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What We Know About Climate Change (Boston Review Books) 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262050890
ISBN-10: 0262050897
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Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

At just 128 pages, Emanuel's book clearly and succinctly explains the current state of the science of climate change. —Coral Davenport --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.


"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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Product Details

  • 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
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,121,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Steven Stoft on January 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read many books on climate change when I was researching my own. This is the best I've found on the essential science of climate change. Dr. Kerry Emanuel is a first-rate (MIT) climate scientist who is properly skeptical of his own field. He writes clearly and concisely, and this is an extremely short book. Here are some hints of what is in the chapters and what's new in this edition.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
Dr. Emanuel does a superb job of separating the wheat from the chaff in this little gem. It's virtually impossible for the average layman to separate conspiracy theory nonsense from fear-mongering reading most books and popular press articles on global warming. But Emanuel presents a sound authoritative analysis of what we really do and don't know.
Unlike many other books on global warming, which bury the reader with a plethora of out-of-context quotes, tables of data, and cherry-picked charts, Emanuel presents just enough solid data for the reader to understand the whole issue.
He covers the philosophic underpinnings of different views, the history of global warming, the science, and finally the politics. When put together in this fashion, readers will educate themselves properly.
Before reading this book, I spent months and months reading peer reviewed scientific journal articles, web-site after web-site, and many popular press articles. Had I read Dr. Emanuel's book sooner I could have obtained the same final position with much less work and time invested.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Be forewarned this is a very small book: 82 pages of text, one B&W figure and no references. On a typical page I counted 120 words. I spotted no typos. I found only one sentence where I thought the physical explanation was muddled. The text could provide an excellent narration to a video documentary. A typical citizen needing to get wise about the physics of global warming might be better served by something more than a book without graphics.

Nevertheless, the book is a very quick read and professionals in this field may still enjoy scouring the pages of this book to find out where Professor Emanuel stands on certain issues. I got my money's worth on page 67 where we can read: "Scientists are most effective when they provide sound, impartial advice, but their reputation for impartiality is severely compromised by the shocking lack of political diversity among American academics, who suffer from the kind of group-think that develops in cloistered cultures. Until this profound and well-documented intellectual homogeneity changes, scientists will be suspected of constituting a leftist think tank."

15 of the 82 pages are not Prof. Emanuel's words, but is an "Afterword" provided by other authors. These words carry less authority. For example, the Afterword attributes the melting of the snows of Kilimanjaro to global warming, but some recent scientific research implicates land use changes around Kilimanjaro.

The Afterword also lays out a plan to save us from global warming, with a claim that "addressing global warming could be relatively painless". Here is the plan: "the United States and other industrial economies reduce their emissions by three percent per year between now and mid-century" which will ultimately "reduce global emissions by 75 percent or more". Some of the means to do this provide a chuckle: "driving less aggressively". No account is made for global population growth and global ambitions for prosperity.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"What We Know About Climate Change" by Kerry Emanuel is a short and concise summary of what we know about climate change. It focuses on a small amount of important and well understood topics and facts and presents them without much detail and without going deep into the science. That does not mean that the book is not informative. So called "climate skeptics" are bombarding us with misleading propaganda whilst the media rarely explains much about climate change (or global warming). The result is that the general public is misinformed, know very little about the topic, and know virtually nothing about why we know what we know. This makes every page a potential eye opener to someone who does not know much about the topic.

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.
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