we are and how our lives proceed, but as Nathaniel Comfort, a professor of the history of biology at Johns Hopkins, points out, “Decent, affordable housing; access to real food, education, and transportation; and reducing exposure to crime and violence are far more important.””
Page 153
“If we wanted to somehow engineer better humans, we’d start by engineering their neighborhoods and schools, not their genes. But, of course, that’s not politically plausible in the world we currently inhabit, the world where “there is no such thing as society. There are just individuals.” If there are just individuals, that’s where you start and end.”
Page 154
““It is hard to overestimate what it will be able to do, and impossible to know what it will think,” James Barrat writes in a book with the telling title Our Final Invention. “It does not have to hate us before choosing to use our molecules for a purpose other than keeping us alive.” As he points out, we don’t particularly hate field mice, but every hour of every day we plow under millions of their dens to make sure we have supper.”
Page 159
“You’ll be pleased to know that not everyone is worried. Steven Pinker ridicules fears of “digital apocalypse,” insisting that “like any other technology,” artificial intelligence is “tested before it is implemented and constantly tweaked for safety and efficacy.””
Page 160

Well, that’s a stupid faith to have. Sweet God, the naiveté. It’s like he’s never used technology before.

“I’ve said before that I think there are better and worse ways to play this game—it’s most stylish and satisfying when more people find ways to live with more dignity—but I think the game’s only real goal is to continue itself.”
Page 163
“I love Vermont’s local stock car track (“Thunder Road, the nation’s site of excitement!”) because the men and women at the wheel show skill and courage. But I don’t think I’d bother going if the races were run by driverless cars. They could doubtless go faster, just as runners genetically altered to have more red blood cells can doubtless go faster. But faster isn’t really the point. The story is the point. If something as marginal (though wonderful) as sports can see meaning leach away when we mess with people’s bodies or remove them from the picture, perhaps we should think long and hard about more important kinds of meaning. The human game, after all, requires us to be human.”
Page 166
“Rebelling against the wishes and hopes of your parents is how a great many of us define who we are. It may be hard, and it may be painful, and some people may never manage it. And some never need to, because their parents were wise and gentle enough to help them down a congenial path. But it’s not impossible. Whereas, the point of CRISPR, if used for germline engineering of embryos, would be to replace chance with design. Because the parents would no longer be playing the odds, and because no child can rebel against a protein.”
Page 168
“But those modified grandchildren will also no longer be really related to their future. They’ll be marooned on an island in time, in a way that no human being has ever been before or will be again. When we engineer and design, we turn people into a form of technology, and obsolescence is an utterly predictable feature of every technology we’ve ever seen. For a few years, you’re more useful than any humans who’ve ever come before, and then you’re more useless.”
Page 170

Sort of like the replicants in Blade Runner. Once again, Philip K. Dick went there first.

“That’s our great task as human beings, and now it can’t really be done. She’s feeling happy and optimistic? Is that because of some event, some new idea of herself—or is it because she’s been constructed to feel that way? How would one know? Every journey of self-discovery would end, ultimately, in the design specs from the fertility clinic.”
Page 171

But we’re already like that because of genetics. We have a greater illusion of control, but depression might already be programmed.

“Yes, like all of us, she is a creature of her genes, but at least those genes weren’t designed to produce a certain outcome. It’s one thing to understand that you are who you are in part because of your genes; it’s another to understand that you were specifically engineered for a certain outcome. The randomness of our current genetic inheritance allows each of us a certain mental freedom from determinism, but that freedom disappears the day we understand ourselves to be, in essence, a product.”
Page 171
“And so, it should therefore sting the Kurzweils of the world to grasp that you can’t make a more realized human being by giving him extra talent. The greatest cross-country skier on earth doesn’t get more out of a race than I do, even if he finishes it in half the time. As long as I’m fully engaged, the world drops away—and the point is the world dropping away.”
Page 173
“Flow doesn’t increase if you have more ability; it simply requires challenge sufficient to your ability. We are already capable of being as absorbed and engaged as we ever could be. We’re good enough.”
Page 173

That’s been my philosophy for decades. I want to be amused and challenge myself.

