Friday, March 06, 2009

CO2 Rising: The World's Greatest Environmental Challenge
by Tyler Volk
The MIT Press

Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next Fifty Years
by Vaclav Smil
The MIT Press

These are two data-rich books. CO2 Rising is the one book climate crisis deniers do not want to read, because it lays out the data in detail, embedded in narrative and expressed clearly. You may or may not be charmed by the story of a carbon atom named Dave, but you will no longer have an excuse for denying the science behind the reality of a climate crisis caused by what humans have done and are doing in this industrial age so far.

Global Catastrophes and Trends is a different matter. It covers not a single phenomenon in depth, but many in relation to each other, to forecast the fate of nations and the planet. Smil selects and evaluates lots of data, and forms conclusions based on that. To decide what the future outcomes might be of what may be quantifiable in the past and present requires judgment, and a book like this must persuade you of the author's judgment as well as the soundness of the data. Alot depends on the selection of what's relevant and his appropriate use of the data he selects.

The data is often fascinating and sometimes eccentric, and Smil's conclusions aren't always the conventional ones, so the proof is in the reading. Frankly there is so much data, and so many kinds of it, that the journey can be overwhelming. Another problem with this kind of prediction is timing--and this book was finished before the current global economic mess and the responses, or even the election of President Obama, which can cast a new meaning on data, supporting different patterns. Whether Smil's approach is any better than past attempts to forecast probabilities quantitatively won't be known for fifty years I suppose, but there's probably something here to cheer, alarm or provoke everyone right now.

1 comment:

theraabereview.com said...

Sounds like required reading; thank you.