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Customer Review

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and thought-provoking, April 17, 2010
This review is from: Hack the Planet: Science's Best Hope - or Worst Nightmare - for Averting Climate Catastrophe (Hardcover)
Hack the Planet is a scary read, cataloguing the history of the unpleasant idea of geoengineering. It's filled with paranoia about potential disasters to the climate and the biosphere. It shows us nightmares about governance and the potential for future climate wars regarding setting the global thermostat. Unfortunately, such paranoia is well justified.

In reading this book, it's obvious Kintisch has done his homework. His knowledge of climate science is spot-on, as is his history of geoengineering. One can tell he's been reading about this sobering subject for quite a while. He's traveled the world to meetings and talked to just about everyone in the field. If anyone could ever present a holistic, balanced picture of geoengineering, Kintisch certainly has the credentials, and he does not fail to deliver.

One of my favorite things about the book is his witty choice to precede each chapter with an interesting anecdote about how man's efforts to shape the climate around him has often led to ecological disaster. After reading these, one would think twice before approaching climate modification with even a shred of hubris.

He also brings home the important point about the very nature of scientific research, in that we will never know everything. Any uncertainties will always be critical to our understanding of such a complex, interrelated system.

That said, some of the concerns Kintisch addresses are overblown, especially regarding confidence in climate model predictions. He devotes a great deal of time to explaining how the uncertainty in our knowledge of the climate sensitivity could lead us to distrust the predictive power of our best tool for studying geoengineering, which is far from necessary. If we didn't believe the models, we wouldn't be worried about global warming in the first place. There's a story to tell even without lambasting the models: even in the middle range of climate sensitivity, society still faces potential catastrophe and a possible need for geoengineering.

Moreover, I dislike the idea of dividing geoengineering researchers into two camps, based on their leaning toward or away from calling geoengineering a necessity. I can understand that, for people not directly involved in the geoengineering debate, it can be helpful to have a general idea as to who is on which "side." However, even inside the debate, I've seen quite a few examples of misattribution of ideas based on the perception that someone belongs to a particular camp. I think that because the line of demarcation is too ill-defined, it's a bit premature to start assigning the researchers to one side or another. Kintisch does strongly make the point, and rather well, that nearly everyone in the geoengineering arena is calling for more research.

The book pleasantly ends with a lighter note. Hidden beneath the doomsaying is a faith in humanity, evidenced by his final anecdote, which is a success story. He seems to imply that, should we proceed with caution, foresight, and appropriate humility for our truly awesome subject, we may be able to understand geoengineering's role in making our climate better for all, whatever that role turns out to be.

This is an important read for anyone who wishes to enter the geoengineering debate. Maybe even an essential read. And certainly a fascinating one.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 25, 2010, 4:46:15 PM PDT
Malvin says:
Good review. Does the author mention biochar, which is an organic solution that is inexpensively implemented and offers the best chance to absorb excess CO2 from the atmosphere? If not, then he is probably limiting his argument to centralized/big science/top-down versus local/low tech/democratic solutions.
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