- Series: New Histories of Science, Technology, and Medicine (Book 13)
- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; 2 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: 20 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #297,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Discovery of Global Warming: Revised and Expanded Edition (New Histories of Science, Technology, and Medicine) 2nd Edition
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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.
Top customer reviews
Excerpt from review by Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times Sunday Book Review, 10/5/2003:
"Debate persists over the extent of human-driven warming and what to do about it. But recognition that in a short span our species has nudged the thermostat of the planet remains a momentous, and sobering, finding. "The Discovery of Global Warming" describes the intellectual journey toward that conclusion, with all of its false starts, flawed hypotheses, inventiveness and persistent uncertainties. It reveals the effort as one of the great exercises in collective sleuthing, with pivotal insights provided by experts in fields as varied as glaciology, physics and even plankton paleontology."
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.
As the book shows, serious climate science is only about 50 years old. Before then, scientists lacked even basic data about the climate and had no models to show how the climate behaved over time. Things are different now. Climate science draws on many disciplines -- from oceanography to solar physics -- and has developed robust climate models. These do a good job of reproducing past changes in global temperatures -- and they warn us to be worried about the future if we don't get our act together soon.
"The Discovery of Global Warming" tells this fascinating story. It is short and clearly written. I took away four main points:
-- the climate is more complicated and less stable (because of positive feedback loops) than anyone imagined prior to the 1970s;
-- climate science (like any science) has developed tentatively and unevenly, with many false starts (especially in its early years), as theories were refined or rejected in the light of new findings and better climate models;
-- the world has been heating up rapidly for several decades and will continue to do so in the 21st century if we don't get greenhouse gas emissions under control; and
-- business interests that profit from the production of greenhouse gases have funded huge campaigns to spread bogus doubts about global warming and to defeat efforts at regulation.
Which brings us back to Will and his ilk. As climate science has matured, it has discarded mistaken theories. These included early beliefs that the oceans would absorb our surplus CO2 and that air pollution might tip the world into an ice age. Although error-discovery and self-correction are signs of a real science, polemicists like Will (whose wife is a business lobbyist and Republican operative) can always cherrypick the history of climate science and use it to impugn the entire field. Fortunately, fewer and fewer people (and virtually no non-Americans) listen to them anymore. I wonder if Will refuses to see doctors because they used to believe in humors.
I took off one star mainly because "The Discovery of Global Warming" has almost no actual climate science in it. The reader learns about the history of research projects and international conferences, about diplomatic agreements and political controversy, about the rise of the environmental movement and the backlash from business groups, and much more. But the book has astonishingly little information about the actual chemistry and physics of the atmosphere! This is a strange omission in an otherwise excellent book.