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Filed under: — david @ 23 November 2005

Perhaps you’re interested in supplementing your tapas-style RealClimate reading with a full meal of a book to curl up with. Maybe you’d like to send such a book to your good-hearted but clueless Cousin Bob, to convince him not to buy an SUV next time. Here are some possibilities ….

The Discovery of Global Warming (2003) by Spencer Weart presents the accomplishments of climate science as they evolved historically. And he does it wonderfully. Weart is a science historian with a string of books on physics, nuclear issues, and straight-up history to his credit. He is not a climate scientist but he writes about the issues of the day (a hundred years of days, from Arrhenius to IPCC) as though he was there. His scientific insight and ability to summarize is very impressive. This could be a good first book to read on global warming.

For best overall presentation of the science behind global warming to the lay reader, try Is the Temperature Rising? (1998) by George Philander. Philander is a long-time leader in the field of ocean / atmosphere interactions such as El Niño. His book is strong on fundamental principals of the physics of the atmosphere underlying the greenhouse effect and global warming. Global Warming, The Complete Briefing by Sir John Houghton (most recent edition, 2005), is somewhat stronger than Philander in describing what a global warming world would be like to the man in the street. Houghton was the lead editor of the 2001 IPCC Assessment reports, so his book is the very soul of authoritative, although it is intended as a textbook and is not exactly a page-turner. Of course the scientific gold standard here is the 2001 IPCC Scientific Assessment itself, available from Cambridge University Press or downloadable for free from here, but this is more of a reference book than cover-to-cover reading material.

The impacts of climate change to everyday life are brought to life in Mark Lynas’ High Tide, How Climate Change is Engulfing our Planet (2004). This is a concerned-young-man-with-travel-budget tale, with stops in Alaska, the sinking and soon to be abandoned Pacific island of Tuvalu, and other points around the globe. We’re sure glad he made it down from that mountain in the Andes. Along these lines, we must mention a masterful series of articles in the New Yorker last spring called Climate of Man by Elizabeth Kolbert. I hear that this will be published in April under the title Field notes from a catastrophe. Neither Lynas nor Kolbert are climate scientists, but both did an impressive job of getting the facts straight, and (more difficult) getting the feel of the big picture.

The topic of abrupt climate change is intertwined with the field of paleoclimatology. Foremost among books on this topic is Richard Alley’s Two-Mile Time Machine (2002) about ice core climate records. In my opinion this book beats out its well-written competition, Climate Crash(2005) by John Cox, because Alley is a practicing scientist, and a luminary one at that. The potential for abrupt climate change in our future was explored by a National Research Council committee and published in a very readable book called Abrupt Climate Change, Inevitable Surprises (2002), published by the National Academy Press. We should note that abrupt climate change is still a somewhat speculative topic, and the book hasn’t been written that would satisfy everybody. Probably won’t be for a while.

For the role of climate in past history, I would start with Jared Diamond’s book Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005). His descriptions of the killing hand of drought acting against the Classic Maya and Anasazi civilizations, and the demise of the Norse Greenland colonies, are extremely lucid. Also on the list are two books by Brian Fagan, The Long Summer (2004) and The Little Ice Age (2000). The first of these recounts the tale of humankind through the deglaciation, including the development of agriculture during the Younger Dryas, up until A.D. 1200. The Little Ice Age book begins from the Medieval Warm period, when the Mayans starved and Europe built cathedrals. The little ice age is described as a time not of radically colder temperatures than today, but periodic, large climate swings and storms, contrasting with the stability of medieval times.

In the political and social arenas, the place to go is Boiling Point (2004) by Ross Gelbspan. Gelbspan is a journalist who treats the scientific scope, and the political response, to the threat of climate change with passion and authority.

Finally, in a category by itself, there is Kerry Emanuel’s book Divine Wind (2005) about hurricanes. This is an elegant treatment of the history and physics of hurricanes written by the guy who, well, wrote the book on hurricanes. The book is replete with color photos, plots, and paintings, with a few equations and many quotes from antiquity. A true coffee-table book. Too bad it was published too soon to comment on the extraordinary hurricane season that is just winding down.

