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With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change Hardcover – March 15, 2007
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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.
*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
Top customer reviews
What I found most interesting is the historical evidence of past climatic change. I always pictured that the earth experienced very monotonic, slowly changing climates. Not so. Large-scale changes are abrupt and can happen very quickly, sometimes on a scale of decades or even years. There are many feedback events that can drive these sudden changes, such as loss of reflective ice/snow that results in a rapid warming of polar regions, or changes to various ocean currents. And in recent times, the climate bounces back and forth between two states: an ice age climate and the current warm, stable climate. It may be that a third state is added due to the myriad effects caused by heavy concentrations of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.
The book does point out the natural, historical climate fluctuations that have occurred in the past due to solar events, long term oscillations, etc. But he makes a strong case that greenhouse gases are causing global warming now, and that while we cannot know specifically what events will be caused by this warming, the change will likely be bad, maybe even catastrophic. Some of the possible outcomes of this warming, and the sudden changes they might cause, are presented in the book.
This book is timely in that it provides an excellent background to the AAAS report just released in Mar 2014: "What We Know: The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change". The AAAS report mirrors much of what is noted in this book.
And one final, salient point from the book: as one researcher pointed out, look at the data, not the models. The climate data presented in the book is factual, fascinating, and scary. I think we're in for a bumpy ride.
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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