Posted by: JohnnyRook | July 3, 2008

Book Review: What We Know About Climate Change by Kerry Emanuel

As books go, this one is very short. That, however, is one of it’s strengths. By leaving out the details of climate change, which one can find in many other books and reports, and focusing instead on a synthesis of our current knowledge of climate science, Dr. Emanuel has written an extremely useful summary.

I have read many books on global warming, climate change, or, to use the term that I prefer, Climaticide. This volume is one of the most useful for the non-scientist because it presents all the major concepts in a concise, clearly written, yet comprehensive account.

In the first five chapters Dr. Emanuel informs us about two competing views of nature and climate, the physics of greenhouse gases, how we know that climate change is occurring, what the role of humans in causing current climate change is, and what the probable consequences are. Each o these chapters are small gems of exposition and explanation.

Chapter six, which is about the relationship between science and the media, is less useful, probably because it is more political and the author is trying so hard to be evenhanded. The results of this attempt at a balanced description is actually to distort somewhat the history he is recounting.

In attempting to explain why the public still thinks that there is a scientific controversy over the basic facts of anthropogenic climate change, Emanuel points out that “…a dwindling number of deniers [are] constantly tapped for interviews by journalists who pretend to look for balance. Unfortunately, he then does the same thing himself writing that “On the left, an argument emerged urging fellow scientists to deliberately exaggerate their findings to galvanize an apathetic public…”. This is an awkward statement by a normally deft stylist, and one is left wondering which, if any, scientists made this “argument”.

Chapter seven on “The Politics of Global Climate Change” contains some equally odd attempts at balance. For example, there is a very irrelevant reference to Senator Ted Kennedy’s NIMBY opposition to offshore windmills. The afterward by Judith A Layzer and Willia R. Moomaw presents a much more accurate depiction of the current political complexities involved in stopping Climaticide.

The weaknesses that I mention do not affect the book’s overall value. The first five chapters alone make it worth owning and, as I think you will find, it can be profitably reread many times.


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