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The Discovery of Global Warming: Revised and Expanded Edition (New Histories of Science, Technology, and Medicine) Revised Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674031890
ISBN-10: 067403189X
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Charting the evolution and confirmation of the theory [of global warming], Weart dissects the interwoven threads of research and reveals the political and societal subtexts that colored scientists’ views and the public reception their work received. (Andrew C. Revkin New York Times Book Review)

From the Back Cover

A Capricious Beast Ever since the days when he had trudged around fossil lake basins in Nevada for his doctoral thesis, Wally Broecker had been interested in sudden climate shifts. The reported sudden jumps of CO2 in Greenland ice cores stimulated him to put this interest into conjunction with his oceanographic interests. The result was a surprising and important calculation. The key was what Broecker later described as a "great conveyor belt'"of seawater carrying heat northward. . . . The energy carried to the neighborhood of Iceland was "staggering," Broecker realized, nearly a third as much as the Sun sheds upon the entire North Atlantic. If something were to shut down the conveyor, climate would change across much of the Northern Hemisphere... There was reason to believe a shutdown could happen swiftly. In many regions the consequences for climate would be spectacular. Broecker was foremost in taking this disagreeable news to the public. In 1987 he wrote that we had been treating the greenhouse effect as a 'cocktail hour curiosity, ' but now 'we must view it as a threat to human beings and wildlife.' The climate system was a capricious beast, he said, and we were poking it with a sharp stick.
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Product Details

  • Series: New Histories of Science, Technology, and Medicine (Book 13)
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Revised edition (October 31, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067403189X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674031890
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #271,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book talks about the history of the discovery of global warming. It starts from the early attempts to understand the ice ages, and reveals how scientists work by learning from their mistakes and revising their theories. I would recommend this book not only for those interested in the scientific history of climate change, but also for those interested in how scientists find out about the world we live in. Of course, as we can see from some reviewers, not everybody like the what scientists uncover.

I'm a scientist, and I use this book in a course that teaches different approaches to complex problems. Climate science is one heck of a complex problem, and the history of its science presents a fascinating introduction to how interdisciplinarity is necessary in some cases. Most of my students, many of whom are science phobic, enjoy the book and find it eye opening.

Pros: Really well written, accessible, easy to follow, and tells a fascinating history.
Cons: It may be a little dry to someone not that interested in science.
Bottom line: great intro to climate change science history.
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Format: Paperback
A centrally important study in the vital center is Spencer Weart's "The Discovery of Global Warming," first published in 2004 but updated in 2008. This masterful synthesis seeks to understand the manner in which scientists came to a consensus on global warming theory, and relates the internal conflicts plaguing the research community and the role government entities such as NASA and NOAA have played in fostering research and analysis. Weart finds this a messy process, as all science is, in which researchers undertake investigations that lead in unproductive directions, insist on theories that prove incorrect, argue among themselves over points small and great, and allow egos and identities to intrude into the scientific process.

Notwithstanding such difficulties, the process moved forward and the result was a resulting portrait of vast, chaotic weather systems that over time yielded an understanding of climate chance on Earth. He author insists that through concerted efforts over more than 150 years scientists came to a consensus that a number of human interventions, including the burning of carbon fuels and the use of aerosols, have created the current situation and some among them have been clamoring for a public policy response since the 1980s.

This only came about because of a long process of incremental research rather than through dramatic discovery. Weart quotes one climate scientist involved in this process as characterizing climate science as a "capricious beast" and "we were poking it with a sharp stick" (p. 141). It was much harder to understand and more wily than they first realized.
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Format: Paperback
The Discovery of Global Warming, Spencer R. Weart, Harvard University Press, 2003, 228 pages, $24.95, ISBN 0-674-01157-0 and the associated web pages located at [...]

The Discovery of Global Warming is a well-written, concise history of the science of climate change and the resulting discovery of global warming. From Arrhenius in 1896 breaking with the assumption of an unchanging Earth climate through to the politics of the Kyoto accords and New York Times headlines, Spencer Weart's book traces how science, often esoteric science, combines and builds a consistent overall view. Climate can and does change, and not merely over geological time scales but over the scale of a human lifetime. Understanding both the data and the models required to connect the data with natural processes has not been easy. The subtlety of data from ice cores, lakebeds, stratospheric winds, and local weather stations ultimately yields the punch line of "global warming" but it's the chase, not the capture, that is the heart of this book.

This chase has turned out to have far more twists, turns, and blind alleys than most would have guessed at the time. What controls the climate? Is it the variation of the Sun, as noted by Herschel in the eighteenth century? Is it the stability of the cold deep waters of the ocean? Or the transformation of old growth forests to grazing land? Greenhouse gases trapped in tropical forests? Or hidden away in blue-green algae? And what of the petrochemical haze of Los Angeles and the killing fog of London? What is a symptom and what is a cause? And further, what do the symptoms truly imply?
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The Discovery of Global Warming is a very good introduction to climate science (CS) as a whole. While CS is generally seen as a recent development by the general public it has been around for quite a while. Weart does a fine job of detailing the both the development of CS and the reason scientists became interested.

One of the more interesting aspects Weart brings out is how early items such as soot, water vapor, climate cycles, sun spots, etc. were recognized as contributing elements and addressed.

CS began as an attempt to explain the ice ages, but early on CO2 was identified as a wild card that may affect the earth's climate. Weart identifies the various players in the early science, and the contributions of each.

CS picked up in the 1950's as a scientific field, and Weart covers this very well. It is interesting to learn that so much of CS was due to military research on climate and weather, stemming from the WWII experiences, and an appreciation of how a better understanding of how weather works could help shipping and possible military operations. Early attempts at climate modeling are covered, along with the struggle to determine causes of differing weather effects, and which agents would have a greater effect over the long term.

Overall, Weart covers CS from it's inception to the present, describing the major players, how the science evolved, how it became international in scope, and a broad look at political reaction. This is a good history that will inform on how climate science has developed. This book does not concentrate at all on the deniers, and the efforts by industry and some politicians, think tanks, etc. to subvert the consensus on global warming. Descriptions of the science are necessarily broad, this is not a technical manual on how the science works. If you want a book that will cover the overall arc of CS, from the beginning glimmers of an idea to the present, this is a well worthwhile acquisition.
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