1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 Table of contents

Page 15: 1980: I switched continents. The United States of America: every hippy’s dream. Long live freedom and efficiency!
Here, I must summarize. My first passion: Mathematics. The second: Photography. Third: Anglo-saxon culture. In sum: fantastic!
(This was way before Trump).

The advantages of the United States.


My years in the 80s: Many memories, Many photos.

I made it!

Next, the great leap: to become a FREELANCER, to become INDEPENDENT,…

To never know if you will earn money the following month…
The book keeping, the agenda, the marketing, the client satisfaction, the logistics, etc.…
Well, I’ve been doing this now for 39 years.

9th September 2001 :
I went to the top of those magnificent towers.
Andy Novis remarked: "Atheists don't fly planes into buildings"
Tenzin Gyatso : "It does not matter if a person is religious or not : what is far more important is that he is good.”


Feet in the USA, par Christian Fournier

The stereotypes held by French people about American life are completely false and haven’t changed for decades :
- “The food sucks”. There are some bad products, I’ll admit, but go and try a Rib Eye steak or a Sirloin or a New York steak, or a T-Bone steak, a cold glass of milk, ice cream, etc..
The French love to complain about bad food but France itself is one of McDonald’s strongest markets: in 2003, McDonald’s sales revenue in France grew by 10%, reaching 2.2 billion euros. As I am writing this, there are 1,193 McDonalds in France!
- “Violence”. Higher crime rates in Europe than in the US, published August 14, 2012 in Police, by Jorge Valin, Spain. “It’s a shame that European media do not show the reality of the numbers, and always make the USA out to be a country of delinquents and criminals when in reality the opposite is true. Since the 90’s it’s been us, the Europeans, at the top of the list. Worse, the gap gets wider each year.”
- "In the US, there’s no social security". What you need to understand, and it isn’t too hard to grasp, is that the system is quite different. Salaries are higher and taxes are lower in the States. Highways are free to use. In France you pay taxes towards National Education, even if you have no kids, and you pay for healthcare even if you’re never sick.
In the States, you choose your health insurance according to your preferences, and you can choose superior schools for your children. Americans’ buying power is much stronger than ours, especially now in the 2014 financial crisis.
- "Americans don’t have a culture". Ouch.
The American English Dictionary contains two times the number of entries than the Littré français. And all that even without accents, those annoying, useless appendages in our beautiful language of Molière. What’s more, most new words in technology, fashion, marketing, the sciences, etc.. is always in English, never in French. The English language is much simpler and easier (adjectives are invariable, words have no gender, conjugation is laughingly simple). So many worthless things that can impede communication.

I read all the great French classics in a row : I was bored to death. Racine, Corneille, Molière, Victor Hugo, Rousseau, Diderot, Balzac, Flaubert, Marcel, Proust, Gide, Dumas, Stendha, Zola, etc.. Besides Cavnna, Camus, Jules Verne, Pagnol, Alain-Fournier, Boris Vian, La Fontaine, Hubert Reeves, Reiser, Alain Robbe-Grillet and a couple others that I enjoyed. Well, everyone has their own tastes and inspirations. Each to their own.
I read all the great English classics in a row : I had a ball. Anthony Burgess, Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, David Lodge, Peter Mayle, Aldous Huxley, Stephen Hawkings, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Harris, Stephen Clarke and above all Douglas Adams.
I read all the great American classics in a row : I had a ball. John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Michael Connelly, Isaac Asimov, Dan Brown, Bill Bryson, Richard Dawkins, Timothy Ferris, John Gribbin, John Grisham Harlan Coben, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, John Dos Passos, Henry Miller, Norman MAILER, Vladimir Nabokov, Carl Sagan, Ray Bradbury, Michael Crichton, Philip K. Dick.

