More than just idle chatter about weather

- The Global Climate System
- Global Warming
- The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change

May 25, 2007

Everyday conversations often begin with the weather. Increasingly such conversations are now couched in terms of how the climate is changing. This might indicate that society is beginning to understand the relationship between weather and climate such that climate sets the broad boundary conditions within which the processes of weather operate.

Although there is a burgeoning use of the word "climate" in everyday discourse, it is often viewed as being all about the atmosphere while much confusion remains about the science and politics of climate change.

The Global Climate System: Patterns, Processes and Teleconnections by Howard Bridgman and John Oliver presents an overview of the global climate system. In doing so, such a book should emphasise that climate is not just about the atmosphere but is the outcome of the interaction between atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, biosphere and land surface processes and increasingly, human activities. Although more implicit than explicit, this idea emerges at various points. Throughout the book are a series of expert essays providing good introductions to such things as conceptions of climate, reanalysis, El Nino Southern Oscillation and the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation, the impacts of climatic variability on society and the unintentional modification of climate by the process of urbanisation. Websites listed at the end of each chapter provide avenues for exploring many of the topics introduced. While the level of detail is largely sufficient, the treatment of some subjects - including the greenhouse effect and anthropogenic climate change - is quite dismissive.

Despite these shortcomings, it is likely that Bridgman and Oliver will become widely used in undergraduate climate courses as it provides something quite different to standard textbooks on climatology. This is what makes it interesting reading.

Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast by David Archer is a very good introduction to the science of global warming, not only from the point of assessing the robustness of the science but in terms of the risk of anthropogenic climate change. The book is divided into three parts. The first two have a mainly theoretical focus and present material in a digestible way on the science and workings of the greenhouse effect and the carbon cycle.

In the third part, readers are encouraged to assess "The Forecast", where Archer demonstrates a clear ability to engage and occasionally entertain the reader. The book is multidisciplinary in its approach and demonstrates how the issue of global warming can bring together the otherwise disparate fields of atmospheric chemistry, biology and economics. Take-home points at the end of each chapter are useful for conveying the book's main messages and the list of projects proposed are useful in terms of demonstrating how knowledge gained from the chapters can be applied to climate science problems. A companion website offers readers the opportunity to model the geological carbon cycle, the human footprint associated with population, fossil-fuel consumption and economic growth rates and climate changes associated with changes in the concentration of atmospheric trace gases.

Overall, Archer's book provides a lucid and accessible explanation of the global warming problem, and is recommended reading for anyone seeking to learn, from first principles, about the complexities of the issue.

The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change: A Guide to the Debate by Andrew Dessler and Edward Parson is an excellent attempt at deconstructing the confusion that surrounds the climate-change debate. This reviewer has been waiting for some time for a book such as this to appear. It adopts a no-nonsense approach to answering such questions as "Is the climate changing?", "Are humans responsible?" and "What futures can we expect?" as well as outlining where science and policy collide.

For some hardcore climate scientists, I imagine the material on science, politics and science in politics might be a little hard to digest, and perhaps the same can be said of the climate science chapters for those with more of a policy bent. Of the book's five chapters, I found the last one the best. The science and politics of climate change are brought together quite seamlessly, a frank rebuttal of the scepticism surrounding climate change is presented and a possible way around the current impasse between science and politics is outlined. Dessler and Parson's book is a must for those who want to move beyond the rhetoric and understand the relationship between climate science policy, and also for those seeking an interdisciplinary outlook on the management of global environmental issues.

The Global Climate System: Patterns, Processes and Teleconnections. First Edition

Author - Howard A. Bridgman and John E. Oliver
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Pages - 331
Price - £35.00
ISBN - 9780521826426

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