Books skeptical about global warming's effect
June 27, 2006 7:28 PM   Subscribe

What are some reasonable, readable books which are skeptical about the dire threat of global warning?

I recently saw An Inconvenient Truth, and felt that Mr. Gore made a pretty solid case. That said, I'd like to read the opposite opinion in a book that a layman can understand. I'm aware of Crichton's State of Fear, but I gather that's been largely debunked. Any suggestions?
posted by dbarefoot to Science & Nature (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's somewhat controversial, but I've heard good things about The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjorn Lomborg. That said, I haven't read it (yet) so obviously my recommendation should be taken with a grain of salt...
posted by almostbarefoot at 7:38 PM on June 27, 2006

You saw this recent post right?
posted by banished at 7:42 PM on June 27, 2006

FYI, The Skeptical Environmentalist has also been largely debunked, including the climate section.
posted by jeffmshaw at 7:46 PM on June 27, 2006

Although it is a work of fiction, "State Of Fear" by Michael Crichton posits (quite credibly, to me) the possibility that there is no true environmental crisis.
posted by davidmsc at 7:53 PM on June 27, 2006

Given that there is universal acceptance of global warming from peer reviewed journal articles it is not surprising that the answer is - none.
posted by caddis at 8:01 PM on June 27, 2006

Definitely Lomborg's book. I think "largely debunked" is dishonest. A more accurate term would be "controversial"

See, for example, this Economist article.
posted by vacapinta at 8:04 PM on June 27, 2006

Personally, I find some of the answers here creepy. There's dissent on evolution, on the origin of the Universe, on most everything in Science but, really, no dissent on global warming. That would be creepy wouldnt it...
posted by vacapinta at 8:08 PM on June 27, 2006

There's no more credible dissent on evolution than there is on global warming, it's just harder to "prove".
posted by fshgrl at 8:10 PM on June 27, 2006

Response by poster: Just to clarify, I'm interested in skeptical discussions of the effects of global warming. I believe there's very little disputation that the phenomenon actually exists.
posted by dbarefoot at 8:20 PM on June 27, 2006

Read The Skeptical Environmentalist yourself before letting others make a judgement for you.

Then have a look at the 'debunkings'. The 'debunking' in Scientific American was interesting. It was largely ad hominem attacks.

It's worth noting that Lomborg believes that global warming is occuring and that humans are contributing to it, just that to change our behaviour would be such a huge change and so expensive that it is not worth it.

He also states that the extinction rate is higher than it has been for millions of years, but that it isn't as high as some people say it is.
posted by sien at 8:25 PM on June 27, 2006

You should indeed read TSE, but read it carefully. I'll admit that I havn't. The debunkings will be worthwhile; I don't think I would cite that book for any purpose without very careful scrutiny.

But seriously, there's no real dissent on global warming. The reason for that is that every major piece of data points towards global warming, and essentially no data point against. The remaining debate is on its magnitude, the consequences of that for us, and what we should do about it.

Similarly, there's no substantive dissent on evolution. To the extent there is, it is analogous to questions like "are we beyond the point of no return with regard to climate change", or "can we study the universe meaningfully given that we can only see it arise once?" These are important questions, but they do not undermine the fundamental realization that our universe arose in a bigbang-ish way.
posted by metaculpa at 9:23 PM on June 27, 2006

I'm interested in skeptical discussions of the effects of global warming. I believe there's very little disputation that the phenomenon actually exists.

Sorry, should have read more closely.
posted by metaculpa at 9:25 PM on June 27, 2006

Perhaps instead of a skeptical view, another tack would be to look for a comprehensive scientific view ---i.e. one that attempts to examine the situation and honestly describe what is known, and with what certainty (and which describes the source of its information). If that interests you, here is a link to the full text of a report by the National Academy of Sciences, arguably the most prestigious scientific body in the world. The link gives access to free online reading, and you can also purchase the book.