American and British cinema is constantly coming out with one masterpiece after another (I’ll only put a couple of my favourites, the complete list is too long): The Dictator, Airplane, Back to the Future, Pulp Fiction, In Bruges, The Social Network, Forrest Gump, 4 Weddings and a Funeral, About a Boy, 2001 Space Odyssey, Midnight Cowboy, Jaws, E.T., Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Amadeus, Rain Man, Abyss, Scream, Avatar, American Beauty, Philomena, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Wolf of Wall Street, Argo, The Impossible, Contagion, REC, Mama Mia, Apollo 13, Cast Away, Notting Hill, Kramer vs Kramer, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, The English Patient, Little Big Man, Oh Brother, Out of Africa, Pride and Prejudice, When Harry met Sally, Road to Perdition, Rising Sun, Titanic, Young Guns, Finding Nemo, Groundhog Day, Lord of War, This is England, Into the Wild, Juno, Ladies in Lavender, The Duchess, Hangover, Clockwork Orange, 500 Days of Summer, Now You See Me, You’ve Got Mail, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, etc… etc…

That’s not to say that there aren’t some great films coming out of France. I’ve enjoyed: A Very Long Engagement, Intouchables, Klapisch’s trilogy L’Auberge Espagnol, Les Poupées Russes, and Casse-Tête Chinois, Le Nom des Gens, Télé Gaucho, etc..
Alright, it’s best that I don’t even get into music…

My friend Francis Ronat, the deep-sea diver, told me once in all seriousness that Americans have no culture and no history, because of the native people. Ignorance is a serious vice.


-"France has the best healthcare in the world!” declared my girlfriend in 2001.
I am not exactly qualified to judge French healthcare, but I do know one thing: the organization of medication is quite bad. Even now in 2014 I come out of the doctor’s office with my prescription, still written by hand, and of course completely illegible for me. The pharmacist, thanks to his great qualifications, somehow translates this without issue and hands me a big stack of boxes. When I get home, I can’t figure out which medication I’m supposed to take and when, because many of them are generic brands that don’t match what’s written on the prescription. I guess you’re supposed to sort out the doses yourself.
When I was living in the States, even back in 1984, my prescription was typed and the pharmacist, who was usually just a grocery store employee with some training in pharmacology, would hand you your meds (just what you need and no more) in little boxes onto which would be written (typed, too), your name, the date, the medication’s name and the dosage. So much less waste than back home (our social security deficit could benefit), and no confusion.
If I try to picture the medical cabinet of a French family of 3, I see a cupboard full of boxes and bottles, mostly expired, no idea who it was for in the first place, nor why, nor how many to take.
I just don’t get it. It wouldn’t be hard or expensive at all to copy the American system. I guess I’m just naïve.

David McCallum = Illya Kuryakin, actor in "The Man from Uncle" and "The Invisible Man".

When I arrived in the States, everyone called me "The Invisible Man”. At first I thought they found me washed out. Then I understood!

I got my driver’s licence in the US. Easy peasy.
In France, in Arras in 1971, I was asked to memorize the 7 cases where parking was forbidden and, when it came to the oral test, the examiner made me recite them! I was pushed back to the first level because I parked in front of a garbage.
In the US, the examiner’s weren’t interested in what you’d learned “by heart”, only your mastery of the vehicle, they want to know that you’re the one in charge, not the car.


Automatic gearboxes are a lot more common in the States. Yet all the clichés about them that you hear in France are again, false:
- Slower than manual transmission = false. At the red light, I sail right past the other cars if I like, except the Porsche and equivalents, if they like.
- Impossible to start on a slope = false. It works perfectly.
- Consumes more gas = false. I carried out precise tests with Antoine Schneck, who is a very precise guy.
- Only women want them = false. I am a man and have no problems with virility (see page 27).
I find that automatic lets you be more relaxed when driving, and that’s important. What’s the point in changing your gear lever a 1000 times a day, if you can avoid it?
I never honk. I have never had a single accident as long as I’ve been driving, since 1971, so 43 years, on multiple continents. Does automatic transmission make you cooler?