“[…] inevitably take over simply because it takes a neuron a second to send a message a foot in our brains, while an electron can speed along a foot of wire in a nanosecond. “It’s a million times faster, simple as that,””
Page 175

Something is wrong with the numbers there.

“But why couldn’t computers produce “better” art than people? They can, after all, analyze what we like and then reproduce it. Already there are AIs that compose Bach-like cantatas that fool concert hall audiences, and the auction house Christie’s sold its first piece of art created by artificial intelligence in the fall of 2018. But at a deeper level, that’s not even how art works. The point of art is not “better”; the point is to reflect on the experience of being human—which is precisely the thing that’s disappearing.”
Page 178
“Partly, it’s money, the great magnetic attraction that ensures the motion never ceases. Whatever business you’re in, its future success depends on mastering these new technologies. Capitalism played by its current rules doesn’t allow anyone to step easily aside.”
Page 179
“Ray Kurzweil takes a hundred pills a day, the better to ward off aging long enough for his peers to figure out how to guarantee he’ll never die. That’s not particularly unusual behavior among the tech elite—it’s easy to find people taking resveratrol, or off-label diabetes medications.”
Page 182
“His father, Fredric, died when Ray was young, and the son has filled a storage locker with boxes of his effects (letters, photos, even electric bills), in the hope of someday creating “a virtual avatar of his father and then populating the doppelganger’s mind with all this information.”15 So he can talk with him again, father to son. “I do think death is a tragedy,” Kurzweil told me. “That’s our immediate reaction to it. If someone dies, our immediate reaction—it’s considered a tragic thing, not a triumphant thing.””
Page 186

This is infantile, stunted and uniquely western philosophy fucking ruining everything again by inventing and promulgating so-called needs. A life well-lived can absolutely be triumphant. Lingering on is embarrassing. Kurzweil and his ilk suffer from a surfeit of ego. I’m happy as I am. Whats the point of starting over later? Possibly and almost certainly completely unadapted for my new life. To whose benefit? Let it go. It mattered and matters little, even the first time through.

“West, who organized the first effort to isolate human stem cells for cloning purposes, was once asked whether immortality wouldn’t lead to overpopulation. Sure, he said, but “why put the burden on people now living, people enjoying the process of breathing, people loving and being loved. The answer is clearly to limit new entrants to the human race, not to promote the death of those enjoying the gift of life today.”16 That level of selfishness makes Ayn Rand look like Mother Teresa.”
Page 187

Why is that? I don’t share McKibben’s and society’s seeming preference for the young or unborn. How is a philosophy that favors future generations morally better ? If people become immortal, then we either need a lot more room or we need fewer entrants. It’s logic. We need fewer entrants as well if resources dwindle, as they will.

“Resistance is a subject I take up with some reluctance, because I know at least a little bit about its costs. I’ve spent much of the past thirty years as a volunteer in the fight against global warming. We’ve had more successes than I imagined we would, some of which I will describe in passing, but we have yet to turn the tide: the power of people is not yet mobilized in sufficient strength to outweigh the financial majesty of the fossil fuel industry, and so we continue down an ever-hotter path.”
Page 191
“There’s something deeper at work here, too, though. This is the kind of choice that, to a society, isn’t a choice at all. Once substantial numbers of people engage in genetic engineering, it will become effectively mandatory. Not by government diktat, but by the powerful forces of competition, as the possibility of improving your kids sets off a genetic arms race.”
Page 194
“If “Let anyone do what they want” is a flawed argument, then “No one can stop them anyway” is an infuriating one. Insisting that some horror is inevitable no matter what you do is the response of people who don’t want to be bothered trying to stop it, and I’ve heard it too often to take it entirely seriously.”
Page 195

No, it’s absolutely not. I can’t fathom how he can think after getting bitch-slapped for thirty years. believing that you will lose doesn’t mean you don’t try anyway.

