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Observations

Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

Want to Understand Climate Change? Try This Simple Book

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book coverYou know what climate change is, right? Well, most of us think we do, until we find ourselves having to explain some aspect of it concisely. Help will come from a new book released today, Global Weirdness: Severe Storms, Heat Waves, Relentless Drought, Rising Seas and the Weather of the Future (Pantheon Books; $22.95).

The 200-page, small format book is a collection of 60 very short chapters—two to three pages each—that explain in straightforward terms a litany of typical questions, statements and misunderstandings about climate change that we hear again and again. The topics are organized into four sections:

• What the science says

• What’s actually happening

• What’s likely to happen in the future

• Can we avoid the risks of climate change?

As such, the book is a handy desk-side reference for anyone who occasionally becomes boggled by these topics, or is in the position of having to teach or explain them to others, whether students, colleagues or the media. Some sample chapters:

• The atmosphere now holds a record amount of CO2—unless you go back half a million years.

• Want an exact number for how warm it will get? Sorry, scientists don’t have one.

• Climate change can be bad for your health.

• Droughts will probably come more often.

• If we made it easier for plants and animals to relocate, we might prevent some species from going extinct.

One nice feature is a string of several short, clear entries on computer models and prediction, which are so crucial to extrapolating the past and present into the future, and which the public so poorly understands. And any reader will like the epilogue, or at least its title: The IPCC is what, exactly?

The book’s author is Climate Central, a nonprofit, nonpartisan science and journalism organization. It was actually written by freelance science writer Emily Elert and Climate Central’s senior science writer, Michael D. Lemonick. The organization’s staff scientists reviewed the text, as did some outside scientists.

One aspects of the book is a bit frustrating. It doesn’t provide a list of the 60 chapters anywhere, which would be very helpful in dipping back inside later when you’re trying to remember where that chapter was about extreme weather. And there’s no index, so you won’t find topics that way either. Maybe the publishers didn't want the book to be categorized as “reference” (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

Regardless, the book is a breath of fresh air: Just the facts, efficient and easy to understand. It’ll be within arm’s reach of my own desk.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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