Laurence C. Smith

Laurence C.
Smith
1946
2017

American Geographer, Professor and Chair of Geography and Professor of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences at UCLA

Author Quotes

Far less tragic?and certainly less attention-grabbing?was a second, very profound event that also happened in 2008. Its exact timing will never be known, but at some instant during the year, the number of people living in urban areas grew to briefly match, for a few seconds, the number of people living in rural areas. Then, somewhere, a city baby was born. From that child forward, for the first time in our history, the human race became urban in its majority.

In my own city of Los Angeles, everyone will gladly pay a hundred dollars a month for cable television, yet would roar in protest if forced to pay that much for life?s elixir piped directly into their homes. When Governor Schwarzenegger declared a state of drought emergency, I studied my water bill closely for the first time in my life. For two months of clean drinking water, snared from faraway sources, and delivered to my house by one of the world?s most expensive and elaborate engineering schemes, I was charged $20.67. I spend more on postage stamps. If only everyone could indulge such ignorant bliss?

Trends will be substantially shaped by political and economic choices made in the near future; thinking very clearly about this matters now. There's no need for panic; wars and catastrophes will not be part of the future if we think ahead and make sensible plans. Four big trends are, he suggests, key to understanding what's coming. Demographic changes, and the continued, albeit slowing growth of the global population matter, especially in North America where our numbers increase in part because of migration. Second, the world is becoming an urban civilization and the great cities we have built make huge demands for natural resources. The NORC have plenty of resources, and even if they are often difficult to get to, many of them will be developed. They will be used because globalization, the third trend, makes the world's economy much more interconnected and shapes production and development decisions worldwide. While China and India are becoming more important, no single state decides these matters. Ikea and Wal-Mart now span the globe; they need the resources of the North. Smith is a climate-change specialist and his focus on this, his fourth trend, is what got him wondering about the themes in his book in the first place. Climate change is happening mainly because the globalized economy is so dependent on fossil fuels, the use of which has already elevated carbon-dioxide levels to those of the Miocene epoch 15 million years ago when there was less ice at the poles and sea levels were much higher than they are now. [paraphrased by Simon Dalby]

Unfortunately, there is no rule saying a city must be a nice place to live in order to attract fast population and economic growth. Parks, good governance, and smoothly flowing traffic are optional, not required. Sometimes cities grow at an astonishing rate, despite being hell on Earth.

We scientists love to sit at our computers and use climate models to make those predictions. But to really know what?s happening, that kind of understanding can only come about through empirical measurements in the field.

What makes coming home so jarring, compared to other returns from other exotic places??isn't simply culture shock. It's human shock, seeing so many people again after dwelling in a place so empty of them.

First Name
Laurence C.
Last Name
Smith
Birth Date
1946
Death Date
2017
Bio

American Geographer, Professor and Chair of Geography and Professor of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences at UCLA