I learned from this new book. Most of all it shows how the earth likely will change as temperatures rise.
For instance Lima and the Andean parts of Ecuador and Boliva are heavily dependent on Andean glacial melting for their water. An earth warmer by two degrees would create very serious problems for them, once the glaciers disappear. Most of all I came away with a renewed sense of the importance of water issues and the need for greater investment in desalination technologies (yes I know it’s not easy and transporting the desalinized water is often a greater problem than getting the salt out.) Stopping the destruction of tropical forests is another partial remedy for warming and it seems more doable than shutting down all or most carbon emissions.
That said, parts of the book struck me as very weak. The discussions of biodiversity destruction did not convince me that the scope of pending losses is unacceptable. There’s a lot of handwaving and listing of lost species as if that ends the argument. We’re in a mass extinction anyway and I’d like a serious analysis of the marginal impact on global warming on this process. "It’s so bad anyway that further species loss must be unacceptable" doesn’t cut it for me.
It is also claimed (p.236) that an earth five degrees warmer would result in the culling of "billions." Of humans that is. There is little talk of substitution or technological adaptation. Nor do I buy the claim that carbon rationing would bring "a dramatic improvement in our quality of life" by getting us off the streets, out of the planes, and bringing us closer to the rest of the community.
Overall I found this the best, most accessible, and most vivid book for visualizing the actual problems from global warming. But the Cassandras of global warming need to be more responsible, and more wary of overstatement, if they wish to press home their very important arguments.
Jonathan Adler has a good recent round-up post on some global warming issues.