“We don’t know yet precisely how it will end, only that giving them a pass because of their power makes no sense.”
Page 196

It’s not fair to us all together: cynics and realists.

“We shouldn’t let biologists and engineers decide whether and how to deploy these technologies, any more than we should let physicists decide where to drop nuclear weapons or let petroleum geologists decide how many wells to drill. They have special insight into how to do these things, but not into whether doing these things makes sense. When the effects of a decision will fall on the entire society, then entire societies should get to make the call.”
Page 199
“Left to themselves, he insists, democracies can’t solve climate change, “for in order to do so a majority of their voters must support the adoption of substantial restrictions on their excessively consumerist lifestyle, and there is no indication they would be willing to make such sacrifices.”19 Also, our ingrained suspicion of outsiders keeps us from working together globally.”
Page 201
“[…] makers of solar saw the price begin to drop—indeed, the steady decline has taken solar power from a hundred dollars a watt in the 1960s to less than thirty cents a watt by 2018, making it the cheapest way to generate electricity across most of the world.”
Page 204

It’s very important to know how these number are calculated.

““This is great,” the man says. “I know you’re trying to help us. I just don’t have the money. Life is hard, things are expensive, sometimes we’re hungry.” Max nods, helpful. “What if I gave you a way to pay for it, so the dollar wouldn’t even come from your pocket. If you get a system, people will pay you to charge their phones. Or, if you had a TV, you could charge people to come watch the football games.” “I couldn’t charge a person for coming in to watch a game,” the man says. “We’re all one big family. If someone is wealthy enough to have a TV, everyone is welcome to it.””
Page 208
“It’s not that renewable energy is our only task. We also need to eat lower on the food chain, build public transit networks, densify cities, and start farming in ways that restore carbon to soils. But renewable energy may be the easiest of these tasks, especially since it’s suddenly so cheap. The manufacturing process for solar panels has become so efficient that the panels pay back the energy used to make them in less than four years. Since they last three decades, that means a quarter-century of pollution-free operation.”
Page 211

Thank you!

“Nearby, in Warren, Michigan, the U.S. Army built a tank factory faster than it could build the power plant to run it—so it simply towed a steam locomotive into one end of the building to provide steam heat and electricity. That one factory produced more tanks than the Germans built in the entire course of the war.”
Page 213

Drives home how overwhelming America already was. No wonder the world begged them to join. And no wonder we exacted tribute for our effort.

“While some people will grow rich putting up windmills and solar panels, they won’t make money on an Exxon scale because you can’t charge for the sun. (That’s why Exxon hates solar: you put up a solar panel and the energy comes for free, which to the corporate mind is the stupidest business plan ever.) The cash you spend for energy stays close to home; there’s no way for the Koch brothers to become our richest and most powerful citizens simply by shipping fuel hither and yon.”
Page 216

This does point up that there were tremendous infrastructure costs associated early on and continuing today. To charge for or to monopolize it is not the problem, per se. The problem is in lying about catastrophic downsides and torpedoing alternatives that are not personally lucrative but would be better for everyone else.

“In any event, as Thoreau later wrote, he was thinking of solutions that went well beyond the simple democratic rule his New England ancestors had fought for: Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible.”
Page 218
“So, he was led off to jail, and there he spent the night. His friend Ralph Waldo Emerson is said to have visited and asked why he was there, only to be asked in return, “Why are you not?” In any event, as Thoreau later wrote, he was thinking of solutions that went well beyond the simple democratic rule his New England ancestors had fought for: Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible.”
Page 218
“The futurist Yuval Hariri said it was difficult to choose the twentieth century’s greatest discovery. Antibiotics, perhaps? The computer? “Now ask yourself what was the influential discovery of … traditional religions in the twentieth century. That too is a very difficult problem, because there is so little to choose from.”3 His sneer is misplaced. True, nonviolence didn’t emerge straight out of religion, and indeed, it sometimes subverted it—some of Gandhi’s greatest campaigns were aimed at Hinduism’s enduring caste discrimination. But mahatmas and ministers definitely led in developing this kind of resistance, and there is a spiritual insight at its core, one that traces at least back to the Sermon on the Mount. That’s the idea of turning the other cheek, of taking on unearned suffering, of engaging our sympathy for the weak instead of our truckling admiration for the strong.”
Page 219

Protest is often lethal. But the oligarchs face a fight at every turn.