45 Responses to “Books books books”

  1. 1
    Chris Reed says:

    I’ve not read any of the other books, but I can personally guarantee that reading the whole of IPCC TAR takes months and gets very daunting if you’re new to it, despite that it is worth persisting with.

    One thing I’ve not been able to locate is a nuts and bolts account of how one does Primary Component Analysis (PCA). It seems very similar to using orthogonal basis components (as I’ve done in electronics/DSP – am I on the right track?). But I canâ??t figure out how it’s actually done in practice on a data set(s).

    Can anyone suggest a book (or ideally a free to use web based resource – I’m always pennyless) to guide me through it?


    [Response:Here are some excellent notes on EOF’s, which I believe are more or less the same thing, from my colleague Gidon Eshel. David]

    [Response:EOF stands for Empirical Orthogonal Functions – coined by Lorenz in his 1956 paper titled ‘Empirical Orthogonal Functions and Statistical Weather Prediction’ (MIT Sci. rep.). EOFs are a kind of PCA, but ‘tailored’ to geophysical data (gridded with for instance area weighted grid box values). There are two common ways for computing EOFs/PCA: 1) by computing the data co-variance matrix and solve for the eigenvalues/eigenvectors (the eigenvectors are then the EOFs); (2) performing a svingualr value decomposition (SVD) on the data matrix itself. I personally thought that the text books by G. Strang (1995) ‘Linear Algebra and its Application’, Harcourt Brace & Company and D.S. Wilks (1995) ‘Statistical Methods in the Atmospheric Sciences’, Academic Press, gave a nice introduction/discussion on the subject of EOF/PCA. -rasmus]

  2. 2
    SteveF says:

    People might also want to check out the following by Willi Dansgaard. Its his perspective on ice cores and is free to download (or you can buy a hard copy) and is in English!

    PS, am I the only one who found The Long Summer incredibly repetitive?

  3. 3
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    How about WHEN LIFE NEARLY DIED: THE GREATEST MASS EXTINCTION OF ALL TIME, by Michael J. Benton (2003), about runaway GW during the end-Permian. I guess it would be somewhat speculative too, since they didn’t have great data-gathering equipment back then :)

    I especially like the chart on p. 275 that included many variables in complex relationships & feedback loops that led to the extinctions, rather than what the public seems to think is one big meteor crash.

    A friend recently told me that the extinction of 65 (or is it 55) mya was due to a meteor crash & consequent “nuclear winter.” I told her I thought that mass extinction was also due to runaway GW, but that perhaps the meteor & “winter” caused the sea to recede, exposing methane hydrates that triggered runaway GW. So who’s right. Or are we both wrong?

    [Response:There was an extinction of CaCO3-producers, foraminifera in the ocean for example, consistent with acidifying the biosphere wih CO2. The surface-deep gradient in nutrient concentration in the ocean, a dead, “strangelove” ocean, which lasted for hundreds of thousands of years. How do you keep phytoplankton, with a 3-day generation time, down for 100,000 years? Beats me. I have heard the extinctions attributed to the winter scenario, but I don’t know if that was just a “suggested possible mechanism” or if it is proven. David. ]

  4. 4
    SteveF says:

    Oh and from a more archaeological perspective, check out After the Ice by Steve Mithen. Basically runs from the LGM to the mid-Holocene. Bit of a mammoth and a slightly strange narrative device but its scholarly and well written.

    Oh and if you like fantasy fiction and are interested in ice cores, why not check out the Answers In Genesis (Young earth creationists) page on the subject ;-)

  5. 5
    Chris Reed says:

    Re #2. Thanks David,

    That’s very similar to stuff I’m used to in DSP (digital signal processing). I think the problem is I’d not really thought of something like Mann’s ‘Hockey Stick’ or variability of pressure anomalies as being meaningfully produceable as a sum of a set of EOFs.

