Book review: 'Apocalyptic Planet' absorbing, sobering look at past and probable future deaths of Earth

Published: Saturday, Oct. 13 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

"APOCALYPTIC PLANET: Field Guide to the Everending Earth," by Craig Childs, Pantheon Books, $27.95, 327 pages (nf)

Craig Childs educates, entertains and enlightens in "Apocalyptic Planet" as he explores the many deaths of our planet — the deaths of the past and the probable deaths of the future.

He details the destruction of civilizations, land masses and places that went under as part of a natural evolution.

He explains how minor changes become major and helps us understand how man can unwittingly and, sometimes, quite consciously bring about those changes.

What he does not do is lay blame or sort out exactly what the earth is headed toward.

In fact, it's kind of a seesaw story as he cryptically examines man's decisions, such as deciding to build a dam or a levee, and discusses the losses incurred but then swings over to talk about underwater cities and cultures that have died out due to drought and disease.

It's difficult to relax throughout this book as he travels from ice to desert to the sea and finds all kinds of change that goes on regardless of whether man is involved.

The "trickster" deserts keep taking more, consuming and creating "desert-pushed migrations."

Droughts are at record highs. "In 2007, the United Nations brought together 150 experts from 40 countries who concluded that if current trends in temperature, aridity and consumptive land use do not subside or at least level off, within the next 10 years desertification will directly cause the uprooting of at least 50 million people who simply cannot remain living where they do," he writes.

Mega-droughts happen in the normal course of events, so Childs notes that, "of course," this is a rallying cry for climate-change skeptics.

But we've been lucky, not wise, he adds.

The seas are rising.

The ice, which keeps our planet relatively cool by reflecting the sun's heat, is melting at an accelerating rate with no replacement occurring. Humans are detectably warming the earth.

The earth's population is projected to increase from 7 billion to between 10 and 15 billion in 100 years.

The only thing really missing here is an acknowledgement that maybe a God has been involved along the way and may be again. When he does discuss Noah's flood, it's in reference to a legend.

It's an absorbing book. Childs has spent considerable resources and time and put himself at personal risk to collect his information.

He's also a remarkable writer, gathering his thoughts and observations in a kind of prose that's beautiful but scary ("Patchwork clouds quilted the ice," "sugar-snow-filled windblast," "the ice surface became a series of standing waves, like a river flowing over an invisible boulder.")

"Based on a climatic past, we are at a turning point," Childs says. "We are ushering in massive landscape changes, river impoundments on a geologic scale. Through our exhaust and countless wildfires, we are overturning atmospheric chemistry, a phenomenon that is now creeping into the oceans."

He injects some humor into what could otherwise be a totally downer kind of book, talking about his mom and her approach to adventure and publishing his small list of essentials for a 72-hour kit.

Again, he doesn't really resolve the situation or tell us what can or should be done. But he certainly delves into the possibilities, the history and the probable future for us.

It makes for a book that stays with you.

There are a few scattered profanities and some sexual descriptions.

If you go ...

What: "Apocalyptic Planet" discussion with Craig Childs

When: Saturday, Oct. 20, 3:30 p.m.

Where: Salt Lake City Public Library, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City

Web: www.utahhumanities.org

Note: Sponsored by the Utah Humanities Book Festival with the King's English

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@desnews.com

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