Saturday, 31 May 2008

Would you buy a book called ...

Homo Sapiens Globalis
The species that can save our planet.


It's a serious question. Finding a useful title for the book I'm working on is proving to be incredibly difficult.

Having completed all the chapter introductions and summaries, and the bullet pointed content from cover to cover, I'm now at the point where calling it 'the book' isn't cutting it anymore. Someone who has a potential hook into a publisher wants to read an overview, and the overview needs at least a working title. Today I'm attempting the 400 / 200 / 100 / 50 / 20 and 10 word synopsis. Many versions of each. The title above is a 10 word synopsis. I think I like it, but I need feedback!

Oddly I came up with the term 'Homo Sapiens Globalis' without even knowing if 'Globalis' was valid Latin, and then when I googled it I found that a couple of people have used the term to mean precisely what I am intending. That bodes well, surely?

So - as to the synopsis, the front cover of this book will also bare the statement:

Why the threat of Global Climate Change is the greatest opportunity ever to have faced the human race.

The back of the jacket might say something like:

Global Climate Change is not a technical problem - zero-carbon energy sources are available and well understood today. Global Climate Change is not an economic problem - a world that can afford Formula One, Space exploration and armed conflict is not unable to find the money to fund the technological solution. Global Climate Change is a human problem. If we do not successfully address the threat to the livability of our planet it will be because our own human nature got in the way.

So - are you interested? Would you pick it up and give it a flick through? Inside it's a mix of normal text and light hearted illustrations - not entirely dissimilar to the "Jung for Beginners" kind of books. It's being pitched at bright 13 year olds upwards - not too dry and stuffy but with a lot of quite complex ideas in it.

I'll also be looking for readers for the first and second drafts. Any volunteers? 

*edit: This is a book for grown-ups too! It's intended to be mainstream - we've included smart young people in the target group because they're particularly good at weeding out jargon etc, and because they're the generation who have most investment in the outcome.


JJ said...

Stray, don't know if you're looking for readers in the target group but Son would be really interested in reading it. He's just turned 14, very bright, reads all the time, good at science and currently thinking about a career in engineering. And he says he 'loves correcting people.' Let us know if you want to 'use' him.

Random Reflections said...

Your book sounds really interesting. The only thing I didn't like about your synopsis is where you said "not unable", which grated on me because it should be "able" - but I realise that using "able" isn't saying quite the same thing in this context and therefore probably why you said it in the way that you did.

Happy to have a read if it would help.

austin said...

How about Homo Sapiens Localis? In my experience the more connected a human is to the realities of the local environment and peoples in that radius the more likely it is that they can connect to the paradigm shifts required if we are to get things on to some kind of sustainable track. Good luck with the work. great idea and vital to reach those young ones!

Stray said...

Hi JJ- that would be great. I should make it clear that you're in the target group too! *Goes back to edit post*

It's intended to be mainstream, and to include young people a good way to test that we haven't disappeared off into jargon.

RR - yes, 'not unable' does mean something quite different from 'able' - in this context anyway. Thanks for the feedback though, I do sometimes have an urge to slip in a double negative so I shall watch myself closely ...

Thanks Austin - it's a good point! Yes, I think the 'thinking globally, acting locally' stuff is very important. I guess the differentiation is that addressing Global Climate Change is less a developed world problem direct and relies upon genuinely global cooperation for the first time in our history, in order to address it in the 5 major developing world contributors.

You're absolutely right that for the West it's very much a case of starting to feel connected to other humans locally and working outwards. I know I feel much more connected to others in my tiny village of 51 than I ever did in years in the city. I think the challenge facing other cultures is quite different though, even some countries in Europe have a very strong sense of a local belonging group, and for cultures which place relationships above money / status / achievement it's a huge leap to think internationally.

shadowraith said...

I have reservations about your title - mostly that its slightly erm.. elitist? Not sure why to be honest. But I do know it wouldn't grab me as I walked past it.. I think it might even be improved by having your strap line as the title..

However I would love to read (proofread?) a draft - and the subject and presentation interest me a lot!

Boris said...

