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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars


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on 11 June 2013
Global Warming: The Human Contribution
The Burning Question is a most thought provoking book and is extremely well written for the general reader and should be compulsory reading for the policy makers of this world. It is a most welcome addition to the literature of global warming which suffers greatly from many books written by extreme sceptics who merely demonstrate their ignorance of the underlying science. I read the very clear ebook version.
We are reminded that the IPCC recommends that a global mean temperature rise since the beginning of the Industrial Age should not be more than 2°C, i.e., an extra 1.2°C above the 0.8°C that has already occurred. The authors deal with the difficulties involved with efforts to restrict fossil fuel emissions to another 565 gigatonnes of CO2 before the `danger' level is achieved. They point out that there is more than enough fossil fuel in the ground to produce sufficient warming. The burning of the known reserves would be more than enough and that would present problems to the producers who would no longer need to do any further exploration.
In part 2 the counterintuitive ways in which the global economy absorbs efficiency improvements are described. This section is particularly important and needs to be spread far and wide. For example, if cars are made more efficient so that more distance can be covered for the same amount of fuel the outcome is not necessarily any saving of fuel and its essential emission of CO2. The tendency would be for people to live further away from their workplace, to live in the countryside in cheaper houses and cause more facilities and schools to be built... IT has not led to energy savings. We still use mounds of paper and the postal letter service still exists. IT allows the sharing of thousands of photographic images that would not occur otherwise. The invention of modern ways of lighting houses has meant that the tungsten filament version has become almost obsolete. This could save energy, but we now tend to leave lights on in rooms not being occupied, we light more corners of selected rooms. Any methods that reduce energy use by any means leads to financial savings. Having more money to spend allows the purchase of extra goods and the extra emissions that are involved in their manufacture.
The basic physics of the greenhouse effect is not included; rather it is accepted without comment. The book is not meant to cover such technicalities; these are well covered in several books including my own ebook: Global Warming: The Human Contribution. My book has a discussion of the asymmetry of global warming that the IPCC 2°C limit ignores. The warming over the last 33 years has occurred almost entirely in the Northern Hemisphere. That tendency, if it continues until the global 2°C has occurred indicates that the mean temperature of the Northern Hemisphere would increase by some 4°C and that does mean bad news for all concerned.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 December 2013
I used to be sceptical about climate change but the more I read, for and against, the more I started to believe that we face a devastating problem that could destroy the world as we know it.

This book starts really strong and pulls together the reasons why there is little talk and even less action to correct the carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

As the book says, it's hard to imagine a less convincing argument than the future of the world will be destroyed by something that we can't see, taste or hear but gradually, second by second, the problem builds.

Then there are the vested interests with the big wallets (the existing carbon industries) who are able to buy political and media power far in excess of the climate change campaigners.

Then add in the fact that we have a natural tendency to avoid talking about bad, scary stuff. It's more comforting to pretend that a problem doesn't exist than to recognise it and face up to making changes needed.

Those changes are mainly negative in the short term, sacrificing the way of life we know and want to carry on.

This makes it hard for any politicians with moral fibre to act in the right way. Until the groundswell public opinion builds to be strongly in favour of acting on the climate change problem, it's hard for our leaders to lead.

The book doesn't mention it but one fundamental issue is that the problem, on the surface sounds trivial. The idea that a temperature increase of just two degrees centigrade must be stopped doesn't sound serious.

As someone who feels the cold badly and is rarely warm enough in Britain, an increase of 2C sounds very modest and without the scary end of the world stuff, I'd vote for a 10C increase. Then we might have proper summers.

I realise it's not that simple but there needs to be a much better job of putting across the doomsday scenarios of what climate change means in the future. We need major blockbusting novels and films to make the general public understand how serious it is and how close we are to the tipping point where it becomes too late. After that, all we can do is try to minimise the problems.

The book is excellent on explaining the current inertia and it needs to be read. It's ideal for anybody who is aware of both sides of the argument and wants to understand the unequal battle being waged. It gently introduces various technologies that I was unaware of.

It's weaker on how to build critical mass amongst the disinterested, let alone the climate change deniers who are winning much of the popular debate at the moment.

It is very well written but it made me realise just how much the odds are stacked against effective action. I've come away feeling more depressed than hopeful that politicians will reach agreement to limit carbon emissions.

About my book reviews - I aim to be a tough reviewer because the main cost of a book is not the money to buy it but the time needed to read it and absorb the key messages. 4 stars means this is a good to very good book.
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on 29 July 2013
This is a very readable account of the challenges around fossil fuel use over the coming decades.

It begins by outlining the history and current state of carbon dioxide emissions from man's use of fossil fuels. It explains how, despite high certainty in climate science and increased awareness of this, we are still on a 'business as usual' trajectory for fossil fuel use over the coming years. The immense political challenge with changing this is realistically appraised, as are the current role of increased energy efficiency and growth in renewables. It concludes with some thoughts on the role that everyone can play in bringing about meaningful action.