Je ne comprends pas la mentalité des automobilistes parisiens.
Ils klaxonnent sans arrêt, derrière les éboueurs, dans les embouteillages, aux feux rouges. Dur pour les riverains et piétons
Ce sont pourtant des gens ordinaires, des médecins, des business men. On les croit respectables. Ils veulent le tapis rouge. Ils pensent qu'il n'y a qu'eux sur la route. Ils sont lâches car protégés dans leur voiture. Si on leur retire le klaxon, je crois qu'ils ne sauraient plus conduire. Se rendent -ils compte qu'ils montrent à tout le monde à quel point ils sont cons ?

La loi Française dit bien, qu'il est interdit de klaxonner en agglomération sauf en cas d'urgence. Je n'ai jamais vu (ou entendu parler de) un automobiliste être verbalisé pour avoir klaxonné sans raison majeure.
La loi, en France ne s'applique que quand elle veut ! Il faudrait donc faire un code civil qu'avec les lois qui s'appliquent vraiment, on saurait à quoi s'en tenir.

A horrible anecdote, which unfortunately shows the state of mind of the Parisian motorists and makes me very pessimistic for our future: a woman honks behind a poorly parked ambulance because the doctors are doing a cardiac massage next door. I point out her lack of civility and she claims to be a lawyer and know the law !

I’ll never understand Parisian drivers. They honk, constantly, behind the garbage trucks, in traffic jams, at red lights. Hard on the ears for the inhabitants and pedestrians.
Yet these are ordinary people, doctors, businessmen. You would think they would be respectable. They want the red carpet to roll out for them, they are the only ones on the road who count. They’re cowardly, hiding inside the protection of their cars. I think, if you took away their horns, they wouldn’t know how to drive. Do they realize that all they accomplish is having others realize how stupid they are?
In French law it is quite clear, it is forbidden to honk your horn in an urban area except in emergencies. I have never seen or even heard of a case where a driver was fined for honking without good reason. In France, the law only applies when it wants to be! They should write a civil code with just the laws that are actually enforced, that way we would know what rules to follow.

When I left France for the States in 1980, microwaves were only just appearing.
In Arras, everyone said it was a stupid invention because you couldn’t put metallic objects inside it.
In the States, I saw ladies of all ages organize meetings, like “Tupperware” parties to rationally discuss the advantages and drawbacks of these new machines. The Atlantic Ocean is an enormous cultural gap!

Something that always shocks me : in American movies, it is strictly forbidden to show even a small part of the breast. At the same time, it’s perfectly fine to show murder in fine detail, with a head exploding in front of a Magnum 45.
“We live in a world where we have to hide to make love, while violence is practiced in broad daylight.” ― John Lennon

Henri Cartier Bresson :
"Photography is putting your head, your eye, and your heart on the same line of sight."

Ansel Adams : "There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good or bad photographs.”

Word from the photography master, Christian Fournier:
"The brand of your camera does not matter, only knowing how to use your camera matters"

Of course, there are plenty of great things in France: see page 49

From travels in Europe by Bill Bryson
On my first trip to Paris I kept wondering, why does everyone hate me so much? Fresh off the train, I went to the tourist booth at the Gare du Nord, where a severe young woman in a blue uniform looked at me as if I were infectious. ‘What do you want?’ she said, or at least seemed to say. ‘I’d like a room, please,’ I replied, instantly meek. ‘Fill this out.’ She pushed a long form at me. ‘Not here. Over there.’ She indicated with a flick of her head a counter for filling out forms, then turned to the next person in line and said, ‘What do you want?’ I was amazed – I came from a place where everyone was friendly, where even funeral directors told you to have a nice day as you left to bury your grandmother – but I soon learned that everyone in Paris was not like that. You would go into a bakery and be greeted by some vast slug-like creature with a look that told you you would never be friends. In halting French you would ask for a small loaf of bread. The woman would give you a long, cold stare and then put a dead beaver on the counter. ‘No, no,’ you would say, hands aflutter, ‘not a dead beaver. A loaf of bread.’ The slug-like creature would stare at you in patent disbelief, then turn to the other customers and address them in French at much too high a speed for you to follow, but the drift of which clearly was that this person here, this American tourist, had come in and asked for a dead beaver and she had given him a dead beaver and now he was saying that he didn’t want a dead beaver at all, he wanted a loaf of bread. The other customers would look at you as if you had just tried to fart in their handbags, and you would have no choice but to slink away and console yourself with the thought that in another four days you would be in Brussels and probably able to eat again. ........