    That was my sticking point, a bit daft really.

  6. 6
    Hank Roberts says:

    Another good collection of suggested reading can be found here, with some overlap in content:

  7. 7
    dasilva says:

    One more for you: Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers, which is due out in the US in March but is already on shelves in Australia. Flannery (a zoologist by training) is a sort of polymath/explorer in the Jared Diamond vein. His book is basically a synthesis of the science for the layman and a call to action. Short, concise chapters. Well-written and well-argued, but may stray on ocassion into overstatement. I’d be interested to hear what folks in the field think, once they’ve had a chance to read it.

    I have to say I was surprised to see Ross Gelbspan on the list. As frequent media critics, do you not find his rhetoric a little overheated? Here, after all, is the man who wrote in The Boston Globe that Hurricane Katrina’s real name is global warming. In that same column, he goes on to blame nearly every noteworthy weather event on global warming, without qualification. I haven’t read The Boiling Point, so I can’t comment on it directly. Based on the Globe column, he does indeed seem passionate, but I wonder about his authority.

  8. 8
    David H says:

    If you are after enlightenment and not justification, why not read the seminal work of Hubert Lamb the founder of CRU?
    “Climate History and the Modern World” ISBN 0415127351

  9. 9
    S Molnar says:

    As long as this has turned into a free-for-all of book recommendations, allow me to add add William Calvin’s A Brain for All Seasons. Calvin is a neurobiologist and polymath who has written a highly speculative and entertaining book that primarily looks at the obverse of the anthropogenic climate change issue: he considers what one might call climatogenic hominid change, i.e., the effects of the climate shifts of the past few million years on the ascent of man. While neither a paleontologist nor a climatologist, he talks to both (and allows them to talk for themselves). One important point he makes that I have not seen discussed elsewhere is that the debate (such as it is) of whether global warming might be a good thing fundamentally misses the point. Short-term warming is just the tip of the iceberg (sorry – couldn’t resist) when it comes to climate change. The climate instability, with likely dramatic shifts in both directions, that will ensue once we drive ourselves out of the benign conditions of the past 12,000 years or so are what may destroy our species along with many others.

  10. 10

    Jared Diamond considers the Australian environment in Chapter 13 of Collapse. But many of the facts and figures he quotes are plain wrong. I review the chapter here .

  11. 11
    Blair Dowden says:

    Re #10: Thank you for that. I just read Diamond’s book, and your paper provides a good reality check.

  12. 12
    Blair Dowden says:

    Re #11: To finish the thought, Collapse appears to tell a balanced story of how cultures deal with environmental problems, with some good news stories as well as the usual litany of disasters. He also avoids the usual anti-industry bias, for example his glowing account of the Chevron oil field in Papua New Guinea in contrast to damage caused by the mining industry. For some reason he slotted Australia (a place he has visited and claims to love) as environmental bad new story. If his research on that is as poor as the paper cited above claims, it calls into question the validity of rest of his book, no matter how reasonable and balanced it seems to be.

    I also noted with interest how little he mentioned climate change in a book about environmental problems facing humanity. His main comment is that there will be winners as well as losers. Maybe he considers the significant effects of climate change to be uncertain enough, or far enough in the future as to not be relevant to his topic of discussion.

  13. 13
    John Hunter says:

    Another excellent new Australian book on climate change:

    “Climate Change; Turning Up the Heat” by A Barrie Pittock, CSIRO PUBLISHING, October 2005.

    For details, see:

  14. 14
    Stephen Berg says:

    Re: #13,

    I’d love to read Pittock’s book if I can get my hands on a copy. It looks very interesting.

    Also, your website is absolutely excellent! It seems to be a small book in itself! Great work and keep it up!!!

