Global Climate Change: A Primer

Reviewed by: Jenn Marshman
Categories: Climate Change
Global Climate Change book review A\J Global Climate Change \ Orrin H. Pilkey and Keith C. Pilkey

Have you ever struggled to reconcile difficult questions about climate change? Are you faced with naysayers who claim that the human impact on the biosphere is all a media fabrication or the workings of scheming Birkenstock-wearing extremists? Authored by a father-son team (a professor at Duke University and an attorney with an interest in geo-engineering, respectively), Global Climate Change is a well thought-out and balanced expression of the issue’s current discussion.

Their overview is paired with the beautiful Batik artwork of Mary Edna Fraser, who captures many global landscapes affected by climate change in a stylish and unique way. Against this backdrop (which is worthy of even the most decorative coffee table), the authors clearly demonstrate that there is no debate about climate change. Their book presents this argument in a non-aggressive way, concentrating on scientific realities that are supported by irrefutable evidence.

Sometimes hard numbers are the key to understanding the role of greenhouse gases and other anthropogenic factors that drive climate change. Such facts and figures can become mind-numbing and overwhelming; however, the authors isolate the data that are necessary to understanding the science in an easy-to-read format. Basic terminology is also woven into the book, from the misnomer of the greenhouse effect to glaciers to governmental panels.

The book also confidently frames the nature of our uncertainty about the future. One of the nicest features comes at the end of each chapter, where a recurring section called “Myths, Misinterpretations, and Misunderstandings of the Deniers” briefly describes the most common mistakes in the climate change discussion and then refutes them. These are also the most valuable insights of this book, presented in a factual and consistent manner which is equally useful to both proponents and cynics.

One key point the authors make is that scientific terms and statistical numbers aren’t required to convince the humans and wildlife that are already living with devastating drought and wildfire, catastrophic flooding and melting of the permafrost. For the rest of us, perhaps we either can’t imagine these experiences or we don’t know enough to point directly to the causes. Yet some of the greatest, most beautiful places on our planet display clear evidence of climate change’s negative effects, and we are only beginning to contend with sea level rise and acidification, melting glaciers and desertification. Unfortunately, by the time we are all affected in an undeniable way, it will likely be too late to make things right.

Sadly, as the authors point out, it is possible that we are approaching a point where our options for mitigating climate change will run out. If that is in fact the case, the final chapter fittingly addresses the concept of geo-engineering, or what some refer to as Plan B. If all else fails, the desperate and dramatic options they describe do offer some alternative methods of controlling greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. However, the consequences of their deployment could be devastating, and are uncertain at best.

Global Climate Change rationally and simply explains what scientists from around the world all agree on: We are past the time of arguing about whether or not climate change is real, and into a time when consequences and solutions must be addressed. With that goal in mind, the authors intend to provide a tool which can be used by savvy environmental activists and, as the title asserts, climate change novices.

Global Climate Change: A Primer, Orrin H. Pilkey and Keith C. Pilkey, Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2011, 160 pages

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Reviewer Information

Jenn Marshman is an environmentalist who has worked in the health care industry since 1998. She is currently studying geography and environmental management at the University of Waterloo.

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