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Monday, October 15, 2007

Partial book review: first impressions

I started on a new book today, Wild Weather; The Truth Behind Global Warming by Dr. Reese Halter.

From reading the reviews and the back cover, I got the impression that this book would be on the neutral side of things - a sort of "this is what we know, this is what we think we know, decide for yourself" sort of book.

I was wrong.

And I'm only into the 5th chapter! (they're very short chapters)

The first hint that it wasn't neutral should've been clear right from the first chapter, The Deadly Surge. It was all about Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans (you know, a lot of other places were wiped out of existence in that hurricane, but no one ever mentions them). This is a book about wild weather, however, so it made sense to me that it would talk about Katrina. If anything, I got the impression that building homes and cities in low lying, hurricane prone areas is really rather stupid. But then, so is living on a delta in an earthquake zone, and I've done that myself. ;-)

There were a couple of other hints that things were not that way they should be in the second chapter, Wild Weather. It described "extreme or wild weather events are those that surpass known records." It then goes on to say that, "since the inception of official records, there have been some exceptional extreme weather events, particularly in North America," giving examples in 1888, 1953, 2003, and of course, Katrina in 2005.

After talking a bit about how scientists use ice cores, tree rings and sediments to figure out past climates, and a brief mention of the "tremendous shifts in climate" during the Pleistocene epoch (which is when the last ice age occured), the author starts to talk about how long North Americans, the English and the Dutch have been keeping temperature records. North America is a big place, the English Empire spanned continents, and the Dutch had extensive colonies as well. The impression given is that these groups have been keeping continuous records over a wide geographical area. In reality, continuous record keeping is rather sporadic. I believe there's only one spot in England that has continuous records of more than 200 years. A lot of places haven't had any sort of continuous, reliable record keeping until very recently, and there are actually fewer weather stations in North America today than there were 30 odd years ago. Many European weather stations had to be abandoned during WWI and WWII, since people tend to be more interested in surviving than reading thermometers, so there are gaps there, as well.

Still, this is a very short book with very short chapters, so I figure there's only so much detail that could be included.

Then I got to this part. First, the author talks about the increases in human population and the burning of fossil fuels. He then writes:

The release of certain so-called greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and 28 other trace gases, including water vapor...

Wait, wha??? Did he just call water vapor a trace gas?!?!?! Water vapor constitutes 95% of the greenhouse gases. How can he refer to it as a trace gas?

He then proceeded to make numerous blanket statements, none of which are backed up in any way - no footnotes, etc. These included several inaccurate, dis-proven and questionable claims. First, there's the claim that the Earth's temperature has dramatically risen. The number changes depending on where you look, but all the ones I've seen have claimed an increase in average global temperatures of less than 1C over the last 100 years - hardly dramatic. He then claims that, as a result of these increases, there are more extreme weather events. Since I know that many climatologists, particularly hurricane experts, have been trying to counter this oft repeated myth, I found myself wondering just what kind of "expert" this author is. So I checked the bio at the back.

Dr. Halter, it turns out, is "an award winning conservation biologist and television host."

So here we have a book about extreme weather and global warming, written by a biologist.

Ok, I can accept that people can be a certified expert in one area, and still become experts in other areas without that official certification. However, if someone's expert enough to publish a book on a subject, you'd think they'd at least list how and why that person is qualified to do so. There's nothing of the sort.

All right, let's look at the back of the book on the inside. Surely there's an index or bibliography or some sort.

Not exactly..

There's a few fairly typical "THE EARTH IS DYING BECAUSE OF US, AND WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING RIGHT NOW!!!!" quotes. There's a "select bibliography" listing book titles, but no research papers, studies, etc. There's some websites listed, including the IPCC website. The Acknowledgements lists more books, including An Inconvenient Truth, and a number of news articles and their websites. Still no references to actual studies, research data and base data sources. This is something I've noticed as a big difference between books claiming AGW and those that counter them. AGW books never list detailed source information, while the books that counter them tend to have very extensive appendixes, indexes, footnotes and bibliographies listing original research papers.

Ah, here we go - About the Author.

Dr. Halter is a conservation scientist (award-winning). He's a family man. A best-selling children's author (that explains the overly-simplistic style of writing), a syndicated science writer, a TV nature documentary host, and a professor of Botany at Humbolt State University. He's "founded Global Forest Science as a charitable international forest research foundation." Among the list of things this organization has accomplished, only one seems to be climate related; "using trees and forests in Manitoba and Wyoming as a barometer of rising global temperatures..." He also "visits schools and encourages children worldwide to embrace conservations, science exploration, and learning."

All well and good, but I still don't see anything that makes him an expert in extreme weather, related to global warming or otherwise.

Which explains, I suppose, his list of questionable information. In a few short paragraphs, along with erroneously claiming that extreme weather has increased due to global warming, he claims:

- accelerated die-off of coral reefs in the Caribbean. This is actually an unknown. There are many reasons corals might die from. Increased ocean temperatures *might* be one of them - or might not.

- increased droughts

- increased forest fires,

- with a subsequent increased die-off and damage due to insect infestations and disease.

This is just in the second chapter!

The third chapter, Hurricanes, opens with "Hurricanes are nature's fiercest storms." He describes 2 hurricanes in detail; one in 1900 ("Isaac's Storm, Galveston Bay, category 4) and another in 2005. That's right, Katrina again.

Chapter four, Tornadoes, opens with "Tornadoes are the most violent storms on Earth."

I don't know why, but claiming one type of storm to be the "fiercest" and another to be "most violent," somehow seems odd to me. Like you can have one or the other, but not both. Probably because, in weather, fierce and violent tend to be used interchangeably.

At this point, I stopped reading it for the day. We'll see how the rest turns out.


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