  15. 15
    Magnus says:

    Re to: #1 I’m learning to use the technique at the moment (spatial relations for lakes and water chemistry in Sweden), there are so many ways to do and use PCA and FA so I guess it will take some time to nail it… the two books I found most helpful in the start for multivariate techniques are: Applied Multivariate Methods for Data Analysts , Dallas E. Johnson AND APPLIED MULTIVARIATE TECHNIQUES, SUBHASH SHARMA.

    I also like:

  16. 16
    Thomas Palm says:

    I’d recommend “Atmospheric Change: An Earth System Perspective” by T. E. Graedel, Paul J. Crutzen. It’s intermediary in difficulty in assuming some scientific background but no special knowledge in climate science. It also covers atmospheric chemistry and ozone depletion.

  17. 17
    Chris Reed says:

    re Rasmus and Magnus (#15); Thanks. I’ll follow up your recommendations. As everyone’s at it, my suggested reading would be RealClimate and the papers you often link to.

  18. 18
    Christine Saas says:

    Don’t forget dessert’s time!
    It’s not all about climate change but on solutions, it’s not tough science but economics… 770 M toe CO2 have been saved in the EU-15 consumer sector during this last decade !
    I can’t resist pushing “Energy-efficiency Monitoring in the EU-15”, a book published by the French Environment and Energy Management Agency, evaluating the energy-efficiency policies in Europe through two monitoring tools: the ODYSSEE database on energy-efficiency and CO2 indicators and the MURE database on energy-efficiency policies implementation and evaluation.
    It will not suit to my cousin Bob but be very valuable for researchers, experts, policy makers… For the complete index just click on:

  19. 19
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #7, I believe the reference for Gelbspan here is more about his tackling of the political and media aspects of the issue, rather than his scientific expertise.

    Nevertheless as an environmentalist (trying to avoid false negatives) as opposed to a scientist (trying to avoid false positives), I see nothing wrong in his attribution of Katrina to GW — it could POSSIBILY have been enhanced by GW and it fits the expected pattern of more intense storms due to GW. I think most scientists would agree with that.

    But Katrina is water under the bridge – or over the levee. The important point is that GW will very likely be contributing to more intense storms in the future (& thus we should be reducine GHGs), even though we might not be able to make individual attributions.

  20. 20
    Pat Neuman says:

    I agree,

    The best overall presentation of the science behind global warming to a lay reader is Philander (1998). I was deeply inspired by reading it, 5-6 years ago.

    Reading Philander encouraged me to create a poster for display at a public gathering, at a Demonstration of Government Services at the Mall of America in 2000.

    The material on atmospheric interactions and physics underlying the greenhouse effect, seemed appropriate for my poster development at that time, in relation to my duties at work in hydrologic forecasting and model development.

    My studies on climate and hydrologic change in the Upper Midwest, and my operational experience with snowmelt runoff and flooding (1976-2000), convinced me to do a poster on hydrologic change in the Upper Midwest for the gathering in 2000 (a later article in 2003 is at ).

    However, just before the gathering at the Mall of America was to begin in 2000, my supervisor instructed me that I must not participate in the gathering, and that I must not even go to the Mall of America on my personal time that weekend to prevent me from being seen there, that weekend. Management and human resources told me that the agency would not risk having my appearance at the Mall be associated to the agency in any way, because I had brought up the subject of global warming while at work.

    Although I think some of the personal work which I’ve done regarding climate change since reading Philander 5-6 years ago has been of benefit to the public, I can’t say that for sure. How would I prove that?

  21. 21
    Stephen Berg says:

    Re: #20, “However, just before the gathering at the Mall of America was to begin in 2000, my supervisor instructed me that I must not participate in the gathering, and that I must not even go to the Mall of America on my personal time that weekend to prevent me from being seen there, that weekend. Management and human resources told me that the agency would not risk having my appearance at the Mall be associated to the agency in any way, because I had brought up the subject of global warming while at work.”

    Sounds like censorship to me. It sounds almost like the scientist who got in trouble for the caribou migration maps in the ANWR.

