walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

dinner at Gibbet Hill Grill, _Plows, Plagues and Petroleum_ by Ruddiman

Last Friday, we (R., T. and me) joined A. and M. at Gibbet Hill Grill in Groton, MA. This is a steak house, thus, white tablecloths and paper napkins but it is child-friendly. We were seated upstairs, near the stairs, so T. got to run up and down to the mild annoyance of some, and the amusement of at least as many. People were still smiling at us when we left, so I choose to believe it turned out okay.

The steaks were good. The salad was good. The steamed broccoli was steamed broccoli. And the bottle of Domaine Drouhin _actually did exist_ and was, as always, extremely tasty. The company was excellent. Other people at the table enjoyed their sides, which included dairy products. If you eat beef (they do serve some other things) and have the opportunity to eat at Gibbet Hill Grill, or attend a function at The Barn at Gibbet Hill, I predict an enjoyable meal.

My regular readers perhaps are aware that I like to read about how the world as we know it is going to end. This is an artifact from my childhood (I was a JW until I was 25 and they have the whole apocalyptic thing _down_) and early adulthood. (Y2K was a whole lot of fun.) Currently, I am interested in (a) climate change and (b) depletion of perhaps not replaceable natural resources (groundwater, topsoil, Peak Oil, etc.). I don't want everyone to die (that's a big chunk of why I am no longer a JW), so I am also interested in things like conservation (a word no one uses anymore), alternative energy, organic foods, urban gardening, permaculture, etc.

_Plows, Plagues and Petroleum_ has a simple thesis. We should have been heading into a glaciation period. We are not. We are not because there's a lot more CO2 and methane (based on Antartic ice cores) than there should be. Why?

Ruddiman entertains a few other possibilities, but settles on forest clearing/agriculture. After working his way through the details of how that matches the record, he then focuses in on some anomalies when the CO2 and methane inputs dropped for centuries at a time. He then matches these up to pandemics, showing that diseases which killed significant fractions of the global population (the biggest being the arrival of Europeans in the Americas) also returned us to the underlying global cooling trend.

At the end of the book, in a multi-chapter epilogue, he describes for the reader his opinion on climate change as a political issue, and its importance compared to other environmental issues. His perspective on environmentalists vs. industry is at first somewhat idealistic and out-of-date. However, if you read the entire epilogue, he makes it clear that he _knows_ his perspective was out-of-date, and has modified it. In the last couple pages, he ranks climate change alongside topsoil, aquifer/groundwater and fossil fuel depletion. Let's just say he thinks those are probably a lot more serious than the climate change issue.

Comparative doom is sort of an interesting game to play.

This book took me a long time to read. Ruddiman is a pretty typical scientist so I find him, typically, pretty irritating. That said, this is a good book, worth the time and effort to get through it. Like Fagan's _The Long Summer_, I came away from [got interrupted will finish later -- continuing now] Ruddiman with a very short list of very useful concepts about how we interact with climate. I assume at some point, all of these ideas will be presented in a textbook somewhere; until that day, add Ruddiman to your list of what you need to digest to understand, well, just about anything.
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