La suite. Continued....

William "Bill" Bryson, 
OBE, FRS (born December 8, 1951) is a best-selling American author of humorous books on travel, as well as books on the English language and science. Born in America, he was a resident of Britain for most of his adult life before returning to the U.S. in 1995. In 2003 Bryson moved back to Britain, living in the old rectory of Wramplingham, Norfolk, and served as chancellor of Durham University from 2005 through 2011. Bryson shot to prominence in the United Kingdom with the publication of Notes from a Small Island (1995), an exploration of Britain, and its accompanying television series. He received widespread recognition again with the publication of A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003), a book widely acclaimed for its accessible communication of science.

There are a lot of great things in the US. It is impossible to fit everything here, so here is a small selection.

Most people are friendly and helpful.

Incredible landscapes, like Brice Canyon shown here.

Spectacular performances, like the Blue Men here in Vegas.

Adventure is everywhere and easy to find.



The US Virgin Islands.

Banyan trees in Miami with Janet.

Arches National Park

Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska

Michelle West in Sans Soucis Hotel in Jamaica. So feminine, so delicate.

Aviation is easy to get into, and cheap.

Skydiving from very, very high, even 5km high!

The most beautiful show that I’ve ever seen in my life. Okay, I’m a huge fan of the Beatles, but still, it was 3D (the stage is in the centre with the audience all around), and the sound was grandiose. Thank you to Carlos Lopez for recommending it to me.

I met Bernard Hébert, Vice-president of the Cirque du Soleil, an amazing man, at a Concur meeting in 2015.
When I had had it with being an assistant photographer, I went to a bank in Los Angeles. I explained that I wanted to start my own photography business. The banker asked me some pertinent questions, then said: you seem to be intelligent, motivated, hardworking, and in your right mind. How many dollars do you need? At that moment, I really, profoundly understood that I was no longer in France, where, as the great comedian Coluche illustrated, “To get a loan from a French bank, you need to prove you don’t need the money”.

Friends is an American television sitcom, created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, which aired on NBC from September 22, 1994, to May 6, 2004, lasting ten seasons. With an ensemble cast starring Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer, the show revolves around six friends in their 20s and 30s who live in Manhattan, New York City. The series was produced by Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions, in association with Warner Bros. Television. The original executive producers were Kevin S. Bright, Kauffman, and Crane.
Filming of the show took place at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California. All ten seasons of Friends ranked within the top ten of the final television season ratings; it ultimately reached the number-one spot in its eighth season. The series finale aired on May 6, 2004, and was watched by around 52.5 million American viewers, making it the fifth most-watched series finale in television history, and the most-watched television episode of the 2000s decade.

That '70s Show ou 70 au Québec est une série télévisée américaine en 200 épisodes de 22 minutes, créée par Mark Brazill, Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner et Linda Wallem, diffusée entre le 23 août 1998 et le 18 mai 2006 sur le réseau FOX.
Point Place, petite ville imaginaire du Wisconsin. À la fin des années 1970, Donna Pinciotti est la voisine et petite amie d'Eric Forman ; Michael Kelso, le beau gosse un peu crétin ; Steven Hyde, le fan de rock révolté ; Jackie Burkhart, la minette et Fez, l'étranger d'origine indéfinie, squattent le sous-sol de la maison des Forman, sous l'œil bienveillant de la mère, Kitty, une infirmière « légèrement » alcoolique, et celui agacé du père, Red Forman, vétéran de la guerre de Corée. Ce dernier fait souvent preuve d’un manque de reconnaissance à l'égard de son fils traduisant plutôt une difficulté à montrer ses sentiments. Il y a également Leo, un Hippie, un amateur de marijuana totalement déluré, ou encore Midge et Bob Pinciotti, les parents de Donna et voisins des Forman.

