on February 17, 2006
This is outside of my normal reading and any scientific knowledge basis that i might claim. To me, unfamiliar with the literature, it forms an interesting and breezy introduction to the way that mankind may have changed the climate in the past, the way we can study it now, all with the objective of interacting with political and social systems to lessen the impact of climate on our future. The author is an excellent writer, educated in the field, with an obvious gusto and delight that he manages to transmit to the reader, making the book a smooth and engrossing read.
The topic is important, there are substantial issues to understand. This book offers its reader a glimpse into both the issues, the problems and potential solutions. It is not a how-to book in the sense of outlining prescriptions but a book helping us to think better about the topics, an effort i find most stimulating. Its a quick read, it will provoke discussion from the partisans of viewpoints at odds with the author, i can see the reviews panning it now online, but you ought to read it for yourself.
One idea sticks particularly with me. The idea of flickering, of quick oscillations in the weather brought on by instabilities in the system. His image is a switch versus the usual metaphor of a dial, radical movement, rather than slow movement. For this addition to my mental tool i am grateful.
The book is uniform and even in writing, to get an idea of how you will interact with the author and the material just pickup the book at the bookstore and read a few pages at random. There isn't any particular chapter or section i recommend for a quick familiarization. If you have any interest in the topics of: global warming, thermohaline currents in the oceans, the effect of mankind on the climate, this appears to be a good introduction.
thanks for reading the short review.
I read this book immediately after Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers, and it does not compare all that well. Linden takes an historical look at the effect weather has had on past civilizations and on our own time, much of the time writing in a tone which is meant to be informal but often made me feel he was talking down to me, thus detracting from the importance of the subject. (In contrast, Flannery's book is often more technical and certainly more demanding of the reader.) It also bothered me that Linden was constantly referring to and quoting sections from other works, so that the book seemed to be more a summarization than anything else.
I did enjoy Linden's summaries of the impact climate had on the Greenland settlers and the Mayans, the effect of the Little Ice Age on Europe, and the descriptions of the varied impacts of El Ninos on different parts of the world were clear and illuminating. Readers who want a more detailed analysis of these and similar events can find them in Jared Diamond's Collapse and Brian Fagan's Floods Famines and Emperors, The Little Ice Age, and The Long Summer.
The best part of Linden's book comes at the end, when he examines the evidence that sudden changes in climate have occurred in the past and will most likely happen again in the near future, with some ominous predictions of the likely result. These are presented clearly, with additional evidence in the form of a lengthy chronology indicating that strange weather events have certainly been occurring increasingly often in recent years.
I'd recommend this book as a good first step in understanding how weather and climate have affected past and present human history, and then those readers who want deeper coverage can move on to some of the other books I mentioned above.
on June 27, 2006
Eugene Linden's "The Winds of Change" is much like the works of Brian Fagan, who for some time seems to have cornered the weather-as-determiner-of-human-fate business. Like Fagan's books, "The Winds of Change" gives a well documented account of past cultures that have collided with climate change at the worst possible moments. The Maya, probably the classic case and the one most often cited, is included as are the Norse colonies on Greenland.
While Fagan's book on the Little Ice Age included a very thorough discussion of the North Atlantic Oscillation, el Nino and la Nina, and the thermohaline circulation in the Atlantic, Linden's work has the benefit of the author's having visited on site with a number of climatologists studying ocean circulation and what ice and sediment cores have to say about past climate. Linden's book is a discussion of modern climatology as well as a presentation of historic disasters. It would definitely be a good book for a high school library since it reveals a good deal about what the work of a climatologist or oceanographer is like. It also reveals indirectly what it takes to be a good practicing journalist.
What this book does that Fagan's doesn't--at least not directly--is point out the issues facing our own culture. Most sobering is that while the world's cultures have managed to spread the negative impact of disaster among larger numbers of people, indeed has increased it to global proportions rather than to city, state or nation as it has been until even just recently, that same global interdependance increases the world's vulnerability to massive global size disasters. Note that just as the US volunteers during disasters abroad, so too did foreign countries offer aide to the US during hurricaine Katrina. The problem is that disasters occur along a curve of magnitide, with major global disasters occuring least often. They occur least often, but they can occur. Unfortunately how big the disaster and just when it might occur is difficult to predict.
