I highly recommend this book. But I suspect that this book will not appeal to most readers. There's none of the intense hyperbole that infects both global warming fanatics and many of their deniers. There are no grand apocalyptic scenarios that garner such strong public appeal. No terrifying future, no living on the brink of disaster. Only quiet nuanced science from those who spend their life in research. One suspects that the politics of global warming has now superseded the science and sad to say, when politics enters the room, truth shuffles its way into the background. This is unfortunate since there are many things about the environment with which we should be concerned - not the least being our consumption of non renewable resources. My fervent hope is that we can move past the exaggerated apocalypse of global warming while addressing the necessary issues of the environment - i.e., the rest of the environment aside from climate change.
In this case of Shattered Consensus, all ten contributors are scientists and experts in their field. Each chapter, and scientific report, covers a separate and distinct aspect of climate. This is really a collection of reports, not a coherent "story". Each contributor has their own style, some being more accessible than others. They present the science as they understand it and in that regard the average reader may find the information dry, or indeed undecipherable. Most of the ten authors include a short conclusion which may be helpful for those unwilling to plow through the science. Nonetheless the reader is left in the end overwhelmed not by the certainty of any position, but by the staggering uncertainty in all aspects related to this Earth's climate. Our ability to measure past trends in climate are dependent on woefully scant data. Our ability to project future trends have no unambiguous models yet. In fact, the variability of the results of the different models are so big as to render them basically useless for anything other than further research. They certainly shouldn't be used to make definitive statements as to future trends. The effects of CO2 are still highly uncertain with some models suggesting no impact and some observations linking CO2 to an indicator of climate change not a driver - i.e., CO2 changes as a result of climate change, not the other way around. Much more research is needed to understand why these discrepancies are observed. Even if global warming is happening, and even if CO2 is at least partly to blame, the impact of global warming in some scenarios is actually beneficial to not only humans, but to some species. Indeed, in all of Earth's history through warming and cooling periods, some species benefit and other lose.
The reader is left with the question, since scientists tell us that the unknowns vastly outweigh the things that are known about climate, what should our policy decisions making framework be based on. Is seems to me that we need to base it on what is known. Air quality, water quality, land use, availability of non renewable resources, are all things we can measure and for which policies can be made. Having a single enemy (CO2, in this case) is certainly more appealing and simple for the average consumer to understand. But simple is not always best.
It should be noted that none of these scientists is involved in the petroleum industry (a favorite disclaimer by those wanting to discredit the validity of anyone critical of global warming science). Some have even been involved in the IPCC directly (the UN Intergovernmental protocol on climate change). Scientists are by nature a conservative lot. A hypothesis lasts as long as the next set of experiments that disprove it, or tenuously as long as further experiments continue to confirm it. Most scientists don't seek a public profile and most are uncomfortable playing the role of a nay-sayer, especially in the face of such publicly popular resources as Al Gore's an Inconvenient Truth. I will rely on the scientific truth to work its way to the surface. I just hope we don't waste too much in the way of public funds on chasing windmills when there are so many important issues in this world that need attention.