Coming Climate Crisis? Consider the Past, Beware the Big Fix

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9780742556157: Coming Climate Crisis? Consider the Past, Beware the Big Fix
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Decisively cutting through the hyperbole on both sides of the debate, distinguished NASA climatologist Claire L. Parkinson brings much-needed balance and perspective to the highly contentious issue of climate change. Offering a deeply knowledgeable overview of global conditions past and present, the author lays out a compelling argument that our understandings and models are inadequate for confident predictions of the intended and unintended consequences of various projects now under consideration to modify future climate. In one compact volume, Parkinson presents a coherent synopsis of the 4.6-billion-year history of climate change on planet Earth—both before and after humans became a significant factor—and explores current concerns regarding continued global warming and its possible consequences. She ranges over the massive geoengineering schemes being proposed and why we need to be cautious about them, the limitations of current global climate models and projections, the key arguments made by those skeptical of the mainstream views, and the realistic ways we can lessen destructive human impacts on our planet. While discussing all of these polarizing topics, the author consistently shows respect for the views of alarmists, skeptics, and the vast majority of people whose positions lie somewhere between those two extremes. The book clarifies some of the most contentious points in the climate debate, and in the process treats us to a fascinating discussion interweaving Earth history, science, the history of science, and human nature. Readers will be rewarded with a genuine understanding of a complex issue that could be among the most important facing humankind in the coming decades.

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About the Author:

Claire L. Parkinson is a senior fellow and climatologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, where she has worked for more than 30 years. An award-winning scientist, she is especially well known for her research on polar sea ice and its connections to the broader climate system, which is complemented by her role as Project Scientist for the Aqua satellite mission. She is the author of several books, including Earth from Above: Using Color-Coded Satellite Images to Examine the Global Environment and Our Changing Planet: The View from Space. She lives in the Washington, DC, area.

Review:

Climatologist Parkinson (Earth From Above), a senior fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, warns against the 'massive geoengineering schemes,' currently under consideration by government and advocacy groups, which are meant to avert impending climate catastrophe, but which themselves may have disastrous unintended consequences. Looking at past examples—from Egypt’s massive Aswan Dam, which has spread parasitic diseases and is eroding the fertile delta, to the addition of lead to internal combustion engines and paint—Parkinson worries that fixes under discussion today, like capturing and storing carbon waste or introducing sulfur into the stratosphere to reflect solar heat may actually cause problems 'far worse than the damage that we are already causing.' Instead, Parkinson recommends a moderate approach—limiting population growth; replacing fossil fuels with solar, nuclear, and wind power; changing consumption patterns—while more ambitious plans are carefully evaluated for safety and feasibility. She also raises the possibility that, despite present scientific consensus, predictions of impending catastrophe rest too heavily on climate models that are 'far from perfect.' This thoughtful treatment of a highly controversial subject merits careful attention from the powers that be, and those who wish to influence them. (Publishers Weekly)

Dr. Parkinson, whose book deals largely with the evidence that human actions are altering climates, notes that 'good intentions do not necessarily lead to good results.' So far, she writes, humanity's record of environmental manipulation does not inspire confidence. . . . Humanity is already engaged in a gigantic geoengineering experiment, one that has been under way, however inadvertently, since people started large-scale burning of fossil fuels 150 years ago. So far, the world's efforts to act together on the problem have been, to be charitable, unimpressive. The lesson, as [Parkinson puts] it, might therefore lie not in figuring out how to 'hack the planet' but rather to change things so that planetary hacking will not be needed at all. (The New York Times)

In this examination of the global warming debate, Parkinson, a NASA climatologist, notes that our planet's climate made many transitions, some abrupt, before civilization emerged, so that could happen again. Human activities are likely partly responsible for the present warming trend. The author points out that the 'earth system' is extremely complex, still beyond our ability to model completely, so climate scientists can't make accurate predictions. Although there is a scientific consensus on global warming, it could be overturned by new evidence. Parkinson's main concern is that large-scale geoengineering projects will be tried with unknown consequences. An example would be fertilizing the Southern Ocean with iron to encourage phytoplankton growth and reduce carbon dioxide. She does laud many initiatives to reduce emissions and believes we should put a price on carbon, as well as reduce air travel. Verdict: This measured approach will appeal to readers who sense alarmism on the topic. (Library Journal)

Parkinson is a NASA climatologist and argues against hasty decision-making in the face of potential global warming. She works to eliminate the polarization of the climate change debate, instead focusing on key issues and facts that should be thoroughly considered prior to the initiation of large-scale preventative projects. She emphasizes the need for evaluating climate change on a geologic scale, rather than relying on year-to-year data, in order to discern accurate, noteworthy patterns of change. Striving to inform, Parkinson combines several factors of time, resources, and behavior in her clarifying work. (Foreword Reviews)

Purposeful modification of climate is not a new concept, but it has received renewed attention due to recent and anticipated global warming. In Coming Climate Crisis? Parkinson (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) examines proposed environmental manipulation strategies for climate change mitigation. The book first addresses climate system behavior, focusing on long-term change and the relative roles of natural and human drivers, including an impressive treatment of uncertainty in the understanding of past, current, and future climate. Though Parkinson subscribes to the consensus view on climate change, she does not hesitate to identify instances in which knowledge is limited. This balanced overview of the climate system and its sensitivity is one of the strengths of this book. The remainder of the work focuses on historical weather modification and proposed geoengineering strategies, pointing out the unintended consequences of the former whenever possible. This historical perspective, and demonstration that the understanding of proposed techniques is imperfect, is used to support the author's cautious position on geoengineering. Instead, Parkinson calls for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and greater research into the possible side effects of proposed geoengineering approaches. Recommended. (CHOICE)

NASA climatologist Claire L. Parkinson brings a welcome skepticism. She shows the inadequacy of many of the models on which climate forecasts are based. She warns against large-scale, simplistic solutions. For instance, if carbon dioxide is a major factor contributing to the greenhouse effect (which it is), then a simple solution might be to plant more trees to soak it up. But as Parkinson points out, trees also soak up solar radiation, so the overall effect could be more heat, not less. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

I also think that insults are unlikely to change minds, and that too many books about climate change (on both sides) are 'preaching to the choir.' If we want a better-quality debate, Parkinson's approach seems closer to the mark. (Physicsworld.Com)

Parkinson brings much-needed balance and perspective to the highly contentious issue of climate change. (Ocean News and Technology)

I was captivated by the detailed descriptions of many examples of past attempts by humans to manipulate the weather and climate. . . . The author's excellent understanding of the climate system and current climate issues comes through strongly. . . . A good book written by a climate scientist using easy-to-understand language, with in-depth discussions and broad coverage of the climate issues that are facing our society today. It is well worth reading for anyone who is interested in or concerned about our climate. (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society)

This is a book that the author was compelled to write and that everyone needs to read. The climate debate is fierce and polarized, resulting in serious public confusion. Dr. Parkinson has a reasoned, nonadversarial way of illuminating key contentious issues that must be clearly understood before policymakers consider launching initiatives with potentially huge economic and environmental consequences. (Stephen P. Leatherman, Florida International University)

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