MythBusters is a science entertainment television program created by Peter Rees for the Discovery Channel.
The show's hosts, special effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, use elements of the scientific method to test the validity of rumors, myths, movie scenes, adages, Internet videos, and news stories.

Among other things, Mythbusters teaches you (and shows you) that if a car driving at 80km/h collides head-on with another car driving at 80km/h in the opposite direction, the shock is the same as if the car hit a wall at 80km/h and not at 160km/h. Newton’s law of action/reaction. The wall pushes back on the car with a force equal and opposite to that of the car, so the wall acts just like a car going in the opposite direction and at the same speed.

When a killer shoots at someone, his target finds himself thrown into the air. You can see it in any gangster movie. What stupidity. Just ask Newton. If it had that much force, the shooter would be thrown into the air as well. It’s like if a fly (the bullet) threw itself at an elephant (the victim). Yet even police movies are guilty of it.

President Obama even asked Mythbusters to retest Archimedes’ mirror, because he refused to believe it was a myth.
The beauty of Mythbusters is that you can see everything that you can do in the USA : ask for firefighters’ help even when there isn’t an accident, use a car racetrack, cooperate with universities, borrow equipment from the army, rent a giant hangar for the day, detonate huge bombs, etc.
Mythbusters is extremely popular in the US. Their fans send in ideas for modifications, suggestions, and alert them to errors.
A shame that no one is interested in science in France.

The Big Bang Theory est une sitcom américaine en 279 épisodes de 22 minutes créée par Chuck Lorre et Bill Prady, diffusée simultanément du 24 septembre 2007 au 16 mai 2019 sur le réseau CBS aux États-Unis et sur le réseau CTV, CTV Two au Canada.

La série suit la vie fictive de deux scientifiques du California Institute of Technology (Caltech) à Pasadena en Californie vivant en colocation dans cette ville de la banlieue de Los Angeles, au 2311 North Los Robles Avenue : le physicien expérimental Leonard Hofstadter et le physicien théoricien Sheldon Cooper. Ils habitent en face d'une serveuse, Penny, dont le rêve est de devenir actrice. L'effet comique de la série joue beaucoup sur le contraste entre l'intelligence et la « geekitude » de Leonard et Sheldon et le bon sens et l'intelligence sociale de Penny. Les deux hommes sont amis avec Howard Wolowitz, un ingénieur en aérospatiale d'origine juive et dragueur compulsif et Rajesh Koothrappali, astrophysicien natif de New Delhi atteint d'une peur pathologique de parler en présence de femmes.
En août 2009, la sitcom remporte le prix TCA de la meilleure série comique et Jim Parsons le prix de la meilleure prestation dans une série comique. En 2010, la série remporte le People's Choice Awards de la meilleure comédie et Jim Parsons l'Emmy Award du meilleur acteur dans une série comique. Le 16 janvier 2011, Jim Parsons obtient un Golden Globe du meilleur acteur dans une série télévisée musicale ou comique par la Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
Le 24e et dernier épisode de la douzième et dernière saison est diffusé le 16 mai 2019 aux États-Unis, après 12 ans de succès.

Une bande de docteurs en science partagent un quotidien fait de jeux vidéo, d'équations et d'amitié. Leur nouvelle voisine de palier va troubler leurs vieilles habitudes et va tenter de les sortir de leur univers et de les connecter à la réalité.


Penny: Oh, big deal. Not knowing is part of the fun.
Sheldon: "Not knowing is part of the fun." Was that the motto of your community college?

Sheldon: I made tea.
Leonard: I don't want tea.
Sheldon: I didn't make tea for you. This is my tea.
Leonard: Then why are you telling me?
Sheldon: It's a conversation starter.
Leonard: That's a lousy conversation starter.
Sheldon: Oh, is it? We're conversing. Checkmate.

Howard: I thought you didn't like Facebook any more.
Sheldon: Don't be silly, I'm a fan of anything that tries to replace actual human contact.

