The Six-Point Inspection: A Rational Case for Geoengineering?

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 2 2013 10:02 AM

The Six-Point Inspection: A Rational Case for Geoengineering?

Thomas_Edison
The man himself, Thomas Edison

Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

Each month in “The Six-Point Inspection,” Future Tense and Zócalo Public Square take a quick look at new science and technology books that are changing the way we see our world.

Edison: And the Rise of Innovation by Leonard DeGraaf (Foreword by Bill Gates)

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The nutshell: This heavily illustrated biography of Thomas Edison from DeGraaf, the archivist at Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, N.J, creates a portrait not of a mad genius but of a brilliant, ambitious, and collaborative inventor and businessman with a knack for knowing what the public wanted.

Literary lovechild of: Randall E. Stross’ The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World and Henry Ford’s My Life and Work.

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: You’ve been to the Edison historical sites and memorials in Milan, Ohio; Port Huron, Mich.; Louisville, Ky.; Dearborn, Mich.; Fort Myers, Fla.; and West Orange, N.J. Hey, people like bulbs.

Cocktail party fodder: When New York state changed its method of capital punishment from hanging to execution by electricity in 1888, Edison and his lab assisted in experimenting with how many volts it would take. A new word was needed to describe the method; Edison suggested “ampermort,” “dynamort,” “electromort”; his lawyer suggested “Westinghoused,” after George Westinghouse—whose alternating current (AC) electric power system was in competition with Edison’s direct current (DC) system.

For optimal benefit: Read by candlelight so you’ll stop being an ingrate.

Snap judgment: The illustrations are rich, and the breadth of Edison’s inventing makes Steve Jobs seem like a slacker. But this biography-cum-coffee-table-book doesn’t offer much else that feels revelatory.

The nutshell: Keith, a Harvard University public policy analyst and physicist, argues that pumping sulfates into the atmosphere—solar geoengineering—combined with the gradual eradication of greenhouse gas emissions could slow or even stop global warming.

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: You wrote a book arguing we can—and should—convert at least one of the major oceans (probably the Indian) to a freshwater body.

Cocktail party fodder: The average American is responsible for about 20 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year—the weight of about 10 cars, and four times the global average.

For optimal benefit: Give a copy to the pesky member of your household who’s been urging you to install solar panels (now for sale at IKEA!).

Snap judgment: Keith’s proposal is audacious at first, but in the course of this brief book he makes a convincing case—both for not being a kook and for the possibilities of climate engineering.

The nutshell: Townsend, a researcher at New York University and adviser at the Institute for the Future, explores how new technology has changed cities—and vice versa. Technology, he argues, can make our cities better places to live for all—but only if people and communities use tools like grassroots social media to take control of them back from engineers and big business interests.

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: You have already picked out the site, in your city, of what you think will be the next big social movement à la Occupy.

Cocktail party fodder: A World Bank study found that for every 10 percentage point increase in mobile phone penetration, a country’s GDP rises by 0.8 percent.

For optimal benefit: Read in your cramped apartment in an ancient tenement and remember your predecessors had it much, much worse: no Twitter.

Snap judgment: Townsend has collected fascinating stories of urban renewal and innovation from around the globe and packaged them into lessons that are neat and digestible. (Albeit sometimes too neat and digestible.)

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Sarah Rothbard is managing and books editor of Zócalo Public Square.

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