- Series: Boston Review Books
- Hardcover: 96 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press; 1 edition (August 31, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262050897
- ISBN-13: 978-0262050890
- Product Dimensions: 4.5 x 0.2 x 7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 46 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,257,655 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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What We Know About Climate Change (Boston Review Books) 1st Edition
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At just 128 pages, Emanuel's book clearly and succinctly explains the current state of the science of climate change. —Coral Davenport
"Emanuel"s words are measured and authoritative. His book should help reduce the huge gap between what is understood by the scientific community and what is known by the people who need to know, the public and policymakers."James Hansen , NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
"Kerry Emanuel's book What We Know About Climate Change is one of the best [books on climate change] and is certainly the shortest. In less time than it takes to eat dinner, the respected atmospheric scientist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor filters out the noise and presents clearly the essence of the issues that surround global warming." The Plain Dealer
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Top customer reviews
Chp. 1. The myth of natural stability: The earth's climate has been extremely variable - "snowball earth" and "giant trees near the North Pole." The greenhouse effect explains a lot about this.
Chp. 2. Greenhouse physics: Without the greenhouse effect, the earth would be about 0 degrees, not 60. Without air currents, it would be about 85 degrees.
Chp. 3. Why the climate problem is difficult: Clouds. Also, natural variation is so large that it takes about 30 years to detect the human contribution. "The lack of appreciable global warming over the first decade of the current millennium is, ... entirely consistent with ... warming" [this is new].
Chp. 4. Determining humanity's influence: There are two ways, the actual temperature record and computer models. A good explanation of the problems of models, and why they're likely good enough. (Too bad the graph still only goes up to 2000.)
Chp. 5. The consequences: Yes, there are benefits. The negatives: (1) Three to 7 degrees warming and more over land, (2) sea level rise, (3) more frequent strong hurricanes, (4) more flooding and drought, (5) ocean already 30% more acidic [new and important].
Chp. 6. Communicating science: Some IPCC findings and a critique of how, "In their quest to publish the drama of competing dogmas, the media largely ignore mainstream scientists."
Chp. 7. Our options: (1) Mitigation - conservation, alternative energy, capturing carbon, (2) adaptation, (3) geoengineering - a last resort. This chapter is new and adds little.
Chp. 8. The politics: Largely a plea for Republicans to be reasonable; Emmanual has been a Republican most of his life. Also, "Climate research has been a victim of a disturbing phenomenon: the use of advanced marketing techniques to discredit scientific findings." This chapter is much stronger than in the first edition.
The interest of the book is in its scientific explanations and its perspective on how science works and how politics gets in the way of our making use of it.
I have only one small complaint. Chapter 3 tells us that doubling atmospheric CO2 (all else held constant) would raise the average surface temperature by about 1.9°F (up from 1.4°F in the first edition). But no estimate is given for the full effect when all else is not held constant. That crucial "climate sensitivity" is usually put at 5.4°F (3°C) and Emanuel explains clearly such a value is mainly due to positive feedbacks from water vapor and clouds.
He implies that water vapor is well understood, so what is the impact of doubling CO2 if only the water vapor feedback is taken into account? That would tell us how much is riding on the models of clouds that Emanuel tells us are so uncertain. I'm looking forward to the third edition.
PS. James Hansen is better on paleoclimate science.
The book explains a little about basic greenhouse physics, which goes back 150 years and is not controversial at all. We learn that without greenhouse gases our planet would be 60 degrees cooler and that water vapour and carbon dioxide are the two most important greenhouse gases regulating our planet's temperature. We learn a little bit about Earth's past climate and natural climate cycles and how we can differentiate between natural causes and human causes for climate change. The book also discusses ocean acidification, the usefulness of climate models, and what we can expect in the future. In the last chapter the book explains how politics got into the picture and how it has warped the public's understanding of the topic.
I should say that I believe I understand this topic relatively well (for being a layman). I've read perhaps around a hundred research articles on the topic, dozens of books, and I have a degree in physics. Therefore I did not learn much new from this book. What the book did for me (in a short time) was to highlight the core information about climate change. It helped me organize and summarize my understanding.
However, I still think the book was a little too brief in some aspects. The book did not discuss much of the quite compelling evidence we have that the global warming we are observing is human caused and not let say the sun, such as the nature of the warming, that less heat is escaping into space, evidence from spectroscopy, etc. Some debunking of the most typical "climate skeptic" arguments could also have been included. I think it would have been nice to have references and suggestions for further reading; books or articles for more serious readers. On the other hand I think the author might have left out that information intentionally to keep it simple, sweet and non-argumentative, so it is still five stars from me. I should add that my edition did not include an afterword. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to gain a basic understanding of climate change. I also recommend the book to people who already know something about the topic but still want a concise and reliable summary.
The one plot in the book had labels that were hopelessly confusing, and was printed on such a small part of the page that it simply wasn't clear.
This book does not explain, it summarizes,and there is little scientific detail. The book takes a high minded approach that gives an overview of the science with very little attempt at digging into numbers, formulas or even examples.
This book provides no fuel for a discussion with a "denier". I think the book was written as though the goal was to avoid anything that wasn't 101% absolutely proven.
It is a rather conservative and non controversial book, mostly restating what has been widely known for many years. I really wouldn't recommend this book for anyone with an understanding of science beyond the high school level. Although it might be appropriate for some congressmen.
I was also disappointed that there was no discussion of trade-off involved in prospective solutions.But I can't blame the author for not cracking that genuinely perplexing and difficult issue in so short a brochure.