Picture the scene: it is Christmas after your first term as a university student. The extended family is shoe-horned into your parents' house and the sherry is flowing. At some point your red-cheeked grandma asks you what you are studying at college. Now in most cases, the answer is likely to mean little to her. "Speckled computing? Is that something to do with internet viruses?" "Microeconomics? Surely that's all about small businesses..."
However, if your answer is "climate change", the searching questions may come thick and fast. Is it really happening? Is it natural or man-made? What about this global dimming? Will Britain freeze?
To help answer such questions, as well as providing the reader with a thorough grounding in the science and politics of climate change, requires a very well-balanced textbook. Global climate change is a huge and rapidly developing subject, and the challenge of providing up-to-date information in book form, while not focusing too much on any single aspect, is a big one.
Andrew Dessler and Edward Parson make an ideal pairing for such a book, bringing together the social and scientific aspects of climate change in an authoritative but also very readable way. Dessler is an expert atmospheric chemist and an associate professor at Texas A&M University, while Parson has a wealth of experience in public policy research and is professor of law at the University of Michigan.
Their aim is to provide an accessible primer discussing the current state of knowledge and the uncertainties in climate-change science, the mechanics of the political debate and the conflicting claims of policymakers, climate-change sceptics and scientists.
Early on in the book, readers with a physical-science focus may be rather disillusioned by the emphasis on policy and the ethics of climate change.
Similarly, social and political scientists may balk at some of the physical climate science sections. Do not be put off. As the book progresses, the lines between these disciplines blur and a greater understanding of one leads to a much better understanding of the other.
This book will be most useful to undergraduates and postgraduates in the fields of environmental science, sustainability and international politics.
Each of the key aspects of global climate change is covered, with up-to-date and well-referenced information throughout. Its impressive breadth and the provision of succinct overviews of source material in the further reading sections of each chapter mean that teachers, lecturers and researchers will all find this book a useful starting point for in-depth study.
There are now numerous taught masters courses on "global change issues", and this book constitutes a must-have addition to their reading lists.
Given its wide remit, it does not cover the science of climate change in the detail provided by John Houghton's excellent Global Warming: The Complete Briefing , but as a primer that brings together global climate-change science and politics, it succeeds very well indeed.
Any student looking for a text to dip into for the lowdown on specific topics, will find that this book fits the bill. But if you want to be able to answer all of gran's questions and form a considered opinion on climate change as a whole, read the book in its entirety - it is well worth it.
David Reay is a fellow in the School of Geosciences, Edinburgh University.
The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change. First Edition
Author - Andrew E. Dessler and Edward A. Parson
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Pages - 190
Price - £45.00 and £19.99
ISBN - 0 521 83170 9 and 53941 2