Publisher: Cambridge University Press Date of Publication: 2004
Price: ISBN: 0 521 52874 7
Pages: xxx + 351 Format: Paperback

Overall Score:

Target Readership Sen Secondary For help with criteria, click here


Return to main review page



1 - Global warming and climate change; 2 - The greenhouse effect; 3 - The greenhouse gases; 4 - Climates of the past; 5 - Modelling the climate; 6 - Climate changes in the twenty-first century and beyond; 7 - The impacts of climate change; 8 - Why should we be concerned?; 9 - Weighing the uncertainty; 10 - A strategy for action to slow and stabilise climate change; 11 - Energy and transport for the future; 12 - The global village.



Although the consensus now points towards global warming's human contribution there is still the need for introductory texts. Perhaps this should read that because the consensus is towards human impact that there is even more ned for an introductory book. Whereas years ago this could be debated there is the impression that all the hard work has been done and that all that remains is to implement something like the Kyoto protocol. You don't need to be too close to the output of specialist literature to realise how far away we are from a true consensus or even basic agreement! The bottom line is that there is still a need for a good introductory text.

In this book we have the third edition in about 10 years: testimony to both the amount of literature produced and the way the topic is progressing. What's interesting at the start is the preface to this edition. Whilst most prefaces are just thanks for help etc. the author makes reference to a global conference and the need, as he saw it, for some of the policy-makers to be better informed. It would seem that it's not just students who would benefit. Moving into the text proper, the first chapter looks at and overview of climate change. We are told that it is both natural (going back into geological time) and that the recent decades have produced many anomalies which are becoming increasingly linked to human action. Having set the scene, chapter two looks at the basics of the greenhouse effect - an overview of the mechanisms which is also linked to other planets' 'atmospheres' for comparison. Chapter three looks at the main gases involved in global warming. There's also a considerable amount of data showing recent changes in gas concentrations, mostly linked to human impact. It also mentions some of the main feedback mechanisms. It is now accepted that climate changes through geological time. Chapter four looks at changes in climate starting at the scale of centuries and working backwards into the millions of years of geological time. Chapter five departs from the normal range of topics in texts like this to describe the basics of computer modelling. Modelling is the way in which our ideas are tested and yet all too often it seeks only to obscure what should be seen. The advantage in this chapter is that it's the modelling process (and the environmental situations they seek to model) that is described rather than the mathematics of the models. This helps to make the process far easier to understand. This new information is put to the test in chapter six when climate predictions are made for this century. If we are to act then we need to know that it's worthwhile. Chapter seven outlines the case with an excellent summary of all the key aspects likely to be affected by global warming. We are led from this to chapter 8 which asks (perhaps strangely given the previous chapter) if there is a need to be concerned about global warming. As the author rightly states, most of the largest changes are a generation or more away so we can relax - or can we? In a brief aside from the science we see the personal opinions of the writer (a leading figure in the global climate debate). Note was made at the beginning of the idea of consensus. In chapter 9 we get to see some of the uncertainty that the results give us - that the data do not provide overwhelming evidence still suggesting (although increasingly remotely) that the whole idea might just be a statistical blip. Assuming we need to do something now, chapter 10 outlines the sort of action that could be done. The recent growth of carbon markets suggests that business may well be catching onto the idea of action. Whilst we are concerned about future warming we also need to be aware of our need for energy. Thus chapter 11 outlines the need for energy and how it can be supplied (and the global warming implications of these options). The final chapter looks at the global side of the issue noting how it affects all nations and how it rates against many other pressing problems.

This is an excellent introduction to the subject. Clarity of writing (aided by summaries, questions and other notes) means that the most complex ideas are accessible. It covers a far wider ground in its explanation compared to other texts. A final advantage is that it does not hide the difficult questions we face and openly acknowledges the problems. Overall, this is a superb introduction that should be seen as a 'must-buy' for the library both institutional and personal.


Return to main review page