Sheldon: This is the temperature you agreed to in the roommate agreement.
Leonard: Aw, screw the roommate agreement!
Sheldon: No, you don't screw the roommate agreement. The roommate agreement screws you.

Sheldon: I am aware of the way humans usually reproduce which is messy, unsanitary and based on living next to you for three years, involves loud and unnecessary appeals to a deity.
Penny: Oh, God.
Sheldon: Yes, exactly.

Sheldon: Oh, Penny. I know you think you're being generous, but the foundation of gift-giving is reciprocity. You haven't given me a gift, you've given me an obligation.
Howard: Don't feel bad, Penny, it's a classic rookie mistake. My first Hanukkah with Sheldon, he yelled at me for eight nights.
Penny: Now, honey, it's okay. You don't have to get me anything in return.
Sheldon: Of course I do. The essence of the custom is that I now have to go out and purchase for you a gift of commensurate value and representing the same perceived level of friendship as that represented by the gift you've given me. It's no wonder suicide rates skyrocket this time of year.
Penny: Okay, you know what? Forget it. I'm not giving you a present.
Sheldon: No, it's too late. I see it. That elf sticker says to Sheldon. The die has been cast, the moving finger has writ, Hannibal has crossed the Alps.

Sheldon: Howard, you know me to be a very smart man. Don't you think that if I were wrong, I'd know it?

Sheldon: You know it just occurred to me, if there are an infinite number of parallel universes, in one of them there's probably a Sheldon who doesn't believe parallel universes exist.
Leonard: Probably. What's your point?
Sheldon: No point. It's just one of those things that makes one of the me's chuckle.


Why is it a bad idea to major in physics?
The maths is hard.
You'll never enjoy action movies again because you'll notice see lots of physics errors.

My favorite science fiction movies:

A Space Odyssey (1968)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Rollerball (1975)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Alien (1979)
Blade Runner (1982)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
The Terminator (1984)
Back to the Future (1985)
Abyss (1989)
Total Recall (1990)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Contact (1997)
Minority Report (2002)
Avatar (2009)
Inception (2010)
Gravity (2013)
Interstellar (2014)
The Martian (2015)
Arrival (2016)

Excerpt from Cosmos by Carl Sagan 1980:
The Sphinx, half human, half lion, was constructed more than 5,500 years ago. Its face was once crisp and cleanly rendered. It is now softened and blurred by thousands of years of Egyptian desert sandblasting and by occasional rains. In New York City there is an obelisk called Cleopatra's Needle, which came from Egypt. In only about a hundred years in that city's Central Park, its inscriptions have been almost totally obliterated, because of smog and industrial pollution—chemical erosion like that in the atmosphere of Venus. Erosion on Earth slowly wipes out information, but because they are gradual—the patter of a raindrop, the sting of a sand grain—those processes can be missed. Big structures, such as mountain ranges, survive tens of millions of years; smaller impact craters, perhaps a hundred thousand; and largescale human artifacts only some thousands. In addition to such slow and uniform erosion, destruction also occurs through catastrophes large and small. The Sphinx is missing a nose. Someone shot it off in a moment of idle desecration—some say it was Mameluke Turks, others, Napoleonic soldiers.

On Venus, on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system, there is evidence for catastrophic destruction, tempered or overwhelmed by slower, more uniform processes: on the Earth, for example, rainfall, coursing into rivulets, streams and rivers of running water, creating huge alluvial basins; on Mars, the remnants of ancient rivers, perhaps arising from beneath the ground; on Io, a moon of Jupiter, what seem to be broad channels made by flowing liquid sulfur. There are mighty weather systems on the Earth—and in the high atmosphere of Venus and on Jupiter. There are sandstorms on the Earth and on Mars; lightning on Jupiter and Venus and Earth. Volcanoes inject debris into the atmospheres of the Earth and Io. Internal geological processes slowly deform the surfaces of Venus, Mars, Ganymede and Europa, as well as Earth. Glaciers, proverbial for their slowness, produce major reworkings of landscapes on the Earth and probably also on Mars. These processes need not be constant in time. Most of Europe was once covered with ice. A few million years ago, the present site of the city of Chicago was buried under three kilometers of frost. On Mars, and elsewhere in the solar system, we see features that could not be produced today, landscapes carved hundreds of millions or billions of years ago when the planetary climate was probably very different.