I have not read the report yet, so I'm not just linking something that I agree with. That said, I've skimmed over the report, and it looks to be easily readable to a layman. It's supposed to be a report to our lay government officials, so it ought to be readable.
posted by Humanzee at 10:19 PM on June 27, 2006

Another recommendation for Lomborg, worth considering in light of what you seem to want. State of Fear is garbage though, incredibly selective in the information it presents.
posted by biffa at 2:06 AM on June 28, 2006

I remember reading an article in Reader's Digest which theorized that global warming might be a good thing - something about producing more rain. I can't remember which particular issue it was from (or what the original source was), but it was printed in RD in either 1999 or 2000.
posted by divabat at 4:15 AM on June 28, 2006

Not a book, but this review basically states that where we are contributing to global warming, it's not quite so dire as Gore claims.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:02 AM on June 28, 2006

There aren't any. There's a reason for that.
Books are published because they're profitable for the publisher (and sometimes the author), so the mere quantity of books advocating one side or the other of an issue doesn't determine what's true. That being said, dbarefoot should be commended for honestly wanting to investigate both sides of the subject (a rare attitude it seems these days).
posted by davcoo at 7:06 AM on June 28, 2006

It's worth pointing out here that science is an inherently skeptical enterprise. When somebody comes along with a new idea, the establishment crosses its arms, rocks back on its heels, and says (as if they're all from Missouri) "Oh yeah? You'll have to show me." Some scientists get to work trying to debunk or poke holes in the new idea, other try to reproduce the work or refine it.

After a while, one side or the other will have stronger results. Scientists have been hacking away at global warming for about 40 years now, and sure enough, one side has produced stronger results.

It's also worth pointing out this is nothing like the current debate in the USA over evolution vs creationism/intelligent design: in that case, you have a scientific theory in opposition to an anti-scientific dogma.
posted by adamrice at 7:18 AM on June 28, 2006

Hey, Darren. For a different perspective on global warming--one that's more detached and scientific--you might want to look at Andrew Goudie, The Human Impact on the Natural Environment. It's a geography textbook discussing the human impact on vegetation, animals, soil, water, landforms, atmosphere. It's descriptive as opposed to prescriptive, describing the ways in which people have impacted the environment in great detail, as opposed to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.
posted by russilwvong at 8:23 AM on June 28, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback, everybody. Sounds like the Lomborg book is my best bet.
posted by dbarefoot at 9:33 AM on June 28, 2006

Washington Post Magazine's Joel Achenbach wrote about the climate skeptics, many of whom take positions that the impact - if there is any - will be minor or positive-ish, or self-correcting. There's some discussion of sources in it, including mention of You might find some pointers in the article.

I think it's a pretty good article, though it seems to lean slightly towards claiming the skeptics are often full of baloney. Certainly the mention of their business affiliations as well as some of their other - shall we say - crackpot ideas doesn't do them any favors.
posted by phearlez at 10:04 AM on June 28, 2006

The Achenbach article is quite good. Thanks, phearlez.

Climate change is generating headlines almost daily -- (e.g., "Peril to Walrus Young Seen As Result of Melting Ice Shelf") -- but it is also abstruse in its specifics, so journalists rely on "experts" to tell them where the truth lies. Someone like Bill Gray seems to be a fully credentialed authority figure. But when you press him on his theory of how thermohaline circulation has caused recent warming of the planet and will soon cause cooling, he concedes that he hasn't published the idea in any peer-reviewed journal. He's working on it, he says.

The Web site Real Climate, run by a loose group of climate scientists, recently published a detailed refutation of Gray's theory, saying his claims about the ocean circulation lack evidence.

Here's the RealClimate post on Gray's theory.
posted by russilwvong at 10:57 AM on June 28, 2006

Another way of asking this is: are there any good books out there that are skeptical by decent scientists or not by scientists being paid with petroleum company grants?

Rather than the evolution/creationism parallel, I would say this is closer to "cigarettes cause cancer/don't cause cancer" debate of a time back. Would you trust a book by a scientist being paid by the tobacco companies?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:01 AM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

As far as I know Lomborg isn't being paid by oil companies. He's a political scientist, though, not a climate scientist.
posted by russilwvong at 12:