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Books ’08

Filed under: — group @ 22 December 2008

As is usual, we have a brief round-up of books we have found interesting or noteworthy this year. While we mainly focus on new books, we include a couple of new editions of older books, and of course, our previous reviews might still be of some interest (2005, 2006, and 2007).

The prize for the most optimistic title this year goes to Wally Broecker, for “Fixing Climate” (written mainly by Robert Kunzig). This is a book written in a particular style – a number of recent advances in relevant paleo-climate (abrupt changes, mega-droughts, etc.) are examined through the lens of a single scientist and their one key measurement or observation. This makes for a good narrative, but without wishing to take anything away from the great science discussed or the individual insights, it’s only a partial picture of how these interesting ideas actually took root and got validated by the wider community. The climate fix the book ends up backing is a scheme for the air capture of CO2 (discussed here, and more recently here). The technology is fascinating, but at over a couple of hundred $/per ton CO2, the economics are a long way from being viable. But read about it for yourselves.

Also dwelling on paleo-climate is Chris Turney’s Ice, Mud and Blood. Eric reviewed this for Nature, noting that “Turney is by no means the first to try to articulate the point that paleoclimatology has lessons for our future. Richard Alley’s The Two-Mile Time Machine and Mark Bowen’s Thin Ice, to name just two, have made the same basic arguments. But Turney’s book is the most up to date, and I would certainly recommend it to colleagues, who will enjoy it and may well learn something new, as I did.”

Finally, it is definitely worth paying attention to books that may have been out for a while, or in a new edition. We were particularly impressed with Richard Somerville’s award-winning introduction to understanding environmental change “The Forgiving Air” which has just been re-issued.

Another notable paperback this year was from Joe Romm (of His “Hell and High Water” is mostly focused on policy solutions. As is a new book by Jay Inslee and Bracken Hendricks “Apollo’s Fire“. Congressman Inslee has been known to pass by RealClimate now and again. It does worry us a bit that the very first chapter refers to our friend and colleague Cecelia Bitz — a noted sea ice expert at the University of Washington — as ‘Carol’, and we hope that this is not indicative of the fact-checking care in the book. It looks to be an interesting contribution to the discussion of U.S. climate policy and it is especially timely to have a serious book on solutions to the problems in the Middle East, climate change, and the economy, all rolled into one. We look forward to reading this more closely.

And of course, we are far too modest to mention our own humble offerings…. ;)

Feel free to suggest other interesting titles in the comments.

81 Responses to “Books ’08”

  1. 1
    David B. Benson says:

    Olaf Schuiling states his ex situ carbon dioxide removal by natural weathering ought to be around $15 per toone removed (tr). I’ve looked at a controlled reaction variant to obtain an estimate less than that by some.

    However, a samll variation on the in situ proposal (same proposal, different writeups) at these links

    may well (iff it works at all) be quite a bit less expensive and possibly even show a profit! (I’ll be looking into this more, never fear.)

  2. 2
    John Mashey says:

    Well, you may be too modest, but my suggested kit of 3 books for someone who wants to know where to start is now:

    Archer, The Long Thaw,
    I did a review at Amazon, but it’s only one so far, so more might be good.

    Ruddiman, Plows, Plagues & Petroleum

    Mann & Kump, Dire Predictions

  3. 3
    Jim Redden says:

    The Forgiving Air is an excellent read for the non scientist layman–and perhaps one who wishes to consider climate change in a contemporary social historical context.

    I have read both the 1st and 2nd editions. Richard Somerville went to great lengths–almost painstaking care–in the first edition to state the uncertainties and ambiguities of the science. In the second updated edition, the increased certainty of the updated science is reflected in more forceful statements, and in some cases, more precise numbers. He reflects on the related issue of 3rd world development, and uses the body temperature fever analogy to try and get his point across.

    I had the pleasure to see Richard Somerville present in person once, and I seem to remember him relating the seriousness of anthropogenic climate change as follows: if you go to a doctor, and the doctor tells you are at risk for a heart attack, an advisable path to solution is not to keep seeing doctors until you find that one that tells you all is fine…

    Anyway, a worthy read not just for the climate but also for reinforcing the social and political context of this rather complicated and vexing issue.

    As an aside, for some reason, when I inquired on the phone, Barnes and Noble, was not able to put special order or stock copies on their shelf.