As an example, the ancient Anasazi are believed to have survived in the American Southwest for quite some time despite the instability of their local climate by maintaining connections of obligation between various distant towns and villages. If disaster hit one area, the population could find a home and support further away with family and friends in another area. The entire system collapsed, however, when the climate introduced a downturn of greater severity, duration and territorial distribution than that for which the organization of towns and villages was prepared.
Something along these lines is what Linden predicts might happen to human civilization should the world's climate suddenly change for the worse. His estimate of the liklihood of its doing so is quite high, and he gives good reasons for it, documenting his contentions with statistics and expert testimony.
A sobering discussion of climate and humanity.
This book just edges out "The Weather Makers" by a slight margin that has everything to do with the specific gems I pulled from both and is therefore a very personal even random order. The two together are superior to "When the Rivers Run Dry" and "Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum," the "runners up" in my four book survey.
From my personal focus on non-fiction about national security and prosperity, the authors focus on the fact that climate change can undermine legitimate governments by fostering water scarcity, disease, migration, and hence poverty, was highly relevant.
The author is wonderfully contextual in declaring that the real weapons of mass destruction are these: disease, migration, conflict, and famine. He gives credit to David Key's "Catastrophe," a book I reviewed some time ago, very favorably.
The author identifies climate as the ultimate context for the human playing field, and points out that a series of El Ni�o's in the 19th century may well have killed more people than the two World Wars in the 20th century.
Thus, the author does not show alarm about Global Warming per se, as do many of the more scientific observers, but rather about the manner in which global warming leads directly to the spread of disease, often sparked by drought.
He notes--and this is in the aftermath of the global fright over SARS--that Asia historically produces cataclysmic plagues from weather and water related disease, including the Black Death in 1332. He specifically identifies water as the gold of tomorrow, hence Canada (or separatist Quebec) and Scotland will be quite heavenly.
The chart on page 89 is alone worth the price of the book--showing the rate of change in each decade from the 1950's (10,000 years) to 1980's (100 years) to 1985 (50 years) to 1992 (3 years).
On page 190, without direct reference to the Cheney-Bush regime, he could not have described them better: "Climate's capacity to inflict misery rises steadily when arrogance and ideology hinder a society's adjustments to extreme weather." This is consistent with other books I have reviewed that point out that the difference between disaster (e.g. New Orleans flooding) and catastrophe (e.g. the U.S. Government sitting on its hands) is mind-set--planning mind-set, preparation mind-set, and response mind-set.
Of the four books, this one is the best for the warrior-thinkers as it brings forth the ideas of Mike Davis and on pages 199-200 discusses the triangle of State Decapacitation; Household Poverty; and Ecological Poverty. In the author's view, it is social and political misjudgments that "load" the climate "gun."
The author is consistent with other books I have reviewed for Amazon in pointing out that scientific alarm is sharply at odds with public indifference to climate. Those that think Al Gore will get a second shot from his book (bad) and movie (good) on the environment are delusional.
The author is gently vitriolic in suggesting that governments that claim that climate changes are going to be moderate and incremental as either delusional or deceptive--in today's (2006) White House, both would apply.
The absolute high point of this book--and one that singles the author's perception out as being acute, is when he provides an extremely provocative discussion of the need for "science in real time" in order to detect and understand changes in the deep ocean and high atmosphere that otherwise might not be noticed or known for 3-5 years--which, as the chart on page 89 shows, are now a statistically significant period for climate change. Here I have to give the White House *very* high marks, for their attempts to get all nations to share information from earth observation systems including undersea sensors, sea buoys, ground sensors, aviation sensors, and satellite sensors. That project has been very successful and is now being extended to monitor disease. The problem is that the White House, while advancing the collection of data, refuses to acknowledge the meaning of the data that is arriving.
Citing Kerry Emmanuel of MIT, the author notes that hurricanes have gotten twice as intense in the past 30 years. He goes on to note that Los Angeles is "hosed" in that the best case scenario for that city calls for it to suffer a 50% drop in available water by 2050, absent a major program to desalinate sea water and save the aquifers from further depletion.
According to the author, 9/11 opened a lot of eyes, and actually made some people more sensitive (but see also my reviews of the four books in the series beginning with "The Republican War on Science"). He cites John Dutton of Penn State as stating that $2.7T of the total US economy of $10T is subject to weather related loss of revenue.
As he draws to a close, he gladdens my heart in pointing out that insurance companies are now getting wise, and starting to withhold insurance coverage from the Exxon's of the world with respect to lawsuits for damages and liability in the case of climate change. Just as tobacco companies were ultimately held accountable for covering up the lung cancer risks, so does the author foresee the day when both oil and coal companies are buried by punitive law suits related to their negative impact on the climate and their lies to the courts and the legislatures (remember, its not the sex, it's the lying about the sex that draws the greatest punishment).
