Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery

A very useful and informative guide to the issue of climate change.
In short chapters, Flannery covers the background and basics to both the climate and the science behind it all. In the first part he discusses where we are and how we got there; how our use of fossil fuels has lead to increased warming. The second part elaborates on specific areas such as: ice ages; coral reefs; polar melting; species extinction; mountains; rainfall; and tipping points. The third part is about how scientific models of weather are created and how they work and covers various predictions being made. The fourth part discusses how political action has been taken in the past (with CFCs) to stop a climate issue, how we almost killed ourselves then, details about the Kyoto process and our responsibilities and some proposals that won’t really work (i.e., carbon sequestration). The final part is about what we can do to solve this problem. It involves an examination of nuclear and renewable possibilities, political and personal action that must be taken and specific references to do so.

The book wasn’t fascinating, but it was generally quite interesting and nicely comprehensive. If you haven’t read anything about the topic this would make a good introduction. Alternatively, I would probably still recommend Climate Wars more, both because it is more recent and more (appropriately) alarming. (Click here for a review.)

The first of two things that stood out from the book was a good description of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which I've mostly quoted:
The IPCC is not an industry or lobby group. It was established in 1988 and is a joint subsidiary body of the United Nations environmental program and the World Meterological Organization. The reports, of which there now have been 4, involve hundreds of experts, hundreds of reviewers, over 30 editors, before finally being approved by delegates from 100 countries; they must be approved by countries like Saudi Arabia, China and the US. The outcome is that the pronouncements of the IPCC do not represent mainstream science, nor even good science, but lowest common denominator science. Consequently, because the view being presented is very conservative, you should believe it, and also allow for the likelihood that things are worse than they are.
The second was information about how the accumulation of greenhouse gases led to the warming of the Indian Ocean, which lead to a decline in rainfall in the Sahel region of Africa, which lead to droughts beginning in the 1960s and continuing. This led to food shortages and increased malnutrition and conflict in some areas (think Darfur). Obviously, the issues are very complicated and the environment isn’t the only factor, but it is a factor and people often forget that.
In summation, The Weather Makers makes an excellent general resource and guide to the issue(s) of our climate and how it is changing.


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