Energy Bookshelf: Warming stories

On a cold winter’s night, storms outside, wrapped in a blanket by a crackling fire, whiling away the hours reading a good book.

Well, there are an increasing number of great books that suggest that blanket and fire will be required fewer and
fewer evenings in the coming years.

The genre of Global Warming literature has moved from the dusty reaches of little read science shelves to the best seller lists.

This discussion will briefly touch on some of the Global Warming books on my Energy Bookshelf — with an urging to all of you to jump in with comments as to these and others worth reading.

To start with, let me say that everyone of these works was worth reading and, well, in some cases reading over and over again. Several of these merit (and will receive) independent “Energy Bookshelf” discussions. My frustration is that I have allowed these to build up on my bookshelf, read but undiscussed, and the genre is getting ever more richly populated.

So, here a few of the Global Warming books on my Energy Bookshelf:

* With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change by Fred Pearce. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the books are by journalists (in this case, Pearce is a well-established “skeptical [not Skeptic] environmental writer”, skilled with prose and able to provide a compelling story, making even the most complex accessible to the lay reader. Pearce, in this case, takes us on a travel through the science community, leading to a strong imperative for taking Global Warming seriously, for acting even in the face of uncertain information to avoid the risk that waiting for certainty will make catastrophy near inevitable.

Nature is fragile, environmentalists often tell us. But the lesson of this book is that that it is not so. The truth is far more worrying. She is strong and packs a serious counter-punch. Global warming will very probably unleash unstoppable planetary forces. And they will not be gradual. The history of our planet’s climate shows that it does not do gradual change. Under pressure, whether from sunspots or orbital wobbles or the depredations of humans, it lurches – virtually overnight.

* Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle over Global Warming by Chris Mooney. In some ways, this is the most troublesome book for me. Mooney’s last work, The Republican War on Science, provided numerous ‘a ha’ moments, as he provided patterns and explanations for a world that I’d watch develop and live through. Thus, Mooney set the bar high. Mooney begins with an examination (a fascinating one) of the Great Storm controversy of the 19th century, pitting empiricists against theoreticians. This sets the stage for examining the debate over Global Warming and hurricanes as one between evidence (historical) driven analysis versus modeling. The problem with this construct, for me, is that in the 19th century case, both sides had validity and a ‘consensus’ developed from the evidence and learning that both sides brought to the table. While, in the end, Mooney comes down ‘against’ today’s Skeptic empiricists, the construct creates a mental mapping that can foster a belief that the Skeptics have a good deal of validity to their arguments even though Mooney essentially dismisses them in the end. This is a good (in some ways excellent) book but, I fear, that Mooney’s clear enjoyment of his time with key skeptics (sympathy?) and this construct could lead some readers astray. (This is a work that I will read again, to reflect on my own reactions. For an alternative perspective, see RealClimate‘s quite positive review.) Mooney can be found blogging at SEED Science Blog, excellent material to be found there.

* The Discovery of Global Warming Spencer Weart. This book is probably the least heralded of the ones discussed here but yet, in some ways, is perhaps the most satisfying. This is a an excellent ‘History of Science’, accesible to the lay reader (ME!) and almost certainly of interest to the scientist as well. A book well worth the read, and the second read as well. From the preface:

This book is a history of how scientists came to imagine [global warming killing maple trees]: the history of the science of climate change. It is a hopeful book. It tells how a few people, through ingenuity, stubborn persistence, and a bit of luck, came to understand a grave problem even before any effects became manifest. And it tells how many other people, defying the old human habit of procrastinating until a situation becomes unbearable, began working out solutions. For there are indeed ways to keep global warming within tolerable bounds with a reasonable effort.

* An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It, Al Gore: No Global Warming literature list would, of course, be complete without AIT. According to Bill McKibben, the zeitgeist related to Global Warming changed for two reasons: Katrina opened the door; Al Gore walked through it. Gore, who has been discussing Global Warming challenges for decades (Earth in the Balance), mixes the science with the life-long tale of learning about GW issues with a mounting concern. He expresses, with power, the concerns that so many of us now see in regards to humanity’s impact on the globe and the implications of these impacts for our future.

* The Ravaging Tide: Strange Weather, Future Katrinas, and the Coming Death of America’s Coastal Cities, Mike Tidwell, Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. This is a work of passion, an eloquent raging against the storms and havoc to come if humanity does not take a turn to a different direction. This is not a work that will convince a Denier (if such a thing exists) but Tidwell’s passion — along with his discussion of the changes of his own life — can both impassion and empower readers to take action to fight for a cooler world. Some of Tidwell’s other (excellent) writing can be found at the CCAN website.

* Hell and High Water: Global Warming–the Solution and the Politics–and What We Should Do, Joe Romm. This work might be called the work to read after seeing An Inconvenient Truth. AIT provides the hopeful future, a muted discussion of many of the risks and difficulties facing us/US in turning the tide on Global Warming. Romm hits us in the face, hard, with a terrifying future and doesn’t mince words about the challenges ahead. In many ways, Hell and High Water might be the Global Warming work of most interest to the politically engaged (Democratic and/or Republican). Romm lays a strong case as to how Global Warming could be the death sentence for the Republican Party as reality becomes ever blatantly at odds with Republican Party rhetoric (or, actually, that Republican denial is ever more apparently at odds with facts staring us all in the face). Romm also highlights how, in an ever more difficult world in the years to come, either the United States figures out how to lead in dealing with mitigating/muting Global Warming and its impacts or risks becoming a pariah nation, with dire implications for the Republic and its citizens. Romm has been working literally for decades to try to move the globe toward a more energy efficient, renewable energy path, with experience working with the Rocky Mountain Institute and directing Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy in the Department of Energy during the Clinton Administration. Romm can be found blogging at Climate Progress.

* The Weather Makers : How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth, Tim Flannery: Can I question whether there are too many ‘must read’ books on the list? All of these books are, to me, surprisingly accessible, all are extremely good writers. Flannery’s book might be, of all, the ‘easiest’ read (though none of these is an easy read). A definite recommend.

* A Contract with the Earth, Newt Gingrich. Well, there had to be one “please do not read” on this list — at least, do not read unless you want to learn about plans for a somewhat more palatable Contract on the Earth than what we face today. This work, which is scheduled to come out in the Fall, is the ‘enlightened’ Republican perspective on Global Warming. Notably, none of the works above are listed in the eight pages of “sources and recommended reading”. (Amusingly, one listed is the “Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy” whose website ( has lapsed.)

The above are just a selection of the works out there on Global Warming — my selection off my shelf that might be of interest to members of this community. And, well, the few words here do justice to none of these works.

Where do you agree / disagree?

What is missing that should be here?

How would you change this list?

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