“And yet, all that firepower was almost powerless against the encampment that had gathered along the confluence of the Cannonball and the Missouri Rivers. In fact, the more force the oil barons deployed, the less it worked. The day they turned the dogs loose on peaceful demonstrators was the day that Standing Rock turned into a crisis for the White House, because people there knew what the pictures meant—they were a direct link to the iconic images of Birmingham and the civil rights movement. That Barack Obama was forced to enjoin the pipeline was a great victory; that Donald Trump bailed it out was a great, sad accident of history. But anyone who thinks that time is therefore on the side of the oil companies is reading history wrong. This movement will win (though, as we’ve seen, it may not win in time).”
Page 224
“People are using the same tactic regularly now—in Nebraska, in Canada, in Australia, wherever a big new fossil fuel project is proposed. Some nuns recently built a chapel with a solar roof in the path of a pipeline. If you’re an oil company, whom would you rather fight? A guy with a rifle is no problem; you’ve got access to all the rifles in the world. But a guy with some solar panels, access to social media, and a clever streak will drive you three kinds of nuts.”
Page 225
“[…] friends who have matured fully, which means those who have placed limits on their own behavior in the interests of the community.”
Page 227
“And so, we did, beginning in the Adirondacks and Yellowstone, in an effort that spread around the world. Now 15 percent of the Earth’s surface is protected. Societies are measured not just by the things they build, but also by the things they can bring themselves to leave alone: whales, bright-plumed birds, mountains, children kept safe from Dickensian labor. People, alone among creatures, can decide to put such limits on themselves. None of these fights is easy; as I finish this manuscript, the Trump administration has just announced a new attack on the Endangered Species Act, on the grounds that it “impedes people’s livelihood.” But in a world where algorithms are starting to take over, where Facebook and Amazon know us much too well, these self-imposed limits help keep us human.”
Page 228

“the Kentucky farmer-writer Wendell Berry, said it best, long before anyone had heard of Cambridge Analytica:

“Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay.
Want more of everything ready-made.
Be afraid to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery any more.

“Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something they will call you.
When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute.
Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor. […]

“As soon as the generals and the politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it.
Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn’t go.
Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.”

Page 228
“We find out what those benefits are worth only when they evaporate, and even then, the losses register mostly unconsciously—you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, by which point you’re usually pretty well accustomed to the replacement. This is why I think it’s useful that both nonviolence and solar panels nudge us, at least a little, toward a smaller-scale world less obsessed with efficiency.”
Page 231
“Donald Trump, I think, would have had a hard time being elected a mayor or a governor, because the damage he’d have done would have hit too close to home. But given the size of America, people could vote for him for president on the theory that he’d “shake things up,” reasonably confident that they wouldn’t be hit by the falling pieces.”
Page 232
“What I’m trying to say is what worked in the past doesn’t automatically work in the future. At one point, growth provided more benefit than cost. Light regulation spurred expansion. Larger scale offered efficiencies that made us richer. Fine. You want your child to grow—if she doesn’t, you take her to the doctor. But if she’s twenty-two and still shooting up by six inches a year, you take her to the doctor, too. There’s a time and a place for growth, and a time and a place for maturity, for balance, for scale. And the risks we’re currently running, the risks I’ve spent this book describing, suggest that that time is now.”
Page 233
“Given that there’s no finishing line to the human game, no obvious goal toward which we are racing, then why exactly are we so intent on constantly speeding up?”
Page 233
“Even those philosophers who think we’re solving most of the world’s troubles believe that we should double down on business as usual to mop up the remaining woes: Pinker, for instance, refuses to brook even momentary slowdowns or limits; his prescription “for today’s bioethicists can be summarized in a single sentence: Get out of the way.””
Page 236
“screen-bound people “are less likely to know and interact with their neighbors.” This is hideously bad news because “studies have shown that the more people feel a strong sense of belongingness, the more they perceive life as meaningful”2—meaningful enough for them to keep on living it.”
Page 243

Again with the “every life matters”, even those whose owners can’t find purpose in them.

