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Good Information, Poor Editing
on January 26, 2011
The Flooded Earth by Peter Ward has a lot of good, important material on the current and future impact of global warming on human civilization. Unfortunately, the book is hampered by a sometimes incoherent structure and confusing paragraphs. Ward seems to jump all over the place when describing the impacts of global warming. Sadly, the book suffers from a lack of proper editing and proof-reading.
I did appreciate the speculative excerpts where he imagines life in a "flooded world". He also includes a thought-provoking comment from a colleague of his, who said "Unfortunately, global warming will not be taken seriously until massive mortality occurs from it". As much as I don't want to believe that statement, all trends point to the fact that dangerous anthropogenic climate interference has already happened to the extent that we have "locked in" enough warming to cause significant sea level rise in our lifetimes.
Although the information in the book was good, unfortunately, the organization of the book was not very good; it did not flow logically from one page to the other.
A few examples of inconsistencies or unclear writing:
[The author is in Antarctica, caught in a vicious storm.] "Our camp manager...downplayed the storm, as any old hand invariable does. Not above 35 mph winds she said with a straight face. Steig and I exchanged a look. Both of us knew storms and wind; we both live in Seattle, which has had its share of near-hurricane windstorms, and this windstorm was a lot closer to 100 knots that to just 30."
Comment: Am I supposed to know that 35 mph is the same as 30 knots? That's just plain bad writing when he introduces a measurement in a given unit (mph), then converts it to something completely different (knots). I simply can't be the only person reading this book who had no idea that a knot was a little more than a mile per hour (1 knot = 1.15 mph, I had to look it up). Hey Dr. Ward, this information just in, not everybody knows what a knot is. Sorry, we don't all sail, live in Seattle, or have gone to the finest schools. Next time, just use some poetic license, and write that she said "Not above 30 knots" she said with a straight face. It's not lying, honest.
And on page 24, the author notes that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are 390 ppm as he wrote in 2009. All well and good. However, why in the world did he then write later on page 43, "in 2030, for the first time in millions of years, carbon dioxide stood at 385 ppm, near the so-called tipping point identified by many in the early years of the twenty-first century." What? Am I missing something here? In the book he states carbon dioxide levels are increasing by at least 2 to 3 ppm per year, and he would have us believe that the CO2 levels will decrease in the next twenty years? Obviously, the author made a mistake, I don't think he actually believes that CO2 levels are going to decrease, especially as his 2030 projection is based on a "business as usual" increasing emissions scenario. And again he highlights his mistake on page 43 with the 385 ppm level in 2030 proclamation by stating just three pages later on page 46 "In 2020, our atmosphere contains carbon dioxide at a rate of nearly 390 ppm."
Page 47: [Discussing the discovery of the greenhouse gas effect.] He writes, "by the time of John Tyndall in the 1860s, greenhouses ranged in size from small to large..." Huh? He's talking about John Tyndall, without first introducing him properly. We don't know who he is (two pages later, he finally gets around to mentioning that he was one of the men who discovered greenhouse gases). Bad writing.
Page 63: The author writes sloppily, forcing the reader to guess what he's saying. He discusses total greenhouse gas contributions by country. "The leader in carbon emissions for 2008 was China, followed by the United States. While several countries did succeed in lowering emissions, the United States produced more. The total came to 9.34 billion tons of carbon put into the atmosphere globally". Then on the next page he writes "The latest projections have emissions rising from 28.1 billion metric tons in 2005 to 34.3 billion metric tons in 2015." Again, what the heck is he talking about? He just got through telling us the carbon emissions were 9.34 billion in 2008, but then they were 34.3 billion in 2005? Okay, after re-reading the sentence, he meant to say "The total U.S. emissions came to 9.34 billion tons of carbon put into the atmosphere." I am sure I'm not the only person who thought the word "globally" meant "global emissions" [from all countries].
Enough kvetching. Dr. Ward, learn how to use a good editor, and then take his or her advice.