Sorry Stray, I agree with Shadowraith. It may be a bit "high falutin" for many.

Why not just call it "Straying Near The Edge" or "2020 Vision"
You know, a bit more obvious?

Save the "Homo Sapiens Globalis" title for the academic version that will one day become compulsory reading in all our schools.

Mrs B is a VERY fast reader and I am sure she would love to read something like this.


shadowraith said...

If Terry Pratchett hadn't already used it, I'd have suggested "Only You can Save Mankind" including his strapline "If not you, who else?".
Maybe something similar..
"We've only got :insert an amount of time: to save the Earth"

Political Umpire said...

Well I think it's a catchy title.

Not so sold on the whole climate change thing. I guess partly that's due to weary cynicism from too many ‘dire threats’ I’ve seen over the years: the reds, the muslims, the islamophobes, global cooling, oil running out, food running out, the ozone layer, the millennium bug, BSE, Ebola, Aids, Ecoli, MRSA, Bird Flu etc. After a while one wonders if all these scares are simply the new religion – in that in the past threats of Hell/promises of Paradise were a central tool in keeping the population on message. As fewer people buy into religion nowadays the Gvt et al have to keep coming up with new scares.

That said, I try and be pretty green day to day. But motivation is rather tempered by the miniscule percentage of world carbon emissions from Britain. I try not to buy things made in China or India as the ball’s in their (and the Americans’) court.

Anyway, as my friends in the energy sector warn, we’re screwed one way or the other as far as the planet’s gone. Therefore I strongly support the space programme – my children are going to need it!

Stray said...

Hi Shadowraith - duly noted and chalked up to the "latin is for academics" pile of votes slowly amassing. The trouble with any kind of timeline beyond "today / tomorrow" is that it's very much a concertina. There are nuances in the model which can halve or double the speed at which this stuff plays out.

Thanks Boris - at one point the working title was "Chasing Sheep" ... lol

Lovely Pumpy - it's an interesting thing for me, speaking with people who are unsold on the climate change thing. That was me about 2 years ago. Exactly the same - I assumed it to be yet another stupid scare. Obviously I've had to do a fair bit of data crunching and reading up since then and unfortunately I increasingly feel like we're screwed - so keep sending those pennies to nasa!

To be honest my tipping point was when I realised that if there was any significant scientific finding that showed that burning fossil fuels was safe and not screwing up our planet it would be the best funded and best publicised research in the world.

You're absolutely right that other than the US, the big contributors will be China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and the Soviets. The UK won't make a great deal of difference in terms of tonnes of emissions, but we do have huge potential to influence the kind of solutions that are offered to developing nations.

Our own leaders will still have loud voices within the UN. They have the potential to influence the americans. As citizens we choose and then mould our leaders to some extent. If there was sufficient political will, and sufficient popular backing, the EU could put a cap on car engine size at 9am tomorrow. They could force thousands of polluting vehicles into retirement directly. But of course that would kind of screw up the German economy, and us Brits probably wouldn't like the idea of bailing them out with our taxes (btw we already massively support Spain but we do it quietly) ... even though in the end the impact of climate change would probably be worse in the UK than in the middle of Europe.

Incidentally, if you're not sold on the climate change thing you might still want to think about the impact of Peak Oil. A bit of casual international warfare over diminishing resources isn't my favourite fantasy about how to spend a couple of decades :)

I like what shadowraith said about Terry P's subtitle "If not you, then who?". We're all implicated really :)

Political Umpire said...

Hi stray,

Gosh from the lovely names I thought it was Ms M addressing me ... now I feel sort of spoilt (in a very nice way) that her other half is too ...

Here is the gist of what I said a while ago on the subject (

Let us take global warming as given. Several things still annoy me.

First, climate change is not the only environmental threat, but seems to be getting the attention of our legislators, rather in the way that Aids is and has always been one disease but has had the PR to get an oversized chunk of funding and media attention (more so than cancer at one point, despite the latter being far more widespread and far more difficult to avoid). Taxes etc have been geared towards lessening CO2 emissions from vehicles, which has meant the rise of diesel cars, which generally are lower emitters. But in every other aspect of air quality diesel is far worse; as an asthma sufferer I find that particularly annoying.

