Top positive review
13 people found this helpful
excellent review and analysis
on September 29, 2011
Large parts of the book are concerned with giving people a background on science: continental drift, the evolution of life, ecology, climate, and computer modeling. These are factually accurate, based on up-to-date research, and quite readable. It also covers some less settled issues, such as the effect of the sun, cosmic rays, and other factors on the climate, but appropriately qualifies them.
The remainder of the book is concerned basically with the questions of how strong the influence of human activity on climate is, how good the evidence for that is, how fast climate change is likely to occur, what the effects of climate change will be, and whether any of the proposed measures will be effective. These are exactly the right questions to ask of both policymakers and scientists, and the answers are nowhere near as clear cut as they are frequently presented.
In terms of climate change, looking at longer term climate history, it is clear that the planet has undergone massive cooling and warming over time, without any human intervention, and that such change is likely inevitable in the long term. And looking at the history of life, it is clear that the kind of change we are currently facing has not threatened life or even mammalian life. In particular, we are coming out of an ice age, and it is inevitable that sea levels will rise substantially, that the polar ice caps will melt, and that species will die out, even without human activity--like has happened many times before. Human carbon emissions probably are accelerating the process a little, but it is inevitable in the long term. Of course, in the short terms, we might even face another massive glaciation event, which would likely be far more harmful to humans. Given the choice of glaciation and warming, warming would be far preferable.)
The book spends a bit more time discussing the economic effects and the ability of humans to adapt to such changes. It then goes on to look at the plausibility of countermeasures: even if we start with the premise that carbon emissions are dangerous and we want to reduce them to pre-industrial levels, what can be done about them? The sobering realization is that there is no effective technical, political or economic means of making effective changes: Kyoto merely burdens industrialized nations without being an effective remedy, and no government on earth is going to be able to enact the kind of draconian measures to actually reduce carbon emissions to substantially reduce anthropogenic effects.
The books conclusion is effectively that many of the policies proposed for fighting climate change are good policies: increase energy efficiency, reduce the use of non-renewable fuels, develop renewable energy sources. But they are good policies for reasons pretty much unrelated to climate change. The policy implication of climate change is that, anthropogenic or not, climate change is inevitable and human societies better be prepared to deal with it, lest humans join the long list of species extinct because they couldn't adapt to the inevitably changing conditions on earth.
In the highly politicized discussions about climate change, many people will dismiss this book sight unseen as a book written by a bunch of cranks with some kind of hidden agenda. It is none of those things. It is a well written science book that happens to bring together mainstream and up-to-date science that happens to be relevant to the question of climate change and policy. In fact, overall, the book is fairly unpolitical and you can in good conscience still vote for your preferred political party after reading it. What the book will do is remove some of the hysteria and hyperbole surrounding the issue and give you a lot of the scientific background to actually try to understand what the science is actually all about.