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With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change Hardcover – March 15, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Pearce (When the Rivers Run Dry) presents some climate modelers' frightening predictions about the consequences of increased global warming. After studying the history of the earth's climate changes, these scientists have learned that, under pressure from natural forces, major shifts can happen abruptly. Today, with the added stress of human interference, irreversible changes could threaten the habitability of our planet. For example, drought and fire could cause the Amazon rainforest to disappear; huge amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that can be 100 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, could be released by the meltdown of Siberian peat; and aerosol emissions in India and China could end the indispensable Asian monsoon. Hard-line skeptics disagree, of course, but Pearce cites highly respected scientists who assert that the threats have been underestimated, especially by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Even President Bush's chief climate modeler notes that the glaciers and ice sheets at the poles are disintegrating at alarming rates and warns that we may be only a decade and one degree of warming away from global catastrophe. The science behind climate studies is complex, but Pearce makes it accessible enough to terrify even the most uninitiated layperson. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Pearce, author of When the River Runs Dry (2006), prides himself on being a skeptical environmental journalist, and now, after covering climate change for 18 years, he has no doubt that we are "interfering with the fundamental processes that make Earth habitable." Believing that everyone needs to understand exactly what is happening on the planet, Pearce consults with experts on ocean currents, polar ice, the carbon cycle, methane, and soot; reports on the rapid melting of polar ice and the Siberian permafrost, the "brown haze" of Asia, and record-breaking heat waves, droughts, and wildfires; and explains that because the earth's systems are intricately interconnected and finely calibrated, small alterations can have abrupt and enormous consequences. Pearce presents a cogent rundown of the findings that establish greenhouse gases as a global warming catalyst and, most disturbingly, provides careful analysis of evidence indicating that climatic change has never been gradual. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; 1 edition (March 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807085766
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807085769
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,144,899 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Fred Pearce, author of The New Wild, is an award-winning author and journalist based in London. He has reported on environmental, science, and development issues from eighty-five countries over the past twenty years. Environment consultant at New Scientist since 1992, he also writes regularly for the Guardian newspaper and Yale University's prestigious e360 website. Pearce was voted UK Environment Journalist of the Year in 2001 and CGIAR agricultural research journalist of the year in 2002, and he won a lifetime achievement award from the Association of British Science Writers in 2011. His many books include With Speed and Violence, Confessions of an Eco-Sinner, The Coming Population Crash, and The Land Grabbers.

Photo Copyright Photographer Name: Fred Pearce, 2012.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Balbach on March 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fred Pearce is a journalist with 'New Scientist' magazine who has been writing about climate change since the 1980s. With a background writing for a popular science magazine he is naturally skilled at quickly distilling complex science into a readable and understandable narrative for the educated lay reader and placing things in the big picture. But he is also grounded and objective, saying in the Introduction "I am a skeptical environmentalist" but that "climate change is different.. the more I learn.. the more scared I get.. because this story adds up."

Pearce goes through a checklist of major concerns scientists are looking at: Melting ice in Greenland and the Arctic. Glaciological "monsters" lurking in Pine Island Bay and Totten glacier. The stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet. El Nino getting stuck, trigger droughts or super-storms. The Amazon rain forest disappearing due to drought or fire. The acidification of the oceans. Damage to the atmospheric hydroxyl smog cleaning system. Influences of the stratosphere on global warming. Methane releases from melting arctic bogs. The North Atlantic conveyor belt shutdown. Frozen undersea methane clathrates. The impact of soot. The unknown factor of clouds. The many ways the sun and the earths orbit effects climate change. And much more.

In addition he covers a bit of history including a history of the debate between the the polar and tropical camps on what is the driver of climate change. His explanation of El Nino was simple yet it finally made sense to me how it works and why it is so important.

Interleaved throughout is the common narrative that climate is not a steady beast, but an unpredictable "drunk", who prodded a little can go off in a sudden unexpected bender. This is an excellent overview that is easy to read, fascinating, well written roller-coaster of ideas and insights.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By George Bush HALL OF FAME on May 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Type I climate change is gradual and follows the graphs of most climate modelers; Type II is much more abrupt and results from crossing hidden "tipping points." Pearce explains what some of these tipping points in a credible and balanced manner.

Charles Keeling began collecting CO2 data at the top of Mauna Loa (14,000 feet) in 1958 (315 ppm), 320 in 1965, 331 in 1975, and 380 now - the level is increasing at an accelerating rate. Nineteen of the twenty warmest years have occurred since 1980, and the five warmest years all since 1998. Thus, credible evidence indicates that global problem is real, and getting worse.

Skeptics claim, however, that weather balloon data do not reveal a daytime warming trend. Pearce explains this is most likely because until recently the thermometers used read too high because they were not shielded from UV rays; further, balloon night-time readings have risen during the same period. Others suggest that warming data are due to urban "heat islands" - on the other hand, the greatest increases are in the polar and oceanic areas, and the "heat island" effect are not affected by windy weather. Another possible explanation is sunspots - data from 1850 onward correlates well with temperature increases, UNTIL 1980 when sunspot activity began declining while warming continued. Finally, a review of almost 1,000 peer-reviewed papers on climate change published between 1993 and 2003 found an almost universal consensus that global warming exists.

"With Speed and Violence" then goes on to review potential tipping points. The Amazon rainforest is the largest living reservoir of CO2 on the earth's land surface - its trees contain 17 billion tons of carbon and its soil perhaps as much again.
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74 of 87 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on May 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Researchers in human-caused climate change have fallen into two camps. Even though all the scientists in the field have shown beyond reasonable doubt that the Earth's climate is changing, one camp believes that changes will be gradual, while the other camp is concerned about abrupt cataclysmic changes that will bring us the worst horrors of global warming all at once. In other words, climate change theorists have largely broken into the "gradualism" vs. "catastrophism" camps, not unlike their counterparts in the sciences of evolution or geology. This book presents the latest scientific advances in the catastrophist school, and Pearce writes in a very readable style about some truly startling evidence. For instance, the melting icecaps could add vast amounts of cold and fresh water to the warm and salty ocean, possibly leading to an abrupt deactivation of the crucial Gulf Stream. Such global warming-related events would not be gradual, and precise tipping points could be reached that would have sudden and very catastrophic effects around the world.

But while much of the material in this book is quite fascinating for the concerned citizen, and would probably be a shock to the politicized skeptic, there is a real problem with Pearce's presentation style. Pearce is a magazine writer, and his skill in creating short hard-hitting articles does not translate well into book form. Here, an avalanche of different scientific topics zoom by in brief chapters averaging about five pages in length, resulting in a lot of introductions but very little in-depth analysis or closure. Meanwhile, the myriad topics eventually drift into increasingly conjectural theories and historical coverage of weather-related natural disasters, all of which drift away from the main topic of human-caused climate change.
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