on 3 November 2006
I read this as the Stern Report was published in the UK, which added a certain zest to Kolbert's excellent work. The subtext to this frightening book is that we have sleepwalked our way to disaster, but still haven't woken up. The prospects of there being any kind of meaningful agreement on emissions between the US, the EU, India and China to avert a global catastrophe seem remote indeed. But hey ho, at least Kolbert and Stern can both say they did their best. I can't speak for the Stern report as I haven't read the whole 600-odd pages, but Kolbert's book is compelling, brilliantly well presented and thoroughly depressing. Everyone who cares about our future should read it.
on 3 February 2007
An excellent, brief, readable summary of the evidence for global warming, its scientific explanation, its consequences and the sorry history of our leaders' response to the problem over the last thirty years. The anecdotes and character sketches of the scientists involved bring the issues to life.
The weakness of the book is the lack of pictures and colour graphics to complement the excellent writing. Let us hope that the next edition will remedy this and bring the book to a wider audience.
Paraphrasing the last two paragraphs of the book to show its excellence:
'Ice cores show the last glaciation was a time of frequent and traumatic climate swings. During that period, humans who were, genetically speaking, just like ourselves produced nothing permanent other than isolated cave paintings and large piles of mastodon bones. Then, 10,000 years ago the climate settled down and so did we, building towns and inventing agriculture, metallurgy, writing and the other technologies that future civilisation would rely upon. These developments would not have been possible without human ingenuity, but, until the climate cooperated, ingenuity, it seems, wasn't enough.'
'Ice core records also show that the earth will soon be hotter than it has been at any time since our species evolved. The feedbacks that have been identified in the climate system - the ice-albedo feedback, the water vapour feedback, the feedback between temperatures and carbon storage in the permafrost - take small changes to the system and amplify them into much larger forces. Perhaps the most unpredictable feedback of all is the human one. With six billion people, the risks are everywhere apparent. A disruption in monsoon patters, a shift in ocean currents, a major drought - any one of these could easily produce millions of refugees. Will we find an adequate global response to global warming or will we retreat into ever narrower and more destructive forms of self interest? It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.'
Read the whole book for the compelling story behind this message.
on 13 May 2009
The data is presented by way of a series of encounters with scientists and people experiencing the effects of climate change in their lives. The culmulative effect of what they've found, and what they are finding, and what they are predicting, is terrifying.
The book is weakened by the decision to use non-metric measurements as well as metric, which makes the data sometimes difficult to visualise: it would have been better to have used SI units throughout. And not being American, it's hard to imagine what someone looks like when they're compared to an American TV personality.....
The book seems to date from 2005 or even 2004: a new edition is well overdue, which would also sort out the metric/US centric issues, it deserves to speak to the widest possible audience.