  22. 22
    Sherry Mayo says:

    I really liked “Global Warming, The Complete Briefing” by Sir John Houghton which you recommend above.

    It is quite detailed and a bit more technical than the typical “science for the layman” type book. I’m a scientist in a non-climate field and found it a great overview and I’d recommend wholeheartedly it to other technically-minded types.

  23. 23

    Well, Jennifer Marohasy, at least your organization is up-front (“Australia’s leading free market think tank”), and I sure hope your article generates a reply from another qualified scientist.

  24. 24
    SqueakyRat says:

    Ruddiman’s “Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum” does a good job introducing climate science at a non-condescending layman level, I think, quite independently of whatever you make of his admittedly speculative thesis about ancient anthropogenic climate change.

  25. 25
    peterp says:

    for those who like science fiction I suggest Kim Stanley Robinson’s
    trilogy that starts with “Forty Signs of Rain” and continues with
    “Fifty Degrees Below.”

  26. 26
    Almuth Ernsting says:

    I have just started reading Richard Alley’s book. I note your comment that abrupt climate change is still very much a speculative comment. For my own clarity – does this only refer to the possibility of abrupt climate change in the near future? Or do I need to read Richard Alley’s analysis of abrupt climate change over the past few millions of years, and, above all, his explanation for it, as also still speculative, rather than widely accepted? (I presume you only refer to future predictions, but I’m not quite clear about this). Thanks!

    Almuth Ernsting

    [Response:It’s still a challenge to get models to reproduce the past abrupt changes, so there must be mechanisms and/or feedbacks which are not clearly pinned down. The future is of course murkier still. I don’t mean that Alley is out of any mainstream of the science, but merely that there is not yet a main-stream. Read his book, but keep your eyes peeled for future developments. David ]

  27. 27
    Mauri Pelto says:

    Another book that fits with the latest ice core emphasis is

    Thin Ice: Unlocking the Secrets of Climate in the World’s Highest Mountains

    By Mark Bowen
    This is a book focussing on the ice core research at high altitudes and mid-latitudes conducted by Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State.

    Regarding #26 it is not the rapid climate changes that are not grasped but the magnitude of them. I won’t say more or I may ruin part of the book.

    [Response:I’ve heard this book recommended by realclimate colleagues, but our library’s copy was checked out and I was unable to have a look. I’ve met Thompson, though, and he truly does have an amazing, heroic story to tell. David]

  28. 28
    Gregory Lewis says:

    I loved Bill Bryson’s “A Brief History of Almost Everything”. Exceptionally well written and very few errors considering that he is not a scientist. I found the first couple of chapeters slow but the rest is a page turner.

  29. 29
    Ike Solem says:

    These two books are worth reading. They probably fit in the same category as Ross Gelbspan, but with different emphasis.

    The Carbon War: Global Warming and the End of the Oil Era by Jeremy Leggett (2001) is a good introduction to the political and economic issues that intersect with climate science. I thought that the most important part of this book were the following numbers:

    580 billion tons of carbon: pre-industrial atmospheric content
    750 billion tons of carbon: year 2000 atmospheric content.
    10000 billion tons of carbon: the remaining fossil fuel reserves (200 oil, 1000 gas, the rest coal)
    6 billion tons of carbon: amount we are adding to the atmosphere each year.

    (Apparently only half of the carbon we add to the atmosphere each year is staying in the atmosphere. Where does the other half go? Is this ‘hidden sink’ understood? I recall some recent reports of ‘sink exhaustion’ – is this verified?)

    The Solar Economy: Renewable Energy for a Sustainable Global Future, by Hermann Scheer (1999) barely mentions climate science. Rather, it addresses the fundamental problem of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy systems, and provides a comprehensive roadmap for the transition.

