Storm World: A Review

If you are a RealClimate regular, you are undoubtedly aware of our ongoing interest in the developments in the scientific understanding of potential hurricane-climate change linkages. This is an area of the science where a substantial body of significant new research has emerged even since RealClimate’s inception in late 2004. The scientific research in this area, and the media frenzy and political theatrics that have inescapably followed it, are thoughtfully placed in a broader historical context in a fascinating new book by Chris Mooney entitled Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle over Global Warming. Anyone who is at all interested in the scientific history that has led to our current understanding of Hurricanes and their potential linkages with climate change, will find this book a page turner. The book is a nice complement to Kerry Emanuel’s recent book Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes (which too is so readable that it lies on our coffee table). Mooney in a sense picks up where Emanuel’s left off. Like Emanuel, he explores the history of the science. But he uses this historical context, and his studies of the personalities of key actors, to explore how the current scientific debate can be traced back to a rift that has emerged over many decades between distinct communities of atmospheric scientists.

Those looking for a polemic (the title of Mooney’s previous book, after all, was “The Republican War on Science”) will be disapointed. Mooney has clearly matured as a writer, and this latest book constitutes his best effort to date. He delivers a thoughtful, non-partisan, and scientifically and historically accurate review of the emergent science exploring the potential influence of climate change on hurricanes.

If you’ve followed the scientific debate on global warming and hurricanes, you will recognize many of the characters in Mooney’s tale (yours truly even gets mentioned a few times :) ). You will also not be surprised to find that William Gray and Kerry Emanuel are the two most prominently featured scientists. In part of course, because they neatly symbolize the two opposing camps in the current debate: contrast for example Emanuel’s work demonstrating a linkage between increasing hurricane intensity and global warming with Gray’s denial of any such link. However, Mooney also traces their respective work back to two different historical schools of thought in the atmospheric science community. On one side are the data-driven empiricists, such as Redfield, Loomis,and Riehl and on the other side the theorists such as Espy, Ferrel and Charney. Gray naturally follows in the tradition of the first group (his Ph.D adviser was Riehl who is sometimes credited as the father of the field of tropical meteorology). Emanuel, a student of Charney, follows in the tradition of the great theorists in atmospheric science. Of course its not quite that simple (and Mooney acknowledges as much). Though Emanuel may perhaps be best known for his theoretical investigations of Hurricane potential intensity, he has also done considerable work analyzing observations. And while best known for his work deducing from observations the parameters governing hurricane genesis, Gray has nonetheless made forays into “theory” (though the results have been decidedly mixed). But the historical context that Mooney provides gives quite a bit of insight into the divergent views that have arisen among partisans in the current hurricane-climate debate.

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