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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Book review - final impression - The CIG to Global Warming

Here's part two of my review of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Global Warming by Michael Tennesen.

This probably won't be as thorough as I'd normally like, but I've picked up a nasty cold and my head space is pretty foggy because of it. :-P I apologize now if I go off on a confused ramble...

First off, I've had it verified that one of the things that bugged me about the book - that it seemed to "talk down" to the reader - is in fact a format of the Idiot's Guide series. So I made the effort basically ignore that, which made it easier to read.

After my initial response to the forwards in my first impressions review, I was pleasantly surprised at the rest of the book. It was a lot more evenhanded than I had started to expect it to be.

The age of the book (copyright 2004) was both a positive and negative. On the negative side, some of the information is longer up to date - specifically anything from the 2001 IPCC report, which is the only one referred to, and the claim that of the 10 hottest years on record, most occurred in the 1990's, which was corrected well after this book was published. On the positive side, the only mention of Al Gore was in his role as vice-president, and there's no hysterical mentions of Hurricane Katrine. Other hurricanes are mentioned, but since they all happened at least a few years before the book was published, they're not in the forefront.

The book does a decent job of explaining the mechanisms behind various climactic events and the history of Earth's climate, as well as we know it. The event that gets the most space is El Nino. Unfortunately, the author has a habit of throwing in rhetorical questions after describing some major climactic event (hurricanes, tornadoes, whatever...), along the lines of "how much worse will it be in a warmer world?"

There were a number of contradictions, as well. For example, the author would go on about how incredibly complex climate is, that we are just beginning to understand it, and that there are many things we still don't know. He'd then go back to talking about CO2, as if 1) it where the only thing that drives climate and 2) as if climate was actually simple, and that we understood it completely.

Another area where of contradiction is with computer models. After going on about how difficult it is for a computer to model climate, not only because we don't know what all to put in, but no computer is powerful enough to include what we *do* know, etc., he then goes on to put complete faith in what the computer models predict.

When it comes to the CO2 numbers, he only talks about how CO2 levels have never been lower than 200ppm or higher than 280ppm until the industrial revolution (which he conveniently backs up to when it started 150 years ago in England, rather than when it had spread to significant portions of the world and was actually large enough to be considered). He then talks about current (to 2003) levels and the doubling expected (560ppm). It turns out that when he says CO2 levels have never been lower/higher than 200/280ppm, he actually means the last 10,000 years. I found that interesting, since he talks about the Younger Dryas (which ended about 11,500 years ago), during which temperatures suddenly dropped, then ended with temperatures increasing and estimated 8C in about 10 years, but never mentions what the CO2 levels are believed to have been during that period. (The best I've been able to find, by the way, is that it was <200ppm). class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_4">handbasket. Sure, he does use words like "could" and "might," but then switches to "will" rather quickly. There isn't much room for doubt in how these predictions are described, that these are things we're supposed to expect to happen. He spent a great deal of time describing the disastrous effects following the 1997/98 El Nino (I remember 1998, and I don't remember it being that bad!), then goes on to suggest a future where our climate is like that all the time.

What really got me, though, were the odd statements he'd throw in. For example, at one point he write that, sure, the medieval warming period was good for some areas, but it allowed Vikings to rape and pillage the coastlines of Europe. ???

Eventually, the book started to talk about the cure - what we can do to stop global warming. There's the usual stuff that we individuals can do - make our homes more energy efficient, use alternate forms of transportation, recycle, and so on. Then he talks about alternate energy sources, such as solar, wind, water, even fuel cells and nuclear power get mentioned.

In the end, I found the book to be both informative and frustrating. The lack of references to back up statements are my usual pet peeve, of course. The contradictions and lack of solid information rather than blanket statements are a problem.

The main reason I would NOT recommend this book, however, is that it is (dare I say it!) obsolete. While the basic information about things like how different weather systems work still apply, and I would recommend it as a backgrounder, there are too many key points that have been refuted for this book to be a decision maker.

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