    [Response: From Richard:

    The RC viewer who sent in comment no. 3 and said he couldn’t get his local Barnes and Noble to carry or order the book is correct, alas. Right now, the only ways to order the book are directly from the publisher (AMS) as mentioned on my site for the book to which you link and from

    This is because AMS does not yet have a distribution contract in place and so bookstores cannot order The Forgiving Air via their usual wholesale channels. These stores, especially the big chains, want to deal with large distributors and not with thousands of tiny publishers like AMS.

    AMS knows this and has hopes of arranging a suitable contract to get selected AMS books into stores. But it’s not in place yet. Thus, and AMS itself are the sole sources of The Forgiving Air for the present.


  4. 4

    I wrote a novel (No Tomorrow) a year or so back in which I tried to work in a good summary of the state of climate science, without making it a polemic. Happy to send out a few review copies (philip.machanick AT if anyone’s interested in reviewing it here or at Amazon.

    I’m due to do a few corrections for minor typos so let me know soon, because it goes “out of print” until CreateSpace (print on demand publisher) gets the new files.

    Use the look inside feature at to see if it’s of interest. (For some reason the spam blocker wouldn’t allow me to post the google group for the book, which I would have preferred to Amazon: less like trying to get a free ad.)

  5. 5
    Bill Davis says:

    I would also like to recommend \The Deniers\ by Lawrence solomon, and \Climate Confusion by Roy W. Spencer

    [Response: … though only as examples of deliberate obfuscation. – gavin]

  6. 6
    Anonymus Coward says:

    Please forgive hijacking the comments; didn’t know where else to put it:

    Any chance to have your take on the news that a man named Ron Ace claims to have found a means against global warming – namely spraying huge amounts of water into the air?

  7. 7

    I forwarded your email to some local librarians. I hope to read all of them soon, especially your own. The bad news is that all of the books you list may be deemed “too technical.”

  8. 8

    Makten över klimatet by Christian Azar,

    only in Swedish :(

  9. 9
    Douglas Wise says:

    A book which is freely downloadable on the internet has very recently been published by David Mackay, a Cambridge University Professor of Physics. It deals with the various major options (and costs) for sustainable energy deployment in a UK context. IMO it is an excellent and very useful document. In order to find it, google David Mackay and sustainable energy. Happy Christmas.

  10. 10
    Barton Paul Levenson says:

    Anonymous writes:

    Any chance to have your take on the news that a man named Ron Ace claims to have found a means against global warming – namely spraying huge amounts of water into the air?

    Wouldn’t work. The average residence time of a molecule of water in the air is nine days.

  11. 11
    Jörg Haas says:

    I would recommend a book that has now come out on occasion of the climate negotiations in Poznan. Written by Paul Baer and Tom Athanasiou from Ecoequity and Sivan Kartha from the Stockholm Environment Institute, “The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework” provides the most convincing proposal on how to share the effort to meet the climate crisis globally in an arguably fair way.
    It answers the question that bedevils many debates: What is the fair share of the US in solving the climate problem, what is the task of the EU, and how much should China or India contribute?
    This publication is garnering increasingly support among NGOs across the globe and merits a bigger readership in the US as well. You find the book plus summary available at

  12. 12
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Anonymus, The Ron Ace piece is not exactly what I’d call hard-hitting journalism. Basically, as I understand it, Ace’s idea is to transport heat high into the atmosphere with water vapor, where, supposedly, it can radiate away more efficiently. The issues with Ace’s “solution” are that:
    1)for the most part, water vapor content of the atmosphere is governed by the Claussius-Clapeyron equation. So the only way to get more water vapor into the atmosphere is to bring water where water is already scarce. If this were easy, the deserts would be green.
    2)CO2 is well mixed in the atmosphere even up into the lower stratosphere. So at most, even if this approach were practical, it would delay the problem until CO2 concentration at high altitude formed an effective barrier to radiation, and then warming would kick back in with a vengeance.

    Ideas like this are worth looking at, but, I wouldn’t expect a silver bullet. On the other hand, it would probably make for some very pretty fountains.