The author ends the book with a fine chronology, 18 pages long, on changes in climate and changes in views about climate change from the 1950's to date.
In addition to this book I would certainly recommend E. O. Wilson's "The Future of Life" and J. F. Rischard's "HIGH NOON: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them."
on June 27, 2006
This is a very important book. It brings the last 15 years' worth of paleoclimatic research out into the open where the layman (and, with any luck, the politician and the industrialist) can see it. I find it astonishing that before the 1990s we knew very little about long-term climate trends, and even more astonishing that we've made so much progress since. Linden lays out the evidence of the last 15 years of research and analysis that indicates that events of extreme climate change have unfolded over just a few years, in some cases a decade or less.
As important and illuminating as the book is, it has some shortcomings. Linden, as a journalist, compiles his story from the writings (augmented by interviews) of the researchers. As a result, the continuous stream of references tends to overwhelm the reader. Perhaps an appendix with a concise table of cited researchers and a summary of their contributions would provide the reader with a way to periodically reorient himself. Such reader orientation is especially important because Linden often presents the same material in different contexts, giving you that deja vu feeling. (Other reviewers have complained about this "repetition," but I see it as more a case of replaying earlier material to make a different point, or to apply a different emphasis, in a slightly different context.)
Linden uses several figures and graphs in the text that are insufficiently explained, or not even explained at all. The figure that introduces Chapter 8 is a case in point. I can find no way to map a meaning onto this figure, and the text does not refer to it even once.
Perhaps the most serious criticism I have concerns the explanation of the Coriolis effect on page 103, which is not merely misleading but flat-out wrong. (The explanation depends upon the assertion that the Earth turns towards the West!) Now, this is a serious criticism not because it's important that the reader understands how the Coriolis force arises (it actually doesn't matter), but because it casts doubt on Linden's other scientific explanations. If he has so misunderstood the Coriolis force, what else has he misunderstood and consequently (and unwittingly) misrepresented? After my experience with the bogus explanation of the Coriolis effect, I found myself not even trying to get my head around subsequent scientific explanations that were at all challenging. My feeling was that there probably wouldn't be enough information and detail to get a good grasp, and even if there were it might be inaccurate or wrong. The ironic result was that it made for a much faster read.
Incidentally, it must be said that the Coriolis force is a devilishly difficult concept to grasp. You can find good explanations of it on the Web, as well as sites that try to dispel the misconceptions surrounding it.
Shortcomings aside, this book assembles compelling evidence that Earth is warming rapidly, that if this trend continues on its present course global catastrophe will result, and that the catastrophe may be very near at hand. We live in scary times.
A concise book written by an experienced science journalist with considerable experience and knowledge related to climate change. This clearly written book is not about global climate change in general but about the specific possibility that rapid, rather than gradual changes could occur in climate. Rapid in this context means events occurring in the years to decades range rather than the decades to centuries range usually discussed. Linden does a good job of discussing emerging evidence for rapid climate change events, covering both the evidence itself and how paleoclimatologists reconstruct the past. His descriptions of the 'machinery' of global climate are very good, though they would have been helped by a few graphics. He describes how some reconstructions of past climate events, in both the remote and recent past, help to explain the fall of some civilizations and contributed to major humanitarian disasters. Linden is concerned particularly with underscoring the possibility that rapid and hard to predict climate events would occur in a burst with devastating consequences. This is an alarmist book, but Linden's point is cogent and rational.
on April 6, 2006
Aside from the fact that Lindens prose is ponderous and confusing in some points (he tends to include too many parenthetic side comments that would be better off if approached directly), and he is mainly reporting on research from one large climate group at Columbia University, this is a comprehensive account of the evolution of our understanding of the variability of climate in the near past as it applies to our near future.
Linden starts out by setting the table with the relationship of climate to the growth and collapse of civilisations in the past. Some of these stories are speculative, but he makes no pretense that what he is presenting is anything else, he is trying to present the potential outcomes for the present.
