A Quick Poll

I really enjoy books about climate change. When you’re as new to the subject as I am, they’re a great way to catch up on what is now common knowledge in the climate science community, and thus hasn’t been discussed recently in the peer-reviewed literature. I suppose I could also read the entire IPCC report to catch up, but that’s a little dry, to say the least.

Of course, this is assuming that the books actually reflect the peer-reviewed literature. Scientists in the field, like Andrew Weaver, Stephen Schneider, and Henry Pollack, write many of the popular books on climate change, so they’re pretty good about citing their sources. However, while tracking these down at the bookstore, one often encounters a lot of “Big Green and Global Warming Hysteria will Destroy our Freedoms and Create a Communist World Government!” publications.

All in all, though, I love this area of publishing. I frequently come out of the library with most of their climate science section under my arm, and now I’m frantically trying to finish reading before they realize how many times I’ve renewed some of the books. Exams got in the way of reading….

Here’s a quick poll – what’s your favourite book on climate change or climate science? Leave your responses in the comments, I’d love to read them.

I think I would place The Discovery of Global Warming, by Spencer Weart, at the top of my list – read my recent review of it here. It’s basic enough to appeal to people new to the issue, while detailed and comprehensive enough for scientists and long-time enthusiasts to enjoy. It contains as much information as a textbook, but is written like a compelling novel. Highly recommended to all.


23 thoughts on “A Quick Poll

  1. Hell and High water by Joseph Romm is my favorite. Six Degrees by Mark Lynas is a really good one too because it covers so many peer-reviewed studies regarding the impacts of climate change at each degree of warming 1-6°C.

  2. I’m going to recommend The Climate Cover-Up by James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore, because it is about the forces which distort the public view of the science – what really determines whether or not anything will be done about global warming.

  3. I agree that Spencer Weart’s is a must read and I would say a good first read. Here are my faves:
    Two Mile Time Machine- Richard Aley
    Thin Ice- by Mark Bown with Lonnie Thompson
    Understanding the Forecast- David Archer
    Rough Guide to Climate Change- Robert Henson (NCAR) (Full disclosure a friend of mine) Also an exc. intro book
    Hot, Flat and Crowded by Tom Friedman (Covers the whole energy issue and is superb)
    Ice Ages by John Imbrie and wife.
    Willi Daansguard has a pdf book online as well that is excellent.

  4. I like Archer’s Understanding the Forecast. For paleoclimate, his book The Long Thaw is great, and I also like Chris Turney’s Ice, Mud, and Blood.

  5. I would like to recommend Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wolfes book ‘Climate Change – Picturing the Science’, but can’t really do so for anyone interested the science.

    It’s actually a very good book, but I don’t think many people that hang out on climate science blogs will gain much from it.

    It would be of interest to environmentalists and novices to the subject.
    The best thing about it is the great photos. But then Gavin wasn’t responsible for those! The guest authors write some interesting stories.

  6. “Last Generation: How nature will take her revenge for climate change” by Fred Pearce (I would like to read “With Speed and Violence: Why scientists fear tipping points in climate change”, too)

    “Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change” by Elizabeth Kolbert

    “High Tide” by Mark Lynas (I haven’t read “Six Degrees” yet, but would like to)

    Currently reading “Keeping our Cool” by Andrew Weaver and am liking it a great deal so far

    “The Heat is On” and “Boiling Point” by Ross Gelbspan

    I would like to read “Climate Cover-Up”, not to mention many other books about the issue, but I seem to have got to the point where the more I read about it, the less I’m learning and the more I’m reading stuff I’ve already read before. Sure, there are many small things that I do learn about that are useful and valuable, but I sometimes feel like I’m exhausted after reading yet another book or article on the subject. Does anyone else have the same feelings I do?

  7. Depends on the audience and what aspect of the issue I’m trying to convey.

    For a scientific overview, add my name to Weart’s growing tally. However, some people just don’t care about the science and are interested in the “debate”. For them, I suggest Climate Cover-Up (again). If they’re instead interested in policy or business, Hot, Flat and Crowded is a decent enough place to start (I disagree with Friedman on a lot of issues but the book is well-written and “radically centrist”). For people who just don’t care, the easy winner is What’s The Worst That Could Happen?.

    Hey Brian, good to see you back here! Were you on an interesting trip or something for the past few months? -Kate

  8. I just finished reading “Merchants Of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes. It is a great book on what seems to be happening all around us regarding important issues such as climate change, tobacco smoke, ozone layer, and others and how some groups spread lies and mistruths in order to make money and/or stop form having to spend any money in order to correct potential environmental problems. It really is an eye-opener! The same groups and characters appear time and time again and it’s really disgusting to read about the lies they spread.

