Saturday, January 26, 2002

Review of Fire and Ice; the greenhouse effect, ozone depletion and nuclear winter by David E. Fisher

In his book, Fire and Ice: the greenhouse effect, ozone depletion, and nuclear winter, Dr. David E. Fisher takes a problem solving approach to three of the world’s most pressing environmental problems. His book is broken into two parts, The Problems, and The Solutions. Published in 1990, just before the end of the cold war, the book deals with not only the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion, but also nuclear winter and it’s potential after effects in a time when total destruction was only a button push away.

The first chapter of the book is a concise summary of the problems mankind is facing. Dr. Fisher uses the story of the visit of Halley’s Comet in 1910 when people believed the end of the world was at hand. Cyanogen gas, which is deadly, had recently been discovered as a cometary component and the world was poised for destruction because Earth would reportedly pass through the comet’s tail. The destruction never came, but as Dr. Fisher points out, it led scientists to ponder the extinction of the dinosaurs. His description of this cataclysm (as he refers to it) then leads straight into World War II and the United State’s postwar plan for nuclear war: hitting Russia with 900 nuclear bombs, “ a number we were assured was enough to reduce Russia within two hours to a smoking, radiating ruin.”

Dr. Fisher systematically describes in easily understood terms how the greenhouse effect and global warming work. He uses examples like the eruption of Tambora to illustrate to the reader the potential detrimental effect of blocking out the sun. He describes sunlight’s components and discusses the importance of the ozone layer in blocking UV-B and UV-C from entering our atmosphere. He outlines the discovery of the role of CFC’s (chloroflourocarbons) in the breakdown of the ozone layer. He also discusses the role of CO2 , NOx , and SO2 as players in ozone depletion.

In chapter ten “The Long, Hot Summer”, Dr. Fisher makes a point which as a scientist, had never crossed my mind and has stuck with me ever since. In regards to the greenhouse effect, he points out that we all know that salt water has a lower freezing point than fresh water. He notes that if the earth gets warm enough and the glaciers start to melt, that the water that goes into the ocean would be fresh. The fresh water influx would dilute the seawater around the glacier, thus increasing the freezing temperature. This would likely cause more ice to form. This would potentially lead to an ice age.

Chapter fourteen “The Sky is Falling”, opens with a quote from Colonel Thomas H. Magness III “It would be folly not to believe that Chicken Little only has to be right once.” This chapter on nuclear winter discusses not only the environmental changes that it would cause, but the potential casualties that would result from mass starvation and radiation exposure.

In Part Two: The Solutions, Dr. Fisher outlines what can be done to save our planet, and ultimately our lives. We have already stopped production of CFC’s. We are attempting to limit the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Environmentalists are struggling to preserve what forest remains as carbon dioxide sinks. The author makes a poignant point about how little money is spent to save our world with a quote from Eisenhower: “The problem with defense spending in a democracy is trying to figure out when you are destroying from within what you are trying to protect from without.” Research into ways of saving the planet is costly and governments world-wide struggle with the commitment of funds. He talks about more fuel efficient vehicles (which we have seen more and more of in the later 1990’s), replanting forests, and exploring alternative fuels as a way of preserving what we have.

I found Fire and Ice to be an informative, dynamic, and exciting book about today’s environmental hurdles. Although today we don’t have to live with the fear of nuclear winter, the problems of the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion still loom over us. Many books dealing with these topics are cumbersome and boring. Dr. Fisher presents these problems in a clear and concise manner. He keeps the reader “entertained” and educated with stories and anecdotes that help the reader understand the significance of the problems. Each chapter begins with a quote like the one I used before. These quotes summarize in very few words the point of each chapter before the reader begins.

Fire and Ice: the greenhouse effect, ozone depletion, and nuclear winter is an important book in the environmental community. It outlines the problems and the solutions for healing our planet so that our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s children may have a safe world in which to live.