  13. 13

    I would add Tyler Volk’s ‘CO2 Rising’ to this list. I particularly like Volk’s approach of using the lifecycle of a carbon atom – one called Dave in particular, and his relatives – to explore the various fates of fossil-fuel carbon. In doing so, Volk also explains the global carbon cycle. Euan Nisbet has a comprehensive review of the book here:

    Similarly, I think that Eric Roston’s ‘The Carbon Age’ deserves a mention for a novel way into the issue of climate change. Roston documents the history of carbon back to the beginning of its existence right after the Big Bang, up to the post-industrial accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

    And though you’ve already pointed to it, I think that David Archer’s ‘The Long Thaw’ has done more than other piece of writing in highlighting just how long CO2 can stay in the atmosphere, a point that really has been overlooked by the media, and perhaps also at the policy level. Mason Inman wrote a news feature on it here, which I think does a really nice job of unpacking its importance:

  14. 14
    Spencer says:

    Also of interest, late this year saw publication of a SECOND, REVISED AND UPDATED edition of The Discovery of Global Warming by Spencer Weart (me). This was first published in 2003, and I added a new chapter to cover the important scientific and public developments since then. Earlier parts were revised to accommodate new historical information and the findings of the IPCC’s 2008 assessment report. I made some abridgments to keep the overall length down so it remains a quick read. More info at

  15. 15
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Spencer, Fair is fair. Shouldn’t Dave Benson get a commission for the number of times he has recommended “The Discovery of Global Warming” in the denialosphere? Then again, he probably hasn’t gotten many takers–not much demand for knowledge there.

  16. 16
    Hank Roberts says:

    Second recommendation, agreeing with
    # Jörg Haas (above) 23 December 2008 at 6:37 AM
    … “The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework” … book plus summary available at
    and hoping to see discussion somewhere bringing the climate scientists in (likely not appropriate at RC, but not sure where else to look)

  17. 17
    John Mashey says:

    Re #7 Edward

    When you say “too technical”, can you say more about the target audience?

    On my list, I have several year’s history giving away copies of Ruddiman, to non-technical adults and one (smart) high schooler, and I think the other books seem similarly suitable. I’ve recommended them but too recently to have gotten feedback. The latter have more explanation of the known science, Ruddiman’s covers basics and illutratrates the tug-and-from of hypotheses that might or might not get accepted, and his Chapter 18 is really useful (on the alternate universe in which most physics doesn’t work. The most striking comment came via a friend who’d read it, and then gave a copy to a lawyer friend, who said it was the first thing he could read about this. Hopefully I’ll get feedback on the others.

    However, it might be useful if there were a more coherent standard scheme for describing the levels of books, prerequisites, and plausible sequences for different needs. I took a cut at that over at Deltoid on “How to learn about science”, but it needs more work.

  18. 18
    David B. Benson says:

    Ray Ladbury (15) — Thanks, but I don’t need a commission. I would appreciate some assistance with book recommendations, over and over and ovaer again, however.


  19. 19
    Larry Coleman says:

    For the record, Joe Romm’s book is titled, “Hell AND High Water,” a more apt title, I am sure you will agree.

    [Response: Oh yes. I’ll fix it. – gavin]

  20. 20
    Hank Roberts says:

    Delighted to see Dr. Weart’s update — I’d missed it.

    Is there a ‘difference’ file somewhere in the website?

    An aside — it would be fascinating to take that book apart, each major post a main topic on a book-blog, and take questions. In public it’d need great patience and much filtering, like Robert Grumbine does (insisting on cites with questions, culling crap).

    As an outline of the major issues, it’s a great organizer for thought.

    Again thanks for mentioning the update.

  21. 21
    Maya says:

    I recently bought and read Dire Predictions, and thought it very good – thorough (although I did notice some typos), and not “too technical” for a curious non-scientist to comprehend. I’ll be recommending it to anyone who wonders what that IPCC report actually means, or who is curious about climate change but doesn’t know a lot about it yet.

  22. 22
    Mark says:

    I’ve read “Apollo’s Fire”. In addition to policy solutions, the book has a fairly detailed discussion on energy technology (solar, wind, biofuels, CCS, nuclear, auto technology) with good references. Highly recommended.

  23. 23
    crf says:

    Two Books:

    Keeping Our Cool: Canada in a Warming World, by Andrew Weaver (

    Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next Fifty Years, by Vaclav Smil

  24. 24
    Hank Roberts says:

    Tangentially related:
    Most Cited Authors on Climate Science:

  25. 25
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Hank, That is excellent! What a thoughtful Christmas gift. It’s just what I wanted–and in my size, too. ;-) Thanks. Keep up the usual good work.