The book succeeds in putting across both the fairly depressing gravity of the problem and of the solution. It also succeeds in inspiring the reader to think about their responsibilities and how action at all levels of society is needed. Throughout it is well referenced and seems a balanced representation of consensus views. I would highly recommended it.
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on 9 June 2013
The main problem identified in the book is that the vast majority of people simply don't want to believe that climate change is threatening life on this planet, and that it is a man made problem that mankind needs to react to now. The book gives very clear summaries of how the problem has arisen, the hurdles we need to cross to alleviate the problem (its already too far gone to stop), and the risks to our descendants if we don't act now. This book should be compulsory reading for every school in the world in the hope that a knowledgeable young generation will force an end to the horrific complacency that abounds today, fuelled by vested interests and climate deniers.
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on 30 August 2013
I highly recommend this book. It is the most considered and researched book on climate change I have ever read. No use of convoluted words or messages. Beautifully articulate and thought provoking! Buy, borrow or steal the book - just ensure you read it!
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on 23 March 2014
Excellent book. Good understanding and explanation of how the energy system, global energy demand growth, and politics are intertwined. A bit light on the solutions but at least the reader has a good grasp of the challenge ahead after reading the book.
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on 28 October 2013
Well written and structured for the lay person interested in this most important of topics. Makes an excellent job of cutting through the opinion, pseudo science and downright self interest to inform clearly about essentially a difficult problem we should all be expected to understand and start acting upon.
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on 25 November 2013
As a big fan of Mike Berners-Lee's previous book How Bad Are Bananas? I was looking forward to reading this one, and it didn't disappoint. The title and cover are a little misleading as the book covers far more ground than they suggest. From the basics of climate change through to the psychology of why people struggle to accept or do something about it, this is both a fantastic primer for anyone who's coming to the subject for the first time or a good "next level" read for those who want more detail than the basics. The book doesn't pull its punches and the enormity of the situation facing us all can frankly be a depressing read but the authors do their best to find a silver lining where it can realistically be found. Highly recommended.
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on 30 June 2014
Mike Berners Lee's first book, 'How Bad are Bananas', was an outstanding example of the proper use of facts and reason: it provided the data for the thoughtful reader to understand the CO2 impact of their actions, and so to make informed choices.

Mike's second book has all the virtues of the first. It is not only logical, thoughtful, and impeccably well argued. It is also well able to see both sides of a case: for example, on p.185 he gently points that the Fukushima could be taken as proof of the danger of nuclear power - or of its safety. He knows what confirmation bias is, and he has thoroughly understood, not just the economics of energy use, but also the psychology behind it. His account of rebound effects, which mean that greater efficiency can sometimes lead to more rather than less use (pp. 49-63), and of the four elements of the Kaya graph (population, affluence, energy intensity, carbon intensity, pp 64ff), is masterful, and clearly shows how he understands, and avoids, simplistic solutions.

What point is this book, written with Duncan Clark and prefaced by Bill McKibben, making? The authors ask the question, can we risk using all the oil, coal, and gas in the ground? And their answer is no: if we do, we put into the atmosphere five times the amount that the IPCC deems safe. That means that those fossil fuel reserves must be written off, with all that that implies, not just for the companies and sovereign wealth funds that own them, but for the economies (and pension funds) underpinned by that wealth. It is a breathtaking challenge - or, as they rightly put it, a Burning Question! They do not play down the magnitude of the challenge, but they argue that desperate cases require desperate remedies: in the words of the famous Prime Minister, 'There is no alternative'.

Are they right? As with everything, it depends on your point of view. For me the excellence of the book - I do not use the word idly - lies in the way it brings to our attention the magnitude of the consequences if we do choose to embrace the low-carbon route. Berners Lee and Clark are warmists, convinced that the threat of global warming is real, present, and major. I am a lukewarmist, someone who believes that global warming is (currently) happening, but isn't the biggest challenge faced by humans - or the planet. (That's why I can only give it four stars.) What does this mean for the way I respond, not to the book as a whole, but to the solutions it puts forward?

First, I am very uneasy about anything that threatens growth. In my view (and for what it's worth), increasing prosperity is a good thing, and will by the end of the century lead to a smaller world population with a lower 'human footprint' bearing down less heavily on the domesticated and wild animals and the plant and marine ecosystems of the world. The costs of leaving fossil fuels in the ground are huge - the authors estimate it at $25,000 for every man, woman, and child in the world. That's serious money.

Secondly, I am very sceptical about renewables. I think the technology is immature; I think there is a huge opportunity cost (renewables use money which could be spent, for example, on insulation); I don't think there is the energy density in the atmosphere to support wind energy; and most renewables suffer cripplingly from the problem of intermittence, the fact that we can't store the energy they generate for use when we need it. The latest evidence from Germany, in my view, supports this. I see renewables as a way of shifting money from poor people (by 2030 the UK will have spent £130BN on wind turbines, or over £4,000 per taxpayer) to rich people (most wind turbines are built by developers, on land owned by ... well, landowners). And I don't like that.

But the main objection, in my view, is simply that it ain't going to happen. It's hard enough for politicians in the 'good guy' countries of Western Europe to get their people to make sacrifices (see Tony Blair, 9 Jan 2007, quoted on p230 of David MacKay 2009). It's much more improbable that China and Russia will fall into line. But as I write, the conflict in Syria has been dragging on for three years; two hundred Nigerian girls are still kidnapped; the ISIS/ISIL Caliphate has just been announced in Iraq. These are huge international challenges which the international community does not know how to solve: and the players in these states have no time, and no interest, in global warming. And in case you think this is just about militant Islam, let's not forget the Rwanda crisis, where hymn-singing Christian Rwandans murdered other Rwandan Christians, men, women, and children, in hundreds of thousands. Is this a world in which we are going to get political consensus on making people poorer (or on anything)? Will the turkeys vote for Christmas?

So the value of this excellent book for me is not to create an avenue - it's to block one off. Having looked at the options put forward by the authors, it seems to me that it just ain't going to happen. As soon as possible we need to go nuclear - but we knew that anyway. In the meantime the only option I can see is to take the subsidies away from renewables and CCS and go for the two strategies that we know can work and which amount to the same thing: greater prosperity, and greater resilience. As the old saying has it - I feel ever so much better, now that I've given up hope.
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on 13 June 2013
As a person who works in the energy industry it is pretty rare to find someone outside it that has really got to grips with the reality of what is going on and the huge scale of the oil, gas and coal supply chain. But these guys do, Read my review at:
http://blogs.shell.com/climatechange/2013/05/review/
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