The End of Nature (1989)
- Our comforting sense of the permanence of our natural world, our confidence that it will change gradually and imperceptibly if at all, is the result of a subtly warped perspective. Changes that can affect us can happen in our lifetime in our world—not just changes like wars but bigger and more sweeping events. I believe that without recognizing it we have already stepped over the threshold of such a change; that we are at the end of nature. By the end of nature I do not mean the end of the world. The rain will still fall and the sun shine, though differently than before. When I say 'nature,' I mean a certain set of human ideas about the world and our place in it.
- p. 7
- An idea, a relationship, can go extinct, just like an animal or a plant. The idea in this case is 'nature,' the separate and wild province, the world apart from man to which he adapted, under whose rules he was born and died. In the past, we spoiled and polluted parts of that nature, inflicted environmental 'damage.' But that was like stabbing a man with toothpicks: though it hurt, annoyed, degraded, it did not touch vital organs, block the path of lymph or blood. We never thought that we had wrecked nature. Deep down, we never really thought we could: it was too big and too old; its forces—the wind, the rain, the sun—were too strong, too elemental. But, quite by accident, it turned out that the carbon dioxide and other gases we were producing in our pursuit of a better life... could alter the power of the sun, could increase its heat. And that increase could change the patterns of moisture and dryness, breed storms in new places, breed deserts...We have produced the carbon dioxide—we are ending nature.
- p. 41
- The greenhouse effect is a more apt name than those who coined it imagined. The carbon dioxide and trace gases act like the panes of glass on a greenhouse—the analogy is accurate. But it's more than that. We have built a greenhouse, 'a human creation' where once there bloomed a sweet and wild garden.
- p. 78
- The expected effects of a sea-level rise typify the many consequences of a global warming. On the one hand, they are so big we literally can't understand them. If there is a significant polar melting, the Earth's center of gravity will shift, tipping the globe in such a way that the sea level might actually drop at Cape Horn and along the coast of Iceland—I read this in a recent EPA report and found that I didn't really understand what it meant to tip the Earth, through I was awed by the idea. On the other hand, the changes ultimately acquire a quite personal dimension: Should I put in a wall in front of my house? Does this taste salty to you? And, most telling of all, the human response to the problems, the utterly natural human attempt to preserve the old natural way of life in this postnatural world, creates entirely new consequences. The ocean rises; I build a wall; the marsh dies, and, with it, the fish.
- p. 117-118
The Age of Missing Information (1992)
- We believe that we live in the 'age of information,' that there has been an information 'explosion,' an information 'revolution.' While in a certain narrow sense that is the case, in many more important ways just the opposite is true. We also live at a moment of deep ignorance, when vital knowledge that humans have always possessed about who we are and where we live seems beyond our reach. An unenlightenment. An age of missing information.
- p. 9
- It worries me because it alters perception. TV, and the culture it anchors, and drowns out the subtle and vital information contact with the real world once provided.
- p. 22
- Human beings—any one of us, and our species as a whole—are not all-important, not at the center of the world. That is the one essential piece of information, the one great secret, offered by any encounter with the woods or the mountains or the ocean or any wilderness or chunk of nature or patch of night sky.
- p. 228
Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age (2003)
- They'll lead us bit by bit toward the revolutionary idea that we've grown about as powerful as it's wise to grow; that the rush of technological innovation that's marked the last five hundred years can finally slow, and spread out to water the whole delta of human possibility. But those decisions will only emerge if people understand the time for what it is: the moment when we stand precariously on the sharp ridge between the human past and the posthuman future, the moment when meaning might evaporate in a tangle of genes or chips.
- p. 198
- These new technologies are not yet inevitable. But if they blossom fully into being, freedom may irrevocably perish. This is a fight not only for the meaning of our individual lives, but for the meaning of our life together.
- p. 199
- Right now, plenty of people feel the peacefulness of their lives degraded by sprawl, or worry about the way consumerism has eroded the quality of our communities. For them, the idea of enough is not completely alien or distasteful, though it remains difficult to embrace. We've been told that it's impossible – that some force like evolution drives us on to More and Faster and Bigger. 'You can't stop progress.' But that's not true. We could choose to mature. That could be the new trick we share with each other, a trick as revolutionary as fire. Or even the computer.
- p. 220