  26. 26
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re: #12 (Ray Ladbury’s 2nd point)

    I have never heard of Ron Ace’s idea but am just interested in the thought experiment your comment has provoked:

    Suppose you could create an artificial heater high in the sky by means of e.g. a vast heat pump; perhapse the lapse might be reversed in sign over a short range of height. Now add CO2 to this layer as suggested by Ray. Ray appears to have assumed that this would produce run of the mill global warming. Might not the sign of the additional greenhouse effect be reversed ? (as in the stratosphere?)

  27. 27
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Geoff, I don’t think the situation you describe would be stable–a warm layer would have lower density and so would rise into the cooler layer above, cooling on the way. Moreover if there is CO2 above, it would capture the outgoing IR. The stratosphere has the profile that it does because of its low density and the fact that it is heated from above. It sounds like a recipe for some really bitchin’ thunderstorms, though.

  28. 28

    Try “Climate Wars” by Gwynne Dyer. He`s a prolific geopolitical analyst and I`m curious what you think of the book?

  29. 29
    Geoff Wexler says:


    I know this is off topic but now that we have started it I want to make sure. As you will see , I have nearly dropped the suggestion but not quite:

    My question was not about stability, but about radiation transfer and the sign of the additional greenhouse effect produced by adding CO2 to an artificially heated layer. The answer would appear to depend on whether the following argument could ever apply at equilibrium

    Artificial heating per unit volume + Greenhouse absorption = greenhouse emission (1)

    The effect of the heating is to raise the temperature thus raising the right hand side of (1) to get equality. It might well be the case that the second term on the left can then be neglected for the next bit of the argument.

    Now add some more greenhouse gas. Because the left hand side is approximately constant (because the 2nd term is small) the right hand side is also approx. const. For this to occur the temperature must fall.

    Now I admit that the problem with this argument is that it does not apply over much of the air. The layer of gas below the heat pumped layer will not receive much heat from it because of the lack of downward convection. The layer of gas above the heated layer will behave just as you wrote in your first comment.

  30. 30

    I got the book HELL & HIGH WATER, but no time to read.

    I got this idea for a novel (which I will never have time to write), COME HELL AND HIGH WATER. The society seems to be something out of the 18th C in some ways, and futuristic in other ways. And their sayings, like “come hell and high water,” are somewhat off. Like a distorted parallel world.

    There’s plenty of interpersonal drama and intrigue. The underlying conflict is whether or not to use fossil fuels for the growing civilization. Some are adamently opposed to it, say it’s immoral. But this is more than an environmental issue, tho it’s very much that, as well, and they are keenly aware of the dangers of climate change, and that seems at first to be the main issue in the conflict. But there’s something gut-taboo about it, like it would be a sacrilege. The countervailing forces are adamant in the need to use fossil fuels.

    In the end we find out the underlying issue. This is 50 million years in the future. The world went through horrible climate hysteresis for over 100,000 years (from about 2000 to 130,000 AD), with huge swaths of human populations killed off by climate change effects, mainly starvation — leaving only Lovelock’s few thousand breeding pairs. The world slowly recovered, and the human population eventually grew back again.

    The oil and coal are the fossil fuel remains of those climate hysteresis populations — the ancestors of the current people. And it would not only be foolish and dangerous to repeat the history of world destruction through climate hysteresis, but a sacrilege to exhume the ancestors.

  31. 31

    #9 Douglas Wise, on David Mackay’s book: I downloaded it and it’s entertaining reading. You may disagree with some of his assumptions but since everything’s clearly quantified, it’s not too hard to rework the numbers. He’s taken the seldom-used approach of differentiating ethical (should we do X?) and scientific issues (can we do X?). This is useful because many people start from the ethics positions (“We mustn’t do nuclear because of the risks”; “I distrust environmentalists therefore I’ll make all their arguments seem silly”) and from there skew their analysis of the science. Take his science then add in your ethics, and you can clearly see the change your ethics causes to what is scientifically achievable. He does not cost anything so you need to add that but as with the ethics dimension, the economics arguments are all too often applied before the science is fully worked through, so I can see the point of his approach.