Secondly, it seems rather difficult to measure carbon footprints. Engine emissions are but one aspect of a car's polluting factor: the production process, the life expectancy of the car, how it is delivered in the first place are all factors which may be of equal or greater importance in determining its overall carbon balance sheet. Recently Paul McCartney bought a hybrid Lexis; much more economical etc than an equivalent V12 Mercedes, say, but it was delivered by air so has just done the equivalent of driving round the world six times. These sorts of factors have important implications for trying to regulate emissions by legislation/tax. Engine size isn't crucial either: Jaguar's 4.2 was famously more economical than its previous 3.8. Then you would have to deal with commercial users who need more powerful engines.

Thirdly, one environmental solution may create another environmental or social problem. 'Bio diesel' - fuel produced from renewable crops - sounds promising but it would take three quarters of the world's arable land to provide enough fuel for the USA's current demand alone.

Fourthly, there may be real economic and social costs to be paid for very little carbon gain (or loss). Ceasing to purchase African or other products which are delivered by air may inflict real hardship. Land currently used for vineyards in New Zealand might be developed into second homes or other non-agricultural use.

Fifthly, if the world really is going to face major climate change in the near future - and given that the sun isn't going to last forever let's face facts, the planet has a limited life span for humans, however long that may be - it will not be a retreat into a hunter/gatherer existence which saves us but technology.

Sixthly, we in the West now have to face the uncomfortable truth that we no longer possess the economic, political and military balance of power, and therefore for a truly global problem - which global warming is by definition, the clue being in the name - others will have to agree of their own free will. That's So Pants says this:

"Australia is also desperately worried about global warming and would definitely make some effort to reverse it if it weren’t for the fact that the damage caused by China and India is so great that it would render any gesture meaningless and tokenistic. Besides if we didn’t sell them coal they would just get it from Russia and everyone knows the Russians care far less about the environment than we do."

Or on the other side of the Tasman Sea, the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research predicts that compliance with Kyoto will mean loss of 20,000 jobs, GDP down by $6 billion, dairy farms losing 40 per cent of their value, sheep and beef farms about 25%, each individual some NZ$3000 less to spend every year, retail prices increasing and the wage rate falling. Yet New Zealand produces 0.4 per cent of the world's carbon emissions. The proposals will reduce national emissions by 0.1 per cent. Reduction of the world's carbon emissions by 0.1 per cent of 0.4 per cent is not going to save the planet. Here is the classic problem of the rational profit maximiser concluding that because his or her individual effort will make no difference, he or she will do nothing. In global issues, however, there is no state to coerce and organise the collective effort.

I am not advocating we abandon attempts to lower CO2 altogether, but I can't help but wonder what difference we in Britain can possibly make and whether we ought not to be looking at other environmental issues at least as closely.

Think it rather optimistic to think we can influence America - giving them a bloody nose in 1812 was about the last occasion we managed it. The Iraq War to which you refer shows that we don't influence them at all ...

Peak oil - in principle yes, but we've been told for decades that we're about to run out (remember carless days and oil shocks in the 1970s etc) and it hasn't happened yet. And they can run existing engines perfectly well on hydrogen - the most abundant element in the universe - which have zero emissions. Only question is storing the hydrogen really and even that would be easily achieved if a fraction of oil co. revenues was spent on it.

But still, the sun has a limited life, so crack on with the space programme say I!

Stray said...

Ta pumpy - I have to concur with pretty much everything you say ...

... which is why we're writing a book on Global Climate Change which includes the fact that carbon footprints are a pointless waste of time, carbon trading is a load of nonsense, rational economics can only have impact on usage and efficiency (by increasing awareness) but do bugger all for asset replacement (which is what is required) and the developed world needs to get over the obsession with the nation state, because this problem is global and nothing other than a genuinely global action will make a difference.

I agree with you that most of what is currently said about tackling Global Climate Change is little except for hot air. The current infatuation with food miles seems to miss the fact that international aviation is a tiny tiny part of the problem, and probably brings more positives than negatives in terms of moving money and culture between different countries who are going to be required to be quite snuggled up in the future.

