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Read these ones a few weeks back...

Posted 02-15-2008 at 01:54 AM by fragment

I'm trying to post a little bit here about the books I read... I got round to writing brief notes on these ones before I went on holiday, but not as far as posting it. Here ya go. I'll try to catch up on the ones I read while on holiday sometime soon.

Paul R Ehrlich & Anne H Ehrlich, A Betrayal of Science and Reason: How Anti-Environmental Rhetoric Threatens Our Future. Pretty much what the subtitle says. I didn't find this the most engaging reading, and skimmed over the parts I wasn't that interested in. The main thing that struck me is the way that, in the eleven years since this was published, the public debate about global warming has moved on hardly at all, despite numerous scientific advances in that time. If anything critics of climate science seem to have become more entrenched, and some of them are still repeating stale arguments that have been answered numerous times.

Mark Lynas, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet. A degree (celsius) by degree breakdown of what sort of impacts we could be facing from global warming. I wasn't going to read this, as it sounded like it was veering further to the utter catastrophe side of climate scenarios than is scientifically justifiable. Then I read this review on RealClimate and thought I'd give it a chance. Well, I'm still not sure, the first part of the book seemed pretty reasonable, but later and hotter chapters get harder to swallow. Are methane hydrate releases really going to happen? Is a cascade of positive feedbacks really likely to happen? Is the end-Permian extinction really a useful analogue for the hottest scenarios? I'm not qualified to judge - and despite my reservations this is a well-researched book with an impressive list of references from the scientific literature. It's probably best to read this as a set of worst-case scenarios that should be considered, and used as the basis of a risk-averse approach to climate change.

Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts, El Niņo Famines and the Making of the Third World. Detailed and informative case studies of a series of famines that struck India, China, Africa and Brazil in the last half of the nineteenth century. Starting with a historical account, this book then moves on to an exposition of El Niņo/Southern Oscillation and how it affects tropical rainfall, then finishes with an analysis of the political and economic factors at work in the affected areas. A strong case is built that political/economic forces were the ground on which extreme weather lead to the deaths of millions from starvation and famine-related disease. Imperialism and capitalism are indicted along with the monsoon. I'm not doing this book justice - read it for a fascinating exposition of how environment and society interlink to determine the fates of humanity.
Posted in Ecology, Climate, Books
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