Global Warming: The Complete Briefing
Cambridge University Press
Scarcely a day goes by without some claim or counterclaim in the climate change debate. Whether it is climate change skeptics claiming that the data is inaccurate, incomplete or simply biased, or environmentalists complaining about the powerful petrochemical lobby, the concerned reader is overwhelmed by the sheer mass of comment and accusations.
Global Warming: The Complete Briefing is now in its fourth edition, fifteen years after the first one appeared. In that time, the wealth of evidence available has transformed the debate. The early computer climate models seem very crude in comparison to modern simulations and nowadays we can even view the data ourselves directly on the web.
The book aims to provide a comprehensive, accessible, up-to-date explanation of the scientific basis for climate predictions and an assessment of the available evidence in a form that is suitable for the general reader right up to university graduate level. And Sir John Houghton is uniquely qualified to provide this authoritative account having chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from its inception in 1988 until 2002.
Guiding the reader from the evidence that climate change is real, through to isolating the most significant human factors by considering the greenhouse effect and the greenhouse gases, Houghton reviews the complex changes that occurred in our past climate and explains the difficulties in modelling them.
Despite the complexity, he gently guides the reader to an understanding of the interactions between the oceans, the atmosphere, and the land, the feedback and “forcing”. In passing, Houghton deals very effectively with many of the accusations levelled by climate change skeptics, whether about the effect of solar activity, or the role of water vapour, or celestial cycles, or the apparent anomalies in the climate record.
From an understanding of the potential and limitations of climate models, Houghton then discusses the emissions scenarios which were used by the IPCC to make its projections about climate change, and the reasons for choosing them. He explains the diversity of local conditions and the expected variability of climate change, together with the growing extremes and assesses the impacts.
For many populations, climate change is truly a matter of life and death. Houghton shows how the rising sea level drives people from coastal areas exacerbating the growing shortage of fresh water, with the consequent pressure on agriculture, other ecosytems, and human health.
The last third of the book concerns itself with what we can do about the problem. He discusses the political reactions to climate change science and the options available for adaptation and mitigation. Of course, it is easy to raise the slogan of reducing carbon emissions but without a serious consideration of the technological alternatives, it risks being an empty gesture. Houghton looks in detail at energy sources and their potential for meeting world demand without increasing the carbon load on the environment.
In a masterful chapter on Energy and Transport for the Future, he offers a comprehensive survey of the available technology, ranging from hydropower, biomass, and wind energy, through photovoltaics, fuel cells, and nuclear fusion.
For anyone, general reader or student, wanting to cut through the hype and get a good scientific understanding of the issues and possibilities, this book is indispensable. Not only are the diagrams, tables, photographs and illustrations superbly produced but there are highlighted sections throughout the book which present core concepts and very helpful summaries at the end of each chapter. The text is crystal clear throughout and beautifully written.