walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_With Speed and Violence_, Fred Pearce (kindle)

Subtitled: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change

Hardcover 2007, softcover in 2008, based on internal evidence largely written around 2005. Pearce is a science writer who has written related books in the past; in the course of this one, he specifically refers to differences in the science and the world between when he wrote _Turning Up the Heat_ and when he was working on this one.

The structure, or genre, of _With Speed_ is close to my favorite kind of non-fiction: an author gets interested in a topic, figures out who some relevant experts are, tracks them down, follows them around, asks them questions and conveys simultaneously an understanding of the topic and a sense of the people who are working to understand the topic and their relationships with each other and the world at large. Fred Pearce is, obviously, _not_ a climate skeptic.

The high points: the place in the North Atlantic where water gets sucked down, and goes on a long trip called the conveyor; Arrhenius' calculations about atmospheric gases; James Croll's theory about how orbital variations influence climate; 1998 and deaths in the European heat wave; a really great retelling of how we discovered the hole in the Ozone -- and how some old-school equipment and an old-school scientist persisted until the guys looking at the satellite telemetry went back and checked the outliers they were tossing out as measurement errors and realized there was a serious problem; precession, rain and when glaciers grow on mountains in the tropics; methane, specifically, the stuff stored in crystalline formations that might one day fart again; smog, and what it might do to the monsoon; hydroxyl, and how much more of it is left to clean up the atmosphere; the statistics and debate about the hockey stick graph; UV and stratospheric feedback. Any lots more.

The short form: we know a lot -- and we don't know a lot more. But there's more continuity than not, and most of the conflict in the community revolves around linked phenomena and which might be causing which or whether they are both the result of some as yet undiscovered (or poorly understood) other. This treatment is very different from Brian Fagan's _The Long Summer_, which was more about the interaction between human social organization and climate, rather than understanding climate as a mechanical system, but equally as rewarding.

If you have a yen to understand all that climate science stuff that gets thrown around when someone is trying to get some momentum going to address the very real problems that lie in our present and future, this is a plausible place to start.
Tags: book review, politics
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