Much of what he does here is present summaries of other, older books. Then he talks about our changing understanding of the potential rate of change in basic climate features, centering on the Atlantic Conveyor, in which warm ocean water travels north as the gulf stream, and upon reaching the arctic cools, becomes more salty, and sinks to the bottom. This the mechanism that is widely believed to be important in keeping Europe warm. He points out that our normal expectations that climate will stay next to the historical means is not good, that there have been important and recent periods in which climate varied in ways that had devastating impacts on civilization is important. The standard deviation of the climate system is more dangerous than the mean is something that most economic modelers have not taken to heart when examining the potential impacts of climate change: thus the long term mean in precipitation does not say how often drought or flooding will occurr, and the number of hurricanes does not say anything about the strength of hurricanes.
This is an excellent book for the interested layman. I learned much from it about the current state of the science. Its many stylistic imperfections do not outweigh the importance of public understanding of the information he presents. Buy this book. buy it for your senators and representatives. They need to finally know this material.
The "debate" over climate change, its causes and impacts, is beginning to wind down. Anyone asserting that climate change isn't occuring, or denying that humanity is a major factor in global warming, is living in the dark. What is of concern now is the determination of how the mechanisms work. One aspect of those mechanisms is learning how rapidly the change can occur. According to Linden, even naturally occuring climate change can be swift and tumultuous. In this well-written account, the author reviews the evidence for early climate shifts and their impact on early human societies. He follows the scientists and their research results in building a framework for how climate works, and what its past impact has been. Linden reminds his readers that however they consider climate, they must remember that it is the background "playing field" in which our society operates.
If any one term permeates this narrative, the word is "flicker". No word better imparts the idea that a shift in climate, once started, enters a raceaway path. Long used to relatively stable climate, our species has little concept of how swiftly regional, or even global long-term weather patterns, can alter. Linden finds the rapidity of change the major threat for our society, just as it eliminated ancient ones. His primary example is an uncompleted wall in the Akkadian site of Tell Leilan. From the evidence, workers simply "downed tools" or were ordered to stop. Drought had curtailed the food supply. Today, the causes of such events are better known. From an interrupted North Atlantic Current to the vagaries of El Nino, Linden explains how changes in these phenomena have long-reaching effects. When the complexities of climate change encounter the complexities of civilisation, the results can only be momentous. When the climate change is rapid, the effect can be catastrophic. Ask the Moche, Mayan societies or the Norse in Greenland. As the book repeatedly demonstrates, shifts in climate have obliterated stable societies. The present one is just as vulnerable as the ancient ones and, unlike the earlier civilisations, there is no place to relocate to in the event of harsh conditions.
In one sense, this book could be considered as "Collapse Lite". Jared Diamond's account of vanished civilisations is marked by a combination of natural forces and human folly. Linden is less condemnatory of our hubris, but warns that our studied ignorance of natural climate issues could blindly lead us to disaster instead of discomfort. Like Diamond, Linden recognises that the US, as the planet's leading polluter, must take the most immediate and long-term steps in both curbing the pollution and preparing for its effects. Although a less massive tome, Linden's book is more comprehensive and direct in its findings and recommendations. He lists sufficient human disasters due to climate that he can dub it a "serial killer". While our present condition appears stable, it likely seemed similar to the ancients. Yet, they were overwhelmed by unanticipated shifts of climate.
There are many reasons to recommend this book. The writing is less polemical than some of the recent books on the subject. On the other hand, Linden is unequivically harsh with climate change "skeptics" and the current US administration for its failure to recognise and address the issues involved. The author's approach is clearly mass market, but he shouldn't be condemned for that. The complexities of climate change, if not readily grasped, must at least be introduced to the widest possible audience. It is the reading public which must demand action from political leaders. That public will be the ones most effected if abrupt climate shifts are in the forecast for tomorrow. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
on February 11, 2011
Eugene Linden's The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather, and the Destruction of Civilizations (2006 269 pages) is a different perspective on the implications of global warming. Linden, a journalist who has been writing about global science issues, especially the environment, for many years, has looked at the dangers of global warming from a different angle: he suggests that climate changes may be extremely rapid. He reviews several ancient civilizations (Part I) to suggest that they collapsed because of rapid changes in the weather, even though the more common view is that they collapsed because of internal problems, invasion, and several other standard causes cited for the collapse of ancient civilizations. In Part II, he follows his review of civilizations with an analysis of the changes in scientific opinion about the rapidity of climate change over the past twenty years or so as the tools for analysing past weather conditions have improved. He also talks about the complexities of the global weather system in terms which a layman can understand.