I'm writing the book to hopefully give an entirely different perspective from the one that is driving most of the 'solutions' being suggested and implemented today. It's really an anthropology book. I just happens that the problem facing the species these days is Global Climate Change.

I do still believe the UK has influence though. We have a massively multicultural population and many people stay in contact with others all around the globe. If it's a grass-roots movement then the internet makes it almost irrelevant where good ideas originate, but the idea of modeling positives within our political system is important too. The world deserves us to ensure we have leaders who will take this stuff seriously and act cooperatively, not obstruct, divide and go off in a sulk when they don't get their own way.

Here's another oil scenario. Oil producing nations have so much money they can't even begin to spend it. As a result, when prices leap up, as they have done recently, there's no real incentive to increase supply to meet demand: there's actually quite a strong incentive to reduce it. Peak Oil isn't about oil running out, it's about demand out-stripping capacity to supply. It gives massive leverage to oil-producing nations, and frankly that scares the shit out of me!

I know the rising price changes the economic viability of extracting oil from sands in Canada and various other obscure sources, but the world is a fucked up place that it seems to me would be less fucked up if it wasn't so reliant on oil.

Fraid I can't remember carless days and oil shocks in the 1970s exactly, I was only born in '76 ;)

I'm not sure about the hydrogen storage - I think converting all transport to electricity is probably a shorter term goal, but the hydrogen dudes may surprise us. There's certainly plenty of it - which will be handy when we finally get nuclear fusion workable beyond 30 second bursts ... we won't need to worry about the sun then - we can make our own.

Political Umpire said...

Hello again Stray,

Interesting stuff and I suspect the difference between us stems at least in part for me being more jaded and world-weary (1971 vintage and 'faux stuffy' according to Ms Melancholy - I'm aiming for real stuffiness though ...).

Most certainly there were oil shocks etc in the 1970s, barely though I remember them personally. I did read recently that LA is sitting on a vast pool of oil; until now it has not been economically viable to consider ripping it up and drilling, but we're heading in that direction ...

Internet-sourced grass-roots political change sounds like A Good Thing, though it will be a while before the Chinese Gvt even opens up the internet in that country sufficiently to allow significant dissent, never mind actually paying attention to it.

Interesting to hear someone not so utterly against nuclear power. Makes sense to me. We have four submarines recently launched (not the Trident ones, the attack subs) each of which has a reactor that could power the city of Southampton on its own for thirty years ... Can't we just send the waste into space (as long as it breaks orbit and goes somewhere else ...)?

Thing about hydrogen is that existing internal combustion engines can run on it with very little modification, which is why it seems to be the obvious solution to me. If they could get a cheap process for splitting water or otherwise producing it and storing it (by no means impossible or even unlikely) then bang goes the need for petrol/diesel and all vehicle emissions whether greenhouse or otherwise.

Of course then we will build yet more cars and soak up too many resources doing it ... but then at least recycling of materials used for cars may get closer to 100% ...

One other point about electricity for transport; it will still need rechargeable batteries, and they're not environmentally friendly to produce or dispose of.

Best of luck with the book, I look forward to reading it. Have been helping blogger Manic Mum (Jane Henry) with her's, think it's a fair bit racier than yours although contains fewer solutions to the planet's problems ...

Political Umpire said...

One final point before I collapse through exhaustion (my 9 month old seems to have decided 5:20am is a good time to wake up ...):

"It gives massive leverage to oil-producing nations, and frankly that scares the shit out of me! "

Er, well yes, after all we've had half a century of wars in the Middle East already, never mind America propping up useless trash regimes like in Saudi all this time ... and sans oil in the region Israel/Palestine wouldn't get a squeak in the media, never mind have its daily 3 million articles in the press with 20 million abusive comments in all directions ...

Stray said...

Hi Pumpy - sorry, yes, I really meant that the idea of the leverage continuing unchecked and further increasing scared the shit out of me!

Fraid there's bugger all raciness in my book ... maybe you could read them both together for a bit of spice to keep you awake :)

sexy said...