    I agree that Philander’s book is excellent. Allow me to throw in a quote from it:

    “Our current actions are cause for concern because of the extent to which we are interfering with the processes that make this a habitable planet. We are increasing the atmospheric concentrations of several greenhouse gases, not by a small percentage, but by factors of two or more. Particlularly disquieting is the rapid rate of increase; the growth is exponential, a dangerous situation that calls for action long before there is clear evidence of impending trouble…Though resolution of the arguments is an important matter, far more important is recognition of the explosive nature of the problem, its exponential growth. In coping with problems of that type it is wise to act sooner rather than later.”

  30. 30
    Janne Sinkkonen says:

    FYI: a good summary of Diamond’s book is available in his speech in the Long Now Foundation seminar series, freely downloadable at
    (the third latest in the list, dated “July 02005” as they use to write. :))

  31. 31
    Tom Fiddaman says:

    Re #29

    (Apparently only half of the carbon we add to the atmosphere each year is staying in the atmosphere. Where does the other half go? Is this ‘hidden sink’ understood? I recall some recent reports of ‘sink exhaustion’ – is this verified?)

    The short answer is in the oceans and biomass, and it’s fairly well understood. See How much of the recent CO2 increase is due to human activities? and, for the skeptic perspective, see the off-topic debate starting around #39 here.

    A book I like for putting a bunch of useful material in one place is Global Warming: The Hard Science by L.D. Danny Harvey, Pearson Education Limited 2000.

  32. 32
    Dano says:

    Where are all our sceptic friend’s recommendations? Ah, well.

    Re #30: Janne – good link, thank you!

    One With Nineveh by Paul & Anne Ehrlich is what I’m reading now, and Daly and Townsend’s (Eds.) Valuing the Earth was the one just prior, both good. But I’m an ecosystem services guy, so maybe not for everyone.



  33. 33
    Tom Fiddaman says:

    Re 32

    Most of the skeptical books I’ve seen in the popular press are not worth cracking. The most comprehensive skeptical effort I’m aware of is the Global Warming chapter in Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist. It still contains statistical sleight of hand, basic errors in economics, and shaky climatology, but it’s better than State of Fear.

  34. 34
    Dano says:

    You’re right, Tom. I’m just interested in the surely soon-to-be-coming list provided by our skeptic friends. Where is it? What are they reading? What do they recommend? Surely they are serious about engaging? What are they reading to get themselves up to speed to engage? What are they reading to expand their minds, horizons, and viewpoints? What are they reading to push themselves, to stimulate their curiosity, their sense of wonder, their appreciation of the natural world? Surely they read these sorts of things, don’t they?




  35. 35
    Blair Dowden says:

    I am not a skeptic in the sense you mean, but let me recommend “Meltdown” by Dr. Patrick Michaels, as long as it is not the only book you read. I read it right after the Houghton book (reviewed in #22). Both of them devote chapter two to a detailed look at climate science, and I was surprised by how similar they were in content, with a different spin of course. But there is no nonsense about carbon dioxide not being important, or warming is not really happening. As far as I can tell, the science is sound, although the spin is rather one sided.

    The main problem I have with Michaels is while he reasonably points out the limitations of climate models for forecasting the next one hundred years, he then confidently makes his own forecast of warming continuing at the same rate as for the last thirty years, leading to a 2 degree increase in global temperature. If models based on all the available knowledge cannot be trusted, how much less so a simple linear extrapolation?

    I find Michaels useful for placing a lower bound on climate change. If he says the world has warmed 0.8 degrees and most of that is human caused, then it must be at least that. I like to quote Michaels to the ultra-skeptics. The last half of his book is basically rewrites of his columns. This may be worth a look to see how he is able to use the biased and sloppy writing of global warming advocates to his advantage. If there was better balance and accuracy in writing about climate change, even at the cost of a more compelling story, there would be less easy fodder for the skeptics.

  36. 36

    I have read the books by Weart, Houghton, Lynas, Alley, Diamond and Gelbspan which David listed, and by Lomborg which Tom Fiddaman (#33) mentioned, and I have written my comments about those books for Japanese readers at my web site.

