So what is this blog about?

These are the books I would insist everyone read if I were Queen of the Universe. I am not Queen of the Universe, so you don't have to read them, but hear me out. Most book reviews are about new books, but most books are not new. How else are you going to find out about what's out there? Anyway, aren't you just a bit curious about WHY I think these books should be read by everyone?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, by Sir John Houghton

Global warming is one of those issues where educators and activists really have a bad deal. Most people just don't have time or interest enough to read scientific papers in all their dry-as-toast glory, so anyone wishing to reach the public on the issue is going to have to simplify and illustrate the message. Al Gore is notably good at this. However, no intelligent skeptic will miss that in crafting a message for the public, Al Gore has left some things out. Without enough background information on a subject, there's no way to tell whether the simplified version you're hearing is accurate, and no way to tell the difference being genuine alternative arguments and pure blarney. The very simplification that makes a message accessible also makes it harder to trust, and the non-expert ends up not knowing who to believe--or how to talk intelligently with people who believe something else.

Sometimes the simple answer is also the hardest; eventually, you've got to buckle down and start reading, and Global Warming: The Complete Briefing lives up to its name.

Sir John Houghton is, of course, also presenting a somewhat digested message. His book is not a compilation of papers and reports. But he does go into enough detail to allow readers to think for themselves rather than simply choose who to trust. I should say, before I go much further, that the version I read was not the most recent edition. Given how quickly the field of climatology is progressing, and how fast the climate itself is changing, I recommend going after the most recent edition you can find. There are currently at least four.

Details included here range from exactly how the relationship between incoming sunlight and the greenhouse effect can be calculated to how we know that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and who figured that out. Dry? Of course it's dry, but that doesn't mean it's boring or badly written. It takes some work to get through this book, but you'll be glad you did.

If other books on the subject are directions, this one is a map. Directions are good--until you miss a turn or the route unexpectedly changes. Maps give you the bigger, broader view, and allow you to plot your own course no matter what unexpected questions come your way.

Houghton, J. (1997) Global warming: The complete briefing. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press.

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