A novel such as State of Fear, in which so many divergent views are expressed, may lead the reader to wonder where, exactly, the author stands on these issues. I have been reading environmental texts for three years, in itself a hazardous undertaking. But I have had an opportunity to look at a lot of data, and to consider many points of view. I conclude:
- We know astonishingly little about every aspect of the environment, from its past history, to its present state, to how to conserve and protect it. In every debate, all sides overstate the extent of existing knowledge and its degree of certainty.
- Atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing, and human activity is the probable cause.
- We are also in the midst of a natural warming trend that began about 1850, as we emerged from a four-hundred-year cold spell known as the “Little Ice Age.”
- Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be a natural phenomenon.
- Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be man-made.
- Nobody knows how much warming will occur in the next century. The computer models vary by 400 percent, de facto proof that nobody knows. But if I had to guess—the only thing anyone is doing, really—I would guess the increase will be 0.812436 degrees C. There is no evidence that my guess about the state of the world one hundred years from now is any better or worse than anyone else’s. (We can’t “assess” the future, nor can we “predict” it. These are euphemisms. We can only guess. An informed guess is just a guess.)