    I agree with David that the book by Weart is a good introduction — and therefore I engaged in translating it in Japanese. The concept of “climate system” or “earth system” is not very easy, and historical explanations are helpful to understand it. But there is a caveat about this book. Political events and social situations discussed in the book are mostly those in the United States of America. I think they are relevant in the global context as well, but that equally relevant things should have been ongoing in other countries. I hope that historians of many countries will participate in documenting them.

    Gelbspan’s stance is obviously alarmist. If keeping the point in mind, I think the book is an informative journalistic source.

    Lynas’s book is mostly travel reports, and if he was trying to prove that global warming is ongoing, it is unsuccessful. I think that it is impossible to be successful this way. What he saw in Britain, Tuvalu, Alaska, Andes and China are certainly regional climate changes. But it is not shown that they are globally consistent changes, not to mention that they are caused by the enhanced greenhouse effect. Thus this book is not likely to convert deniers of global warming, though it will strengthen the feeling of those who already think that it is an important problem.

    Lomborg is surely skeptical to the scientific findings of global warming, but I do not think he is a strong “skeptic” or a denier in this respect. What he is strongly skeptical about is whether it is an important problem for the mankind.

    In Diamond’s “Collapse”, climate change is one of the five factors which he says relevant for collapses of societies, and it is really important in some of the cases he documents and not important in others. In my opinion the chapter on modern Australia is a less interesting part of the very interesting book. (I have got more insights about sustainability of Australian society from Jacques Leslie’s “Deep Water”, though its scope is limited to water-related issues of the Murray-Darling river basin. This book is a travel report like Lynas’s, not about global warming but about dams.)

  37. 37
    Tas says:

    Re 13: Pittock’s book is just terriffic. A readable and manageable substitute for reading the IPCC tome, and of course a little more current than the TAR.

    Re 7: I read Flannery’s “The weather makers” because it was very topical in Australia. I think it does a service by elevating issues to a point that demands some action. I think it does a disservice by straying to extremes where it need not. The case for concern is strong enough _without_ Flannery’s tendency to cite the more extreme scenarios as his “defaults”. There were caveats, but too weak. Likewise Flannery diverges to Gaian (capital “G”) philosophies where they are not needed. The idea that the earth system has feedbacks that potentially benefit and are influenced by biological systems is fine. To build a case that argues from almost mystical perspectives yields too much of the cold-factual case to philosphical debate. Like most popular attempts, a book with some factual errors too. A book to scare and motivate those who are receptive to his style, but potentially counterproductive in the hands of a cold-facts kind of skeptic.

    I’d rather see people convinced by clear-thinking and plain speaking. Try Pittock.

  38. 38
    Hank Roberts says:

    Bowen’s “Thin Ice” is wonderful clear writing. I’m halfway through.

    This will probably be the book I give people for gifts this season.

    The author’s website has many photographs that didn’t fit the book:

    His collection of links to the labs and publications is here:

    I hope there’s an online discussion/update page in there (haven’t started into the links yet) extending the books’ focus particularly on the work published b6y Lonnie and Ellen Thomson and their group.

    The story of their drilling ice cores from high altitude ice caps near the equator is fascinating.

    Bowen, a physics PhD, alpinist and science writer, was called on two days’ notice to replace another writer who decided not to go visit one of the drill sites, went from Boston to the drill site at Sanjay in Bolivia where the scientists were working at 21,000′ (yes, that’s twenty-one thousand feet above sea level, this is not a misprint.)


  39. 39
    Pat Neuman says:

    I would like to read a book about how the rate and degree of warming expected to take place over the next couple centuries compares with global warming episodes in Earth’s past, and how today’s plants and animals might not survive climate change and heat waves more severe than experienced during the climates in which their species evolved.

    I am not interested in reading science fiction. The excerpt below indicates that my interest is based on what is likely to happen, not fiction.