  32. 32
    John Mashey says:

    Lynne Cherry & Gary Braasch, How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate – Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming, 2008.

    This is a 66-page book that (I think) is aimed for Grades 5-8. It is nicely illustrated, seems accurate at the level it’s written for, and the authors talked to a long list of scientists, including Prof. Mann.
    It has a reasonable set of pointers to additional resources.

    Not having kids or often talking to this age group, I have no idea whether this is good pedagogy or not, but it certainly seemed Ok, and they certainly talked to people.

    Anyway: different category: books for grade school and high school.

  33. 33
    Geoff Beacon says:

    Ray Ladbury says

    So at most, even if this approach were practical, it would delay the problem

    The practicality may be a problem but don’t knock delay. I don’t approve of ad hominum argument but I have heard James Lovelock say the climate needs sticking plasters to delay global heating, while longer term solutions are engineered.

    I agree.

  34. 34
    Alan Neale says:

    Many many people posting all over the place especially at newspaper sites seem not to understand the potential ramifications of AGW, the intensification of weather, whether flood or drought, sea level rise issues and crumbling of coast lines over time that cannot be defended and the rises in tides that submerge islands and ruin fresh water courses. The deglaciation of certain parts of the world where glaciers mean life for the rivers and hecne the people during summers and spring etc. The expansion of hadley cells and the spread of deserts, the acidification of the oceans and destruction of many natural and necesary habitats.

    which book tells the systemic nature of issues for humans as we get the ineviatable warming and the alarmingly reported 2C threshold other than Siz Degrees by Mark Lynas. Which scientific laymans book tells this story ?

  35. 35
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Geoff, I’ve also been a strong advocate of buying time (I’d rather call it that than delay, since that seems to be the goal of the denialosphere). I also think we won’t be able to pick and choose strategies. I just think Ace’s strategy tends to rely most on the portions of climate science (e.g. clouds, etc.) where uncertainties are largest. By all means, it’s worth looking into. Like I say, it could make for some bitchin’ fountains. Can you imagine how beautiful you could make this?
    Ever been to Iguacu falls in Brazil? It’s a huge waterfall on the Brazil-Argentine border. The spray from the falls is so significant, it creates a rain forest for about a mile around the falls and permanent rainbows whenever the sun is shining. It could be the most beautiful mitigation option.

  36. 36
    Hank Roberts says:

    > water as mitigation

    And besides beautiful, fun — cooling towers for power plants could be modified to shoot huge “smoke rings” into the upper atmosphere.

    Add a big membrane and pile driver across the bottom and a narrow collar at the top, and Wham-O! Don’t miss the movie here:

  37. 37
    Matt says:

    #9, #31

    Can I third that recommendation- David Mackay’s book “Sustainable energy without the hot air”, available as free download.

    It’s about sustainable energy rather than AGW specifically (though there is a decent section on the ‘climate change motivation’ at the beginning and a consideration of carbon capture at the end). But I’d urge anybody interested in the policy implications of climate change to read it (which should be everybody, of course!)

  38. 38

    Climate Safety, PIRC – a summary of the latest climate science and its implications for policymaking, free pdf from

    Kyoto2, Oliver Tickell – covers not only his proposed post-Kyoto framework, but the full range of necessary/cost-effective solutions.

    Transition Handbook, Rob Hopkins – because it’s not simply about big policy frameworks, it’s also about people getting off their arses and doing something!

  39. 39
    Geoff Beacon says:

    I’ve just been reading Ensuring the UK’s Food Security in a Changing World (
    where it says

    Even with decisive global action the world is already locked into unavoidable climate change – even if all greenhouse gas emissions stopped tomorrow, there would still be around 0.6°C further warming over the next few decades because of the inertia of the climate

    Is this still true?

    The “even if they stopped tomorrow” argument suggests a get out for lazy policy analysts: They hint that a little more from their sector or country won’t make a bad scenario that much worse.

    But if mechanisms do exist for reversing climate change (e.g. extracting greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere exists or clever manipulation of water vapour), policy makers might then be asked: “How difficult or costly is it to reverse the effects of our emissions?”

    To challenge policy makers like this, it would be helpful to know the range of possible mechanisms for reversing climate change explained.

    Do any books do this? If not can we start a list?

