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The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth's Climate (Science Essentials) [Paperback]

David Archer
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Book Description

15 Aug 2010 Science Essentials

If you think that global warming means slightly hotter weather and a modest rise in sea levels that will persist only so long as fossil fuels hold out (or until we decide to stop burning them), think again. In The Long Thaw, David Archer, one of the world's leading climatologists, predicts that if we continue to emit carbon dioxide we may eventually cancel the next ice age and raise the oceans by 50 meters. The great ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland may take more than a century to melt, and the overall change in sea level will be one hundred times what is forecast for 2100. By comparing the global warming projection for the next century to natural climate changes of the distant past, and then looking into the future far beyond the usual scientific and political horizon of the year 2100, Archer reveals the hard truths of the long-term climate forecast.

Archer shows how just a few centuries of fossil-fuel use will cause not only a climate storm that will last a few hundred years, but dramatic climate changes that will last thousands. Carbon dioxide emitted today will be a problem for millennia. For the first time, humans have become major players in shaping the long-term climate. In fact, a planetwide thaw driven by humans has already begun. But despite the seriousness of the situation, Archer argues that it is still not too late to avert dangerous climate change--if humans can find a way to cooperate as never before.

Revealing why carbon dioxide may be an even worse gamble in the long run than in the short, this compelling and critically important book brings the best long-term climate science to a general audience for the first time.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (15 Aug 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691148112
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691148113
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 14.1 x 1.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 533,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Winner of the 2009 Walter P. Kistler Award, The Foundation For the Future

One of The Australian's Best Books of 2009

Selected to appear on ClimateUnited's Booklist of Top Books on Climate Change

"Worried about warming but confused about carbon? Try [The Long Thaw], which tells you nearly everything you need to know with down-to-earth clarity and brevity."--Evan Hadingham, PBS's NOVA blog

"Archer . . . presents the dire and long-lasting consequences of our fossil-fuel dependency but concludes that it's not too late for us to go a different, better way."--Avital Binshtock, Sierra Club Blog

"A beautifully written primer on why climate change matters hugely for our future--on all time scales."--New Scientist

"Archer has perfectly pitched answers to the most basic questions about global warming while providing a sound basis for understanding the complex issues frequently misrepresented by global warming skeptics. With a breezy, conversational style, he breaks complex concepts into everyday analogies. Divided into three parts--the Present, the Past and the Future--Archer provides a complete picture of climate change now, in the past, and what we can expect in years and centuries to come. His models, though conservative, imply that humans won't survive the environmental consequences of severe warming over the next thousand years. While Archer is neither grim nor pessimistic, he is forthright about what's at stake, and what must do to avert catastrophe."--Publishers Weekly

"It is comprehensive, well written and includes numerous useful vignettes from climate history. Archer leads the reader to a simple yet accurate picture of climate changes, ranging from geological time scales to current warming, ice ages and prospects for the future."--Susan Solomon, Nature

"The Long Thaw is written for anyone who wishes to know what cutting-edge science tells us about the modern issue of global warming and its effects on the pathways of atmospheric chemistry, as well as global and regional temperatures, rainfall, sea level, Arctic sea-ice coverage, melting of the continental ice sheets, cyclonic storm frequency and intensity and ocean acidification. This book will also appeal to scientists who want a clear and unbiased picture of the global-warming problem and how it may progress in the future. It encapsulates Archer's own efforts in the field of climate research, which I found invaluable."--Fred T. Mackenzie, Nature Geoscience

"The power of Archer's book is to show that such [climate] changes, which we can bring about through just a few centuries of partying on carbon, can only be matched by the earth itself over vastly longer periods. . . . It's the kind of perspective we need in order to realize how insane we're being."--Chris Mooney, American Prospect

"Global climate change is the subject of thousands of books; this short volume is distinctive in multiple ways. Archer is a geophysicist (and a look-alike--except for stubble--for late British actor David Niven), whose scientific background lets him place climate change in the context of its variations in geological history. He points out that the Earth's orbital cycles had poised it to enter a new ice age when human influences began to override natural forces."--F.T. Manheim, Choice