    An article in Science (11 Nov 2005) by Scott L. Wing, et al., concludes:
    … “The PETM provides an important analog to present-day anthropogenic global warming, because the two episodes are inferred to have similar rates and magnitudes of carbon release and climate change (6)”.
    (6): J.C. Zachos et al., Science 308, 1611 (2005)

  40. 40

    Dear Pat (re 39) no one knows what is going to “take place over the next couple of centuries.” However, fact is stranger than fiction so I would not dismiss what the science fiction writers write. If you insist on the facts, then read “The Sixth Extinction” by Richard Leakey . While it is mainly about the past, it paints a future which will be much bleaker.

  41. 41
    Pat Neuman says:

    Alastair (re 40),

    I’ll check out “The Sixth Extinction”. Thanks for the tip.

    Although no one knows for sure what max heat will be at year 2300, a fast rise is already underway. A fast rise is more dangerous than a peak or end point max. Odds are that the bad will be here much sooner than many think.

    I think scientists are spending way too much time looking at very recent periods (last few million years). The most relevant periods of past climate are tens of million of years ago, or older. Climate change is highly complex when there is little CO2 in the atmosphere, which allows many other small factors to influence climate. Climate change is not so complex when CO2 becomes high, like the current levels or above, because then CO2 and water vapor drive climate change … with little or no influence by the many other factors.

    Scientific predictions of climate change for the next couple centuries, when we already know that CO2 and water vapor will be high, involves much less uncertainty than prediction of climate change when CO2 and water vapor are low.

    If Earth was one day old, 50 million years ago was just 26 minutes ago with tropical forests in Colorado and Wyoming. How much time will humans waste making claims of too much uncertainty and calls for more study, before acting to try to save the life on this planet?

  42. 42
    John Atkeison says:

    Gelbspan is the best big picture writer we have today, IMHO.

    He not only has passion and superlative skill as a writer, but over time I think he has proved to be the best we’ve got in his attempts to bluntly describe the fix we are in and who is at fault for postponing solutions.

    I spent a lot of time trying to find holes to punch in the 1998 edition of his “The Heat is On,” but instead it made me a Global Warming activist.

  43. 43
    Pat Neuman says:

    Re: #40

    I’m reading “The Sixth Extinction” by Richard Leakey, enjoying it. Also, I came across a post at the fuelcell-energy group on “THE SIXTH WAVE OF EXTINCTION” (just a coincidence?).

    Regarding what “no one knows what is going to ‘take place over the next couple of centuries.'”: I’m expect that you’ve seen the LLNL report on their modeling …

    Nov 1, 2005 New Release: “Lawrence Livermore modeled carbon emissions and climate change from pre-industrial levels (1870) through 2300. This animation shows how the present (year 2000) global mean surface temperature change of 0.8°C increases to 7.8°C by 2300. Land areas warm more than the oceans. Arctic and Antarctic regions warm more than the tropics. Note the extreme warming of more than 20°C over the Arctic by 2300.”

  44. 44
    Pat Neuman says:

    Re: #43

    Link to 01 Nov 2005 New Release by:
    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
    7000 East Avenue â?¢ Livermore, CA 94550

  45. 45

    Glad to hear you are enjoying “The Sixth Extinction.” I was worried that it is not really about climate science. I don’t think it is too strange a coincidence that you found an article about the megafaunal extinction. Its cause is one of the hot topics in science at the moment, rather like the “Early Anthropogenic Hypothesis” to which it is related. Prehistoric man has used slash and burn for both hunting and land clearance for over 50,000 years, and it is still being done today in the jungles of Brazil and Indonesia.

    I think I had heard about the LLNL report, but 300 years seemed far too long for the things they are describing. I expect it will all have happened within 30 years. Smyyga just pointed out this web page in another thread. The melt of the Greenland glaciers is accelerating at an incredible rate and it can’t be long before the Arctic sea ice disappears altering global albedo irrevocably. Greenland glaciers will follow suit. But worse, the rising sea levels will raise the Antarctic ice shelves and they will break off or collapse.

    We are just sleepwalking into the next mass extinction!