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Menings | Opinion > Briewe | Letters > SpeakEasy

Review: Global Scream

AJ Reinecke - 2008-09-11

How serious is global warming and who is responsible?

Are we hearing Nature's global screams?

This new novel by a Stellenbosch professor highlights causes and effects of the looming crisis.

"For several decades I have taught university students in environmental toxicology and conservation about greenhouse gases and global warming. Somebody in the department would joke about my 'pre-occupation' with the long-term but subtle effects of chemical emissions. This was often accompanied by teasing, but sometimes also with malicious expressions about the 'farfetched' ideas of doomsayers," says Adriaan Reinecke (nicknamed Koot), professor of zoology at Stellenbosch University, who has just written a novel dealing with the climatic consequences of human interference in nature.

"People now see things differently. There is a new awareness. Things have changed in recent times. In its latest assessment of global warming the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change used its strongest language yet in drawing a link between human activity and recent warming. The world's most authoritative group of climate scientists have now spoken out and everyone must listen," he says.

He thinks mainstream scientists who predicted the consequences were right about what was going on with the earth's climate. It is now obvious that human activity has been, at least partly, responsible for a continuing rise in average global temperature. Specialists say that apart from changes in temperature, melting of polar ice may catastrophically raise sea levels and affect humans and the earth's biodiversity. The Panel on Climate Change said it was "very likely" that emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, spewed out by human industrial activity, were the dominant cause of the warming of the last 50 years.

Reinecke points out that dramatic reports on the melting Arctic and the seemingly increasing intensity of destructive hurricanes have politicians weighing in on the subject as never before. He believes the body of evidence of serious human impact on the earth's climate might even constitute liability in a civil law suit. According to more and more experts it is now "beyond a reasonable doubt" and would probably pass this test to establish guilt, according to others.

"After publishing many scientific papers in international science journals, I have now tried my hand on fiction. Naturally I am on a learning curve at an advanced age, but hopefully this will reach a wider audience and contribute to an increased awareness of the seriousness of the problem."

Reinecke's new book deals, in a fictional setting, with various aspects of climate change resulting from deliberate human interference. "We are in real life engaged in a titanic global experiment with severe consequences for life on earth. In my book power-hungry terrorists have resorted to deliberate environmental manipulation in an effort to control weather patterns and rule the world. This has both physical and psychological impacts.

"Although many gaps remain in knowledge about the climate system, and although scientists who look at a vast body of data from scientific studies, are generally cautious and talk in terms of probabilities, the scenario is not good," says Reinecke who is a rated researcher with considerable international recognition, according to the National Research Foundation of South Africa.

"Although the story is pure fiction, it is still based on a serious reality of our times," he maintains. "Remember, the international Panel on Climate Change said that the fact of global warming could now be considered 'unequivocal'. Most of the last dozen or so years were among the warmest on record. More intense droughts are prolonged in some parts of the world, and governments in countries such as Australia are responding responsibly to the problems caused by decreasing precipitation. Apart from species extinctions, distribution ranges of other species will change, and disease-carrying vectors such as insects that carry malaria and sleeping sickness will be moving to new areas."

In his novel the protagonist, Steven Forbes, a brilliant thirty-something university professor and recognised expert in behavioural biology, accepts a government appointment to investigate strange phenomena on a remote island. It places him on a trajectory to disaster that goes beyond his wildest nightmares. The murder of a meteorologist, who happens to be his close friend, and the kidnapping of his girlfriend, leads him to uncover a sinister terrorist plot to control the world.

This modern-day story is about how deliberate human interference in weather patterns contributes to global warming and how it affects the human population of a small oceanic island. Genetically predisposed young men on the island are especially vulnerable as the stressful situation of rising temperatures, increasing cyclones, loss of species and other events in nature affect their mental health, leading to their schizophrenic behaviour and a cascade of unforeseen events.

Steven Forbes finds that his closest friend of many years died violently after discovering strange, unnatural weather patterns in the region of the Indian Ocean island. In his efforts to solve the mysteries of his friend's death and to find an explanation for the illness of the island's inhabitants, Forbes travels to the beautiful tropical island, runs into various dangerous situations and concludes that deliberate human interference was taking place. Somebody was interested in controlling weather patterns and using environmental modification as a tool to terrorise governments. They wanted to gain global power. Forbes concludes that sea floor explorations are being used as a disguise for dangerous experiments with newly discovered volcanic thermal vents on the ocean floor. By triggering underwater volcanic eruptions the climate could by manipulated, causing effects such as droughts, desertification, changes in sea levels and species extinction as well as changes in the distribution and behaviour of species. This threatens the very existence of the island nation. The population suffers mentally and physically from the ravages of human-induced climate change. The lives of Forbes and his beautiful partner, Nancy, are constantly under threat as they succeed in unravelling the mysteries and exposing the criminals. They are not successful in preventing the triggering of devastating volcanic eruptions and tsunamis similar to those that damaged the island of Krakatoa in previous centuries. Neither could they escape the roller coaster of horrific events leading to the demise of the global terrorists.

"A good read, without any doubt, for everyone who cares about the world we live in, not only for intellectuals curious about natural phenomena," says literary critic Gabriel Parsons.

• Available online from Trafford.com or from ajrsa@mweb.co.za