"If you think global warming is going to stop in its tracks as soon as our fossil fuel fix runs its course, think again. Intensifying hurricanes, mega-droughts, and the mass extinction of species are just the beginning, says leading climatologist David Archer, renowned in part for his work with the respected blog RealClimate. Though we still have time to avert the worst of climate change, he says, the ramifications of our carbon spewing (think a ten-foot rise in ocean levels) will last well beyond even our grandchildren's years. A good storyteller, Archer walks us through the history of climate change, starting in the 1800s, when the term 'greenhouse effect' first made its way into scientific parlance. Tempering techie speak with accessible analogies, Archer manages in the James Hansen-approved volume to speak to scientists and laymen alike."--Plenty

"Notice to climate change deniers: I don't want to hear another word about the Little Ice Age, cosmic rays of the Palaeocene Eocene thermal maximum event 55 million years ago until you've read David Archer's little book. He's a geophysical scientist at the University of Chicago and he knows his stuff. He sets out the latest scientific understanding of climate change through geological time, human time, and beyond. It's the clearest introduction I've seen yet to the complexity of the planet's climate system and how a certain bipedal species may know it gally wonk."--Leigh Dayton, The Australian

"The great appeal of this short book lies in Archer's ability to find easily comprehensible analogies and his no-nonsense prose. . . . This is a true rarity. A book about climate change written by an expert everyone can understand."--Sydney Morning Herald, "Pick of the Week"

"David Archer has written a highly engaging and accessible review of the scientific bases for anthropogenic global warming and the dilemmas of what, as a global community, we should do next. The text is written for a general audience, reflecting the aims of the Science Essentials series of which it is a part, namely, to bring the findings of cutting-edge scientific research to the public."--Tim Denham, Journal of Archaeological Science

"If you have time in your busy schedule to read only one book on climate change and climate science basics, this would be a good choice. Archer, an oceanographer and University of Chicago geosciences professor, has written a conversational, engaging, and short (remember, you're busy) book."--Natural Hazards Observer

"If you have time in your busy schedule to read only one book on climate change and climate science basics, this would be a good choice. Archer, an oceanographer and University of Chicago geosciences professor, has written a conversational, engaging, and short (remember, you are busy) book that covers the last 500 million years or so of the Earth's climate."--Disaster Prevention and Management

"David Archer's The Long Thaw . . . tells you nearly everything you need to know with down-to-earth clarity and brevity. . . . [R]eading The Long Thaw is sobering and enlightening rather than depressing. It's packed with informative, accessible background on past climate cycles and why they are relevant to assessing today's warming."--Evan Hadingham, Inside NOVA

"[T]he ideas expounded in the book are of great importance to the debate on climate change and deserve to be more widely appreciated. Let us hope that Archer's message becomes widely understood and acted upon before we find that we have already committed ourselves to damaging (and potentially irreversible) climate change."--John King, Journal of Polar Record

From the Inside Flap

"In this short book, David Archer gives us the latest on climate change research, and skillfully tells the climate story that he helped to discover: generations beyond our grandchildrens grandchildren will inherit atmospheric changes and an altered climate as a result of our current decisions about fossil-fuel burning. Not only are massive climate changes coming if we humans continue on our current path, but many of these changes will last for millennia. To make predictions about the future, we rely on research into the deep past, and Archer is at the forefront of this field: paleoclimatology. This is the book for anyone who wishes to really understand what cutting-edge science tells us about the effects we are having, and will have, on our future climate."--Richard B. Alley, Pennsylvania State University

"This is the best book about carbon dioxide and climate change that I have read. David Archer knows what he is talking about."--James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

"Books on climate change tend to focus on what is expected to happen this century, which will certainly be large, but they often neglect the even larger changes expected to take place over many centuries. The Long Thaw looks at climate effects beyond the twenty-first century, and its focus on the long-term carbon cycle, rather than just climate change, is unique."--Jeffrey T. Kiehl, National Center for Atmospheric Research

"A great book. What sets it apart is that it expands the discussion of the impacts of global warming beyond the next century and convincingly describes the effects that are projected for the next few thousand years. What also sets it apart is how deeply it takes general readers into the scientific issues of global warming by using straightforward explanations of often complex ideas."--Peter J. Fawcett, University of New Mexico

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A long-term perspective on climate change 8 Mar 2009
While newspapers tend to follow the IPCC lead in focusing only on changes up to 2100, David Archer describes changes to the Earth's climate in geological time. On these time scales, the 300 or 400 year period within which we are burning up the planet's fossil fuels is vanishingly tiny, but in increasing atmospheric CO2 at an unprecedented rate, man could now be responsible for changes that will last for millennia.