  40. 40
    Hank Roberts says:

    Yes, that’s becoming more true every day — and it keeps going up over far more than the next few decades. This probably isn’t said enough; it’s the fact that’s deep in the bone for those of us concerned for the long term.

    As always, look up the main cite, read the citing and related articles, follow it through to the more recent work.

    : Science. 2005 Mar 18;307(5716):1766-9.
    The climate change commitment.
    Wigley TM.

    National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO 80307, USA.

    Even if atmospheric composition were fixed today, global-mean temperature and sea level rise would continue due to oceanic thermal inertia. These constant-composition (CC) commitments and their uncertainties are quantified. Constant-emissions (CE) commitments are also considered. The CC warming commitment could exceed 1 degrees C. The CE warming commitment is 2 degrees to 6 degrees C by the year 2400. For sea level rise, the CC commitment is 10 centimeters per century (extreme range approximately 1 to 30 centimeters per century) and the CE commitment is 25 centimeters per century (7 to 50 centimeters per century). Avoiding these changes requires, eventually, a reduction in emissions to substantially below present levels. For sea level rise, a substantial long-term commitment may be impossible to avoid.

  41. 41
    Geoff Beacon says:


    Thank you. That is very useful indeed. But you say

    Avoiding these changes requires, eventually, a reduction in emissions to substantially below present levels.

    Are you ignoring the possibility of “negative emissions” for good reason. Extracting CO2 from the air using biochar or biomass burning with carbon capture are surely possibilities. These are two of the theoretically possible ways of reversing global warming. It would be good to know what the others are.

    When policy makers are forced to take climate change more seriously, a good knowledge of the benefits and pitfalls of climate reversing mechanisms will be necessary to stop them … expletives deleted.

    So what other ones are there?

  42. 42

    Maybe “climate hysteresis” on the order of the end-Permian warming (when 95% of life on earth died) is not the worst that we may be triggering.

    If we persist in burning ALL fossil fuels, including those in the tar sands and oil shale, we could be headed for a “venus syndrome.”

    See James Hansen’s recent AGU presentation: Powerpoint or PDF

  43. 43
  44. 44
    Geoff Beacon says:


    Thanks for the frightening link. Definitely something to send to policy makers.


    Thank you. I have now heard of several possible reversing mechanisms which reverse global warming by sequestering carbon dioxide:

    – seeding the ocean with iron-salts
    – biomass burning with carbon capture
    – biochar
    – dolorite
    – peroditite
    – olivine

    And some non-sequestration mechanisms:

    — large fountains spraying water into the atmosphere
    — injection of sulphur dioxide into the upper atmosphere

    Any others?

    Should orbiting space mirrors be on the list? The BBC have a piece about these on their website “Guns and sunshades to rescue climate”,, (March 2006). In the same piece they report the views of Ken Caldeira from the Department of Global Ecology at Stanford:

    Ken Caldeira agrees that geoengineering is, for the moment, a tempting but illusory quick fix to an intricate system; a much less problematic solution, he says, would be to change our lifestyles by reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
    “I think the Earth’s system is so complicated that our interfering with it is very likely to screw things up and very unlikely to improve things,” he says. “And this is the only planet we have.”

    Are all mechanisms on the lists above “geoengineering”? Semantics apart, are any of them likely to “screw things up”?

  45. 45
    G.R.L. Cowan says:

    When policy makers are forced to
    take climate change more seriously,
    a good knowledge of the benefits and pitfalls
    of climate reversing mechanisms will be necessary
    to stop them …

    So what other ones are there?

    Pulverization and dispersal of alkaline earth silicates
    from very abundant rocks such as peridotite or dunite.

    Another book: Prescription for the

  46. 46
    John Mashey says:

    As per #17, I’m trying to build a (mostly) general scale for science expertise, especially for climate, to have a framework to help explain to people where to start, how far they might want to look, what it will take, how to assess sources, etc. People are always asking what to read, and I always have to ask them what they know and how much they want to know.

    Here’s my best shot for now. Comments?

    0: no particular knowledge
    1: some science knowledge & skill in critical thinking
    2: “Public” or “Popular”, modest knowledge of climate science [H/S]
    3: Science-interested layperson
    4: Technical layperson [works in technical field]
    5: Scientist is related field or early climate scientist
    6: Beginning professional climate scientist
    7-10: Professional climate scientist, with increasing experience/impact

    Of course, “layperson” means in a specific field: a person may be a world-class expert in one field, and a layperson elsewhere.

