Thursday, March 16, 2006

Review: Global Warming: A Very Short Introduction, Mark Maslin

There are so many books out there on climate change that it is hard to know which ones to recommend. If you were after a book to give to a friend, especially someone who might be a little sceptical, you could do much worse than Global Warming: A Very Short Introduction, by Mark Maslin, Oxford University Press, 2004.

There are a number of points that recommend this book to the reader. At 162 pages, it is a quick read. Likewise, with dimensions of about 3 x 5 inches, it will even fit into your back pocket nicely. It is a pretty concise introduction to a lot of the issues of climate change by a regular contributor to New Scientist and the Guardian.

The book contains and explains well a number of the key figures from the IPCC report. It doesn’t hide areas of unresolved science (such as an inability to model non-linear events and rapid climate change) but puts them in their proper context. One of the useful features is the way he uses typical sceptics questions to bring home the reality of climate change and the validity of the science.

One of the really nice things is the explanation of response to climate forcing, and how this combines with human nature (chapter 3) to produce outlooks on climate change. This relationship between how things might change (linear, non-linear, sudden changes or gradual adaptation) combines with outlook (NGO, energy sector, etc) to produce a spin on the future. A collectivised view seems to me both more human and provides a more realistic view of likely climate responses.

Maslin is sceptical towards quick technofixes (like sequestration, chapter 9), with which I would have to agree. Improved efficiencies and clean energy sources are the way forward. Maslin may be being pragmatic, but I think he dismisses too quickly lifestyle changes. Certainly, as he points out, world economic growth can cover the 2% of GDP we need to start making changes to adapt to the impacts that are already in the pipeline and avoid those that aren’t yet. As he also points out, much more than this is spent on defence.

This is a book definitely worth having on the shelf.

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