Thinking beyond our present century changes one's perspective. The Earth takes centuries to warm up completely after a change in atmospheric CO2. Emissions this century leading to a 2 degree C rise by 2100 could ultimately be responsible for a 3.3 degree rise. The final rise in sea level that could lead to, in centuries, might be 100 times the IPCC estimate for 2100 - not 0.5 metre, but 50 metres. A leakage rate of 0.1% per annum may be described as 'successful' carbon capture, but this too represents very short-term thinking, for as Archer points out, the CO2 reservoir would largely have escaped to the atmosphere after 1000 years. Imagine if the Normans has left us that kind of legacy...

Archer concludes by considering the consequences of burning one gallon of petrol. 2500 kilocalories of energy to power a car, but 100 billion kilocalories of useless and unwanted greenhouse heat from the CO2 over its lifetime in the atmosphere.
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By Bent A
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this book because for years I have been wondering whether global warming is anthropogenic or not (to the extent there has been global warming). All the time we hear both views opinioned by scientists, although media and the organized environmental industry try to sell the propaganda that "we know with certainty" that ALL global warming is caused humans. But has the hypothesis regarding anthropogenic global (AGW) warming been sufficiently verified by empirical findings? I had read that Archer's book "The Long Thaw" was balanced, and since it is reasonable short and non-expensive, I bought this book along with two other books (Chris Mooney's "Storm World" and Farmer and Cook's "Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis").

The book turned out to be a disappointment. Instead of being thoroughly explanatory and BALLANCED it is marred with alarmist tendencies, inconsistent inferences, and conjectures asserting that there are no other plausible explanations than AGW. The text does not consistently back up that this assertion. The representation of adjoining subjects and statements are not contiguous; does not move logically from 'a' to 'b' to 'c', etc., but are spread around in different parts of the book, making "connecting the dots" a "detective job" that should have been entirely unnecessary. Having read other reviews on and I discover that I'm not the only one to experience this. Reading "The Long Thaw" will not get you closer to the "truth". On me it had an almost opposite effect. Not only am I not closer to be able to make a sound conclusion, but my skepticism has increased a little.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading 21 Aug 2010
This book comes at the unfolding tragedy of climate change from a different perspective to many others. The basics are all covered, but the really fascinating aspects are the lessons to be learned from the past history of planet Earth. Denialists are used to blithely asserting that climate changed all the time in the past, but reading of past variations in sea levels with climates only a little warmer than today destroys any suggestion that this is somehow a comforting fact. Nobody who reads this book can be left in any doubt of how serious our current risktaking is. It is one of those rare books - an exposition of difficult science that is also compulsively readable.
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8 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not quite what was promised 30 May 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The theme of the book is clearly stated in the first paragraph. 'Global warming could be one of humankind's longest lasting legacies. The climatic impacts of releasing fossil fuel CO2 to the atmosphere will last longer than Stonehenge. Longer than nuclear waste, far longer than the age of human civilisation so far'. It forms part of a series claiming 'to bring the best long-term climate science to a general audience for the first time'. Does it justify this claim?

First impressions of the book are mixed. Positives: the author is an oceanographer, so he ought to know what he's talking about; the tone is reasoned and unhysterical about the impact of climate change to date (not a lot, in his view) and for the next fifty to a hundred years ('generally expected to be more harmful than good', which is hardly Armageddon); and the author's insistence on looking beyond the next hundred years is worth our attention.

But for a book aiming to bring 'the best long-term climate science', and 'for the first time', there is a long way to go. The index is poor (no mention of individual authors); there are no textual references; the bibliography is limited, selective (no sign that the author has looked at any alternative explanations of the climate data), and quite dated; and many of the graphs are unattributed (e.g. Figure 4, p.33) and/or, at least to this reviewer, completely incomprehensible (e.g. Figure 20, p.152). The tone swings uneasily between the simple and the complex; this member of a 'general audience' sank without trace in Chapter 9. And worst of all, some lazy factual errors have crept in unchecked from other AGW literature: the myth that Tuvalu in the Pacific is sinking beneath a rising sea level (pp.
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