    High school or Undergraduate non-technical, or “rusty”: 2, maybe 3, math & statistics & physics may be the barrier.

    Technical UG: 4 (can handle more math+), can understand technical arguments
    Climate science student: 4-5 (more math, coherent knowledge base)
    Technical MS/PhD: 4-5 (more math & maybe science)
    Science MS/PhD in closely-related field: 5-6 (strong knowledge in some science)
    New PhD in climate science: 6
    Climate scientists: 7-10, in increasing order of experience, publication, impact, noting of course that doing useful research doesn’t require a PhD, that climate scientists, especially senior ones, have backgrounds in many different disciplines (just like no early computer scientists had PhDs in it :-)) Old peer-reviewed publications count less, and OpEds don’t count.

    6-10 actually do climate research and publish peer-reviewed work for other climate scientists, do peer review, write IPCC reports, etc, etc.
    5 may actually contribute to research as well, especially if on a team, but can at least read the speci*list literature in some areas, and maybe able to detect errors without looking them up.

    4 may be able to read some speci*list literature, but doesn’t know the field in depth, and may have to work harder to detect errors.

    3 has read half a dozen books, including some moderately more technical ones, maybe some good websites, maybe follows blogs like RC. Can recognize silly errors.

    2 Has read a few good books, without much math.

    1 Has read enough to understand how science works and think critically. Some here may actually be good nonsense-detectors.

    For example: I’d put my kit of {Archer, Ruddiman, Mann&Kump} into 2, i.e., if you’d read those and understood them, you’d be at 2 or above.

    I think Archer’s “Global Warming – Understanding the Forecast” would be about 3 [and I would be interested to hear what the *typical* backgrounds/years are for the students who use it.]

    Scientific American would be centered around 3-4.
    Science would be split: the first half would be 4-5, the second half 6-10.
    AGU publications would be 7-10, i.e., written for researchers in the field.

    This is a very rough categorization, and not particularly linear, but more like a 2-based exponential from 1 up, recognizing that professionals have much higher expertise than amateurs, regardless of credentials, and the top people in any field are really, really good.

    There would be a corresponding negative scale for non-science (covering -1:1,or maybe -2:2), and anti-science (-10:-1).

  47. 47
    Barton Paul Levenson says:

    Lynn writes:

    If we persist in burning ALL fossil fuels, including those in the tar sands and oil shale, we could be headed for a “venus syndrome.”

    See James Hansen’s recent AGU presentation

    If Hansen is saying we could go into a runaway greenhouse effect as on Venus, I think he’s dead wrong. I can’t think of any planetary astronomy or climatologist who would agree with him on that.

  48. 48
    Alan Neale says:

    RE# 45, the book where James Hansen backs the development of IFR nuclear that uses existing waste to power our electricity infrastructure and the heat can be used to make hydrogen maybe. He also calls for a new electricity grid to be developed and deployed. Great ideas and possible solutions to our fossil fuel addicition but (and there is always a but) where is the strategy for global programmes to resolve all of these issues.

    Reports, reports, reports have been produced with brilliant ideas of resolving our energy needs and climate problems but as yet only simply and nationalistic programmes have had any light of day with regard to this. It seems to be that legislation, politics and agendas will scupper anything but obvious ideas on energy generation.

  49. 49
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Geoff Beacon, One of the ironies in the whole climate debate in the blogosphere is that so-called skeptics seem eager to embrace mitigation technologies relying on the most uncertain aspects of understanding of climate (e.g. aerosols and clouds) while rejecting the portions of our understanding that are a lead-pipe cinch. Such credulity is one of the reasons I’m skeptical of their skepticism.

  50. 50
    Ray Ladbury says:

    John Mashey, I can see some scope for extension of your scheme to the negative side of the axis to include folks who are actively opposed to science. We could also introduce an imaginary axis to account for some folks with scientific/engineering training who nonetheless persist in misconceptions about the science. ;-)
    Seriously, though, I think this is a good starting point, but I think it presumes openmindedness to the subject matter. The tougher nuts to crack are those who don’t believe in science to begin with or who (to paraphrase Twain) know things that just ain’t so.