    BUT that book also made me ask an uncomfortable question: “to what extent might our side by lying!?” Who’s’ to say only the “denier” side is lying about things? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that the “warmers” too are lying? Don’t people like Al Gore stand to make billions of dollars in this?

    So now I am sort of in a state of confusion… I have a feeling climate change may not be as bad as many say it will be… but I also have a feeling it will not be as “mild” as many others say it will be. So that’s one reason I just bought a new book by a NASA climatologist (high on the credibility chart) who writes about potential problems in the proposed “fixes” for climate change. She gets into geo-engineering among other things. She also describes how computer models are not as accurate as we need for predictably future climate problems. She basically says there is a lot of uncertainties in this science. This is not what I want to hear. I want to hear, “Yes the science is overwhelming and very very very accurate in determining what our climate will do if we don’t reduce emissions NOW…etc…”

    I have just started this book and she makes it clear that some skeptics are wrongly criticized for having alternate views from what mainstream science has. It should be an interesting read! The book is called, “Coming Climate Crisis? Consider The Past, Beware The big Fix” and it’s by Dr. Claire Parkinson of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

    Don’t get me wrong from what I have read and studied in books and credible sources I do believe humans are a large cause of climate change. What I am not sure of is how much trouble we are likely to be in if we continue to burn fossil fuels. Dr. Parkinson thinks we should reduce emissions etc… but she is also skeptical of a lot of things so it will be interesting to read he book.

    How concerned should we be about climate change? What extreme measures should we take to reduce emissions? Will what we do help matters at all? These are important questions to me.

    I am hoping this book will clear some things up….


    In terms of activists like Gore or environmental advocacy groups like Greenpeace, I wouldn’t really trust their statements. This isn’t to say that I assume that they are “lying” or acting like the think tanks Oreskes writes about, but they’re not really any more credible.

    What matters is not the “sides”, but the level of credibility – the blocks on the pyramid. The very top of the pyramid (NASA, IPCC, etc) can be trusted far more than all the advocacy groups. This isn’t to say that it’s impossible for them to get away with lying, because scientific fraud does happen, but on that scale it would boggle the imagination. Besides, when all that anyone’s been able to dig up are quotes out of context and scientists being moderately unkind….I put my trust in science, not sides. If NASA et al said that climate change was caused by the sun, and they had the kind of evidence to back it up like they currently have to back up the anthropogenic hypothesis, I would trust them.

    Don’t let uncertainty in science scare you. I would suggest reading Henry Pollack’s book Uncertain Science….Uncertain World for a good overview of the nature of uncertainty. Remember that uncertainty runs both ways. It could easily be better than we expect, but it could just as easily be worse than we expect. It’s a spectrum of outcomes, not a choice between “everything’s good” and “we’re screwed”.

    In terms of impacts, I find it useful to look at historical analogues. The best-case scenario, reasonably, is probably the Pliocene – look at David Greenwood’s recent comments on The Credibility Spectrum, including a link to his recently published paper. The worst-case scenario, reasonably, could be the Permian extinction….extreme stuff, but (to the best of our understanding) it most likely started with greenhouse warming.

    Go do some research on impacts and see what you can find. Having a lot of uncertainty doesn’t mean we have no idea. -Kate

  9. More votes for 1) Spencer Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming, 2) David Archer’s Global Warming; Understanding the Forecast and his on-line lecture videos, and 3) Archer’s The Long Thaw, and I’ll add Wally Broecker’s Fixing Climate and Bill Rudiman’s Plows, Plagues & Petroleum.

  10. I think the most accessible, clear sighted book is Greg Craven’s “What’s the Worst that Could Happen”. Disclosure: I was one of the “Manpollo” crew that helped him meet the publishing deadline.

    What sets this book apart is that Greg does not try to prove AGW one way or the other but instead invites us to consider the consequences if one or the other “side” is wrong. Doing this makes it absolutely clear that the most sensible course of action, faced with the uncertainty of outcome that the uncertain predictions hold out to us, is to be “better safe than sorry”.

  11. I also forgot Merchants of Doubt! I’m only halfway through it but it’s already shaping up to be one of the best resources for establishing one “side” of this debate as being completely engineered for an ulterior motive.

    Hey Brian, good to see you back here! Were you on an interesting trip or something for the past few months? -Kate

    The reason I’m only halfway through Merchants of Doubt lies in how obscenely busy I’ve been the past couple of months. (To put it in perspective without taking up too much time, moving was the least of my concerns.) I wish I’d been on such a trip.

