The Weathermakers

The Weathermakers, by Tim Flannery, looks at the problem of global warming and is a pretty timely read. Flannery breaks the issue down into a few key areas which he addresses in turn, starting with James Lovelock’s Gaia theory and how climate has changed in the past, what effects past changes have had on our planet and how the current CO2 levels compare to historic ones.

He then goes on to look at the effects global warming has already had on things like coral bleaching, species extinction, sea levels and frequency of severe storms before tackling the science behind climate modelling, the accuracy of our current models and what those models predict for the future. Along the way he shoots down some of the myths put forward by the anti-global warming crowd, eg: that since plants breathe CO2 an increase in CO2 will provide unprecedented agricultural yields. This is currently doing the rounds in the US at the moment, with the energy lobby taking out full-pafe newspaper advertisements to promote this theory. Flannery shoots it down by quoting research which shows that plants are actually less productive in an atmosphere with increased CO2!

Next up is a look in more detail at what will happen if things continue as they are, including a look at how plants and animals adapted to temperature changes before (by migrating) and how human infrastructure and agriculture is likely to hamper that process. He also talks about the effects of warmer oceans and their effect on food production as well as the effects on the ocean’s ciculatory systems.

The penultimate section deals with potential solutions to the problem, noting that we solved the ozone hole problem in a reasonably short time with a concerted international effort. He talks about Kyoto, both good and bad, and how it’s here to stay, the costs of fixing the problem versus those of doing nothing, the downside to plans to encourage the oceans to take up more CO2 by fertilising them with iron and finally, why a hydrogen economy will never work.

His final section is where he offers solutions that will work, focusing on the golden trio of hydro, wind & solar before introducing nuclear power, which seems to be making a comeback for two reasons: one, it emits very little greenhouse gases (about the same as hydro/wind/solar when you include lifetime costs) and two, more and more scientists think that global warming is a much greater problem than that of nuclear waste.

Flannery concludes by giving a few easy ways for the individual to start making a difference, including tips for reducing energy consumption and offsetting that which you can’t easily reduce. The book is well worth a read, and while it’s certainly alarmist in places, that’s probably what’s needed to get people to start taking the process seriously.