“These are people who, at some level, hate the idea of society, who organize campaigns against public transit, who try to dismantle public schools and national parks, who instinctively head for the gated enclave. I don’t think their rule will last forever, but as I’ve said, they currently possess a savage leverage, perhaps power enough to end the human game. Certainly, they’re trying their best. The endless efforts to gerrymander districts, suppress voting, race-bait, gin up cynicism in our politics, confuse us about issues such as climate change—these are nothing more than efforts to weaken society so it can’t exert power over its most dominant individuals.”
Page 243
“The day before the launch, I went on a tour with public affairs officer Greg Harland and SME (subject matter expert) Don Dankert, who had overseen the rebuilding of dunes along the Atlantic shoreline of the Kennedy Space Center. I’d been warned not even to raise the topic of global warming, which was fine with me—I didn’t want to get them fired.”
Page 250

Christ, that’s infantile.

“Most of us don’t go as far as Muir—we still wince when we read of some gator emerging from the water hazard on the sixth hole to chomp down on an unwary golfer—but his basic idea that all of creation matters has made some real headway.”
Page 253

Nope. Have at it, Mr. Alligator. It’s more your world than theirs/ours.

“But humans have also now set aside beaches for turtles and have organized patrols to protect their nests—in some places, they cage each nest in wire to keep the raccoons at bay. They’ve mandated “turtle excluder devices” on shrimp nets. Even the new dune built along the launchpad complex was designed in part to block the lights that often confused the turtles emerging to build their nests. And so, in some places, populations have begun to rebound—only, of course, to be threatened anew by rising heat (the temperature of the sand determines the sex of the eggs) and soaring acidity.”
Page 253

Such poignant, holistic thinking and writing.

“And—this is for me the second lesson—the most curious of all those lives are the human ones, because we can destroy, but also because we can decide not to destroy. The turtle does what she does, and magnificently. She can’t not do it, though, any more than the beaver can decide to take a break from building dams or the bee from making honey. But if the bird’s special gift is flight, ours is the possibility of restraint. We’re the only creature who can decide not to do something we’re capable of doing. That’s our superpower, even if we exercise it too rarely.”
Page 255
“So, yes, we can wreck the Earth as we’ve known it, killing vast numbers of ourselves and wiping out entire swaths of other life—in fact, as we’ve seen, we’re doing that right now. But we can also not do that.”
Page 255
“[…] do not know that we will make these choices. I rather suspect we won’t—we are faltering now, and the human game has indeed begun to play itself out.”
Page 255
“And—this is for me the second lesson—the most curious of all those lives are the human ones, because we can destroy, but also because we can decide not to destroy. The turtle does what she does, and magnificently. She can’t not do it, though, any more than the beaver can decide to take a break from building dams or the bee from making honey. But if the bird’s special gift is flight, ours is the possibility of restraint. We’re the only creature who can decide not to do something we’re capable of doing. That’s our superpower, even if we exercise it too rarely. So, yes, we can wreck the Earth as we’ve known it, killing vast numbers of ourselves and wiping out entire swaths of other life—in fact, as we’ve seen, we’re doing that right now. But we can also not do that. We could instead put a solar panel on the top of every last one of those roofs that I described at the opening of this book, and if we do, then we will have started in a different direction. We can engineer our children, at least a little now and doubtless more in the future—or we can decide not to. We can build our replacements in the form of ever-smarter robots, and we can try to keep ourselves alive as digitally preserved consciousnesses—or we can accept with grace that each of us has a moment and a place. I do not know that we will make these choices. I rather suspect we won’t—we are faltering now, and the human game has indeed begun to play itself out. That’s what the relentless rise in temperature tells us, and the fact that we increasingly spend our days staring glumly at the rectangle in our palm. But we could make those choices.”
Page 255