There is an additional factor that can alter the landscape and the climate of Earth: intelligent life, able to make major environmental changes. Like Venus, the Earth also has a greenhouse effect due to its carbon dioxide and water vapor. The global temperature of the Earth would be below the freezing point of water if not for the greenhouse effect. It keeps the oceans liquid and life possible. A little greenhouse is a good thing. Like Venus, the Earth also has about 90 atmospheres of carbon dioxide; but it resides in the crust as limestone and other carbonates, not in the atmosphere. If the Earth were moved only a little closer to the Sun, the temperature would increase slightly. This would drive some of the CO2 out of the surface rocks, generating a stronger greenhouse effect, which would in turn incrementally heat the surface further. A hotter surface would vaporize still more carbonates into CO2, and there would be the possibility of a runaway greenhouse effect to very high temperatures. This is just what we think happened in the early history of Venus, because of Venus' proximity to the Sun. The surface environment of Venus is a warning: something disastrous can happen to a planet rather like our own.
The principal energy sources of our present industrial civilization are the so-called fossil fuels. We burn wood and oil, coal and natural gas, and, in the process, release waste gases, principally CO2, into the air. Consequently, the carbon dioxide content of the Earth's atmosphere is increasing dramatically. The possibility of a runaway greenhouse effect suggests that we have to be careful: Even a one- or two- degree rise in the global temperature can have catastrophic consequences. In the burning of coal and oil and gasoline, we are also putting sulfuric acid into the atmosphere. Like Venus, our stratosphere even now has a substantial mist of tiny sulfuric acid droplets. Our major cities are polluted with noxious molecules. We do not understand the long- term effects of our course of action.
But we have also been perturbing the climate in the opposite sense. For hundreds of thousands of years human beings have been burning and cutting down forests and encouraging domestic animals to graze on and destroy grasslands. Slash-and-burn agriculture, industrial tropical deforestation and overgrazing are rampant today. But forests are darker than grasslands, and grasslands are darker than deserts. As a consequence, the amount of sunlight that is absorbed by the ground has been declining, and by changes in the land use we are lowering the surface temperature of our planet. Might this cooling increase the size of the polar ice cap, which, because it is bright, will reflect still more sunlight from the Earth, further cooling the planet, driving a runaway albedo (1) effect?
Our lovely blue planet, the Earth, is the only home we know. Venus is too hot. Mars is too cold. But the Earth is just right, a heaven for humans. After all, we evolved here. But our congenial climate may be unstable. We are perturbing our poor planet in serious and contradictory ways. Is there any danger of driving the environment of the Earth toward the planetary Hell of Venus or the global ice age of Mars? The simple answer is that nobody knows. The study of the global climate, the comparison of the Earth with other worlds, are subjects in their earliest stages of development. They are fields that are poorly and grudgingly funded. In our ignorance, we continue to push and pull, to pollute the atmosphere and brighten the land, oblivious of the fact that the long-term consequences are largely unknown. A few million years ago, when human beings first evolved on Earth, it was already a middle-aged world, 4.6 billion years along from the catastrophes and impetuosities of its youth. But we humans now represent a new and perhaps decisive factor. Our intelligence and our technology have given us the power to affect the climate. How will we use this power? Are we willing to tolerate ignorance and complacency in matters that affect the entire human family? Do we value short-term advantages above the welfare of the Earth? Or will we think on longer time scales, with concern for our children and our grandchildren, to understand and protect the complex life-support systems of our planet? The Earth is a tiny and fragile world. It needs to be cherished.

1. The albedo is the fraction of the sunlight striking a planet that is reflected back to space. The albedo of the Earth is some 30 to 35 percent. The rest of the sunlight is absorbed by the ground and is responsible for the average surface temperature.
Copyright © 1980 by Carl Sagan Productions, Inc. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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