  12. 1) Spencer Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming (for the history)
    2) Mark Lynas’ Six Degrees (for what is coming degree by degree)
    3) James Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren (for why we can no longer divorce science from politics)

    I will be adding a review of these last two (eventually) in my Suggested Reading page. I am working on a huge Impacts of Climate Change section of my site which is keeping me busy. (And my kids are out of school now so Daddy is playing a lot more. :) )

  13. I agree on Weart with you.

    Also, Hell and High Water, and for the feel of it all, the novel series starting with 40 Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson

  14. Climate Wars by Gwynne Dyer. Just to point out that there will be other effects of global warming. Climate change will be a destabilising influence in already destabilised areas.

  15. Martin, I saw that about Oreskes and Nicolas Nierenberg on the Amazon review of her book. (http://www.amazon.com/Merchants-Doubt-Handful-Scientists-Obscured/product-reviews/1596916109/ref=cm_cr_dp_hist_1?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&filterBy=addOneStar)

    And yes it concerns me but it’s seems more of a “he said, she said” issue for now because I just don’t have time to research it. I hope Oreskes addresses the issue. I like to see both sides.

  16. Another vote here for both “Merchants of Doubt” and “Climate Cover-up”, both of which nail the industry disinformation campaign that is the real climate story.

    As for surveys of the science and the coming effects of climate abuse, I’ll toss in recos for “Storms of My Grandchildren” and “With Speed and Violence”.

    Lynas’s “Six Degrees” is a great read but a bit dated now.

  17. Another vote for Weart, and one for Two-Mile Time Machine. The latter book is an excellent readable work that helps you understand how ice cores are used to reconstruct past climate. If you haven’t read it, then put it on top of the list.

    Incidentally, Dr. Archer recommended that book to me when I emailed him and asked some questions (his book is also good and along with the related video lectures, is probably the next best thing to being physically present in his class).

    Still haven’t finished Merchants of Doubt. Summer, fall is extremely busy and we’re in the field much of the time.

    Two-Mile Time Machine is in my pile. I’ll give it reading priority! I tried to read Archer’s book a while back, but I hadn’t really studied radiation and waves yet in physics, so I had to set it aside. I’ll have to give it another try now. -Kate

  18. Since nobody else has mentioned it, I will recommend Tim Flannery’s book “The Weathermakers”. It was the first book I read on the topic. I picked it up in an airport, scanned the Table of Contents (very much following Gaia theory) and grabbed it. Gavin Schmidt has pointed out a few factual errors, but I still think it is a good introductory book. From the lengthy list of references, I special-ordered “The Discovery of Global Warming”, found Real Climate and from it many other blogs (including yours) and other Internet resources.

    Although Flannery is a wildlife biologist, not a climate scientist himself, he has pulled together a wide variety of materials from many other scientists on climate, global warming, and the effect of global warming on wildlife, humans, and civilization. One striking (and now slightly dated) line: “The impending destruction of Australia’s wet tropics rain forests is a biological disaster on the horizon, and the generation held responsible will be cursed by those who come after. What will they tell their children if their increasingly large homes, four-wheel-drives, and refusal to ratify Kyoto cost them the nation’s foremost natural jewels?”

  19. Just a quick and probably pedantic correction about Tim Flannery in Al S. comment, he’s not a wildlife biologist, Tim is a palaeontologist. It is true that as part of his PhD he studied marsupials in New Guinea (see his great first book ‘Throwim Way Leg: Tree-Kangaroos, Possums, and Penis Gourds’), and yes, he has an interest in wildlife conservation.

    I had the privilege to share the stage with Tim and Danny Blair (climatologist at University of Winnipeg) in Winnipeg a number of years ago in a public forum on climate change as part of the release of ‘The weather makers’. He was jet-lagged but superb in his answering of questions from the audience.

    As a fellow Australian (and palaeontologist), I am proud of Tim’s efforts to change government attitudes to climate change in Australia (he was named ‘Australian of the year’ by the then denier Prime Minister, John Howard, who subsequently publicly declared his change of mind and acceptance of climate change as being real. Tim’s books and advocacy are often identified as being responsible for Howard’s change of mind. Sadly, it took a change of government for Australia to sign Kyoto).

  20. I have decided to invest in a copy of:

    A Climate Modelling Primer by K McGuffie and A Henderson-Sellers.

    I have read bits of it on Google and it looks good, according to the publishers web page it includes a CD with models/code etc.

    Well I say I’m going to buy it, but that assumes it is still in print!?
    Will check soon. All of this is a bit retrospective research considering I created the simple simulator at Warmcast!
    But hopefully it will allow me to improve the simulator or come up with some new features.

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