Climate change has increasingly become accepted as the most important process impacting on the future of the human species. Whilst the majority of people now accept that climate change is a reality, the level of understanding related to how climate change happens and the impacts it has, are less well understood by the wider population. To understand the underlying physics of climate change processes is crucial if individuals are not only to have confidence in the science, but more importantly, to challenge spurious arguments made by those who continue to deny the climatic shifts we are experiencing.
Krauss’ book is a very clear and well written introduction to the physics which underpins the science of climate change and does this with both a clear and critical overview of the science but does this with a very engaging style. Throughout the book, links are made between the scientific principles and concrete examples which help to illustrate and bring to life the ideas which are discussed.
After a short discussion of the tidal environment of the Mekong River and delta, which is returned to later, the early part of the book focuses on the history of carbon dioxide measurement and the famous evidence of concentration increases as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory in the Hawaiian Islands. This is augmented by consideration of evidence coming from ice core measurements to show that there is plentiful data showing that the levels of carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere are unprecedented.
This leads to a reflection on the ways in which carbon dioxide cycles through the global system, and the impact humans are having on how this works. The evidence shows that we are having a huge impact! What is useful about the discussion of cycles is not only the volumes of carbon dioxide involved, but also how the various stores and transfers fit together, and how humans have changed these, particularly in the last 250 years or so.
Then comes discussions of atmospheric energy transfers and chemistry. Both of these are well illustrated and explained for those who are not confident in exploring aspects of the physical sciences. There is enough general explanation here that even if an individual does not understand the maths, they can understand the argument being made.
Having established the basic physics and chemistry involved in climate change, consideration is then given of the record of shifts in temperature and shifts in the concentrations of various greenhouse gases. The contribution of these different gases is then reflected upon and how changing concentrations in the past have compared to proxy temperature change evidence. As a result, a secure link is made between changes in the concentrations of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere with changes in global temperature.
The book then moves into the final main section, focusing on the impact that climate change is having on the systems of the planet, including the wasting of ice masses, ocean currents, etc and the effects these changes will have, particularly on sea-level rise and its associated impacts.
This is a fantastic book and should give the general reader a great insight as to how scientists can be so sure of the processes leading to climate change. What is also a real positive is the way in which Krauss does not attempt to scare and lecture. In places he makes it clear that the evidence concerning future impacts is not always clear and we cannot be certain of what will happen, in detail. However, at the same time we can be sure that in general if we do not change our relationship with the planet, the future will not see positive changes. This honesty about the level of evidence and security of predictions makes the overall argument much stronger and demonstrates that Krauss is using expert understanding and the available evidence to give an honest picture of what we now about the processes of climate change at this time.
This is an inexpensive book, and can be engaged with by the general reader, as well as being a great revision text for those in academia who might be working on the wider aspects of climate change. This book deserves to be widely read.
Some reflections on things I'm reading