There’s good news and bad news: We’re destroying the planet, and some of us are going to succeed.
There’s more than a little Buckminster Fullerish optimism—and off-kilter ideas—in Martin’s take on the state of the world, though the reader has to work through some very grim statistics indeed. For one, it takes 1,000 tons of water to make the ton of grain necessary to produce 18 pounds of beef—and around the planet, we’re using 160 billion tons more water each year than is replenished by rainfall. For another, “one-third of the world’s forest areas has disappeared since 1950, and the destruction is accelerating.” To top it off, China and India are becoming well-to-do enough to want a car in every garage, which will exacerbate the fuel crisis. Enter technology, soft (solar panels) and hard (genetic retooling) alike, to the rescue. Martin, a former IBM engineer who lives part-time on a waterless island off Bermuda, marvels that America does not harvest rainwater, though it is easy to do so; he urges that China and other nations move to nuclear power rather than burn more coal, which “would have a devastating effect on the world’s climate”; and the like. Moreover, he opens a window onto some weird-science possibilities, including “electronic brain appendages” that may help us think our way through to a solution of trifles like global warming and mass extinction. In the face of doom, Martin has a positive outlook that sometimes verges on Pollyanna territory, as when he predicts that by 2050, “most of the world will be familiar with its diverse cultures,” so much so that we’ll stop shooting at each other. That, and the prospect that medicine will make Methuselahs of today’s youngsters, may mean yet more people on this busy planet.
Martin concludes that things may just work out. Fans of H.G. Wells will enjoy the argument, which is definitely not for Luddites.