In Part III, he applies recent understandings about how rapidly climate can change to the civilizations discussed in Part I. His conclusions that weather has played a major role in man's history and that these specific civilizations were impacted by rapid climate changes is compelling. In Part IV, he discusses the El Nino event, what it is, what it does, why it does what it does, and the impact that it has on countries in both the eastern and western hemispheres. Some knowledge of climate terminology would be useful, but it's a fascinating section. Part V talks about the impact of El Nino, which he calls a "small" portion of the weather machine, on India in 1877 and again in 1896-1897, in which tens of millions of Indians died each time. The death tolls in China and the rest of the world, he suggests, may have been even greater, but good records are not available as they are for India. He talks about the effect of the 1987-88 El Nino event in terms of Europe and the United States and the gigantic financial damages done.
After carefully preparing the reader for his discussion of global warming, he devotes Part VI to the present and future. Since his thesis is that climate changes can take place very rapidly, although they may "flicker," that is, go through a decades long period in which there are extreme weather events, but not quite a total change, before finally shifting into a climate regime, he talks about some of the effects which changes in the global weather machine might have worldwide, things like a stoppage of the gulf stream which provides warmth to western Europe. I suggest that Linden was trying not to be an alarmist, but the chapter, especially since we have knowledge of the past 4 years and what has not been done, is alarming.
Does he prove his point? In the sense that his main hypothesis is that we don't know the future and that we could hit a major climate "trip wire" at any point, I think he clearly makes his point. The book is not advocacy, as much as it is informational, although alarming, especially since it was written in the Bush administration when all legislative considerations for the environment were essentaily shut down. Despite President Obama's best efforts, we've seen the climate bill tabled and the Kyoto Procedures shredded. That is why one wishes the book were advocacy. It's an interesting book, and I recommend it to anyone interested in climate and the potential impacts of global warming.
I chose to read Linden's book because of a reference to it in Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway's Merchants of Doubt: How A Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2010 see my review). Merchants of Doubt is definitely advocacy, but I recommend it to anyone interested in why global warming is not the controversial issue free market/anti-regulation advocates work so hard to make the American people think it is. I'm glad I read Linden's book; it's a different approach to an understanding of a very serious problem
The book builds to a crescendo, especially if one reads the appendix -- 20 pages of "flickering" climate effects -- which follows it, a listing of severe events over the past 25 years, events which we've all lived through and remember, including the constant revising of the hottest year on record through the 90s and the first portion of the 2000s. Five years after the book was written, the NOAA report, January 12, 2011 states that "2010 tied with 2005 as the warmest year of the global surface temperature record, beginning in 1880. This was the 34th consecutive year with global temperatures above the 20th century average. For the contiguous United States alone, the 2010 average annual temperature was above normal, resulting in the 23rd warmest year on record." Climate may again have a devastating effect on man's history.
on December 6, 2006
"The Winds Of Change" By Eugene Linden. Subtitled: "Climate, Weather And the Destruction Of Civilizations". Simon & Schuster, New York 2006.
I found this book difficult to concentrate on; what is his central thesis? If the author had clearly stated that climate had killed civilizations in the past and that climate can kill in the future, it would have been sufficient. But, Eugene Linden drags in history from here and there, and mixes the history with some geological theories and then does not come to a conclusion...in my humble opinion. Are we facing another Ice Age? Or, are we going to melt away with no oxygen?
For example, on pages 84 & 85, he has both the English and the Spanish using biological weapons to eliminate the hostile natives, and he quotes Alfred Crosby's book, "Ecological Imperialism", 1993, as justification. Very well. But, what has this to do with climate killing off civilizations? Then, the author appears to like the historical Norse, or Vikings, so much so that he gives us a history lesson about the Battle of Hastings, 1066. It seems that Harold on one side of the Channel, and William from the other side, were really Norsemen. Very well. And, just as my aside, the Norse founded many Irish cities, such as Dublin (988 A.D.), but this fact also has little bearing on the central thesis of this book.
From an engineering point of view, if Mr. Linden would give us two graphs it would help. The first would show the dramatic changes in climate over the eons...perhaps mean temperatures or sea levels. The second graph would document the catastrophic destruction of the individual civilizations. Put one graph over the other and if there be a statistically significant correlation, then he has made his point. Right now, however, the book jumps in and out of history and into science and opinions, so that the book meanders too much.
Dating: the author jumps back and forth, using C.E. for "Common Era" and then A.D., "Anno Domini." I liked the synopsis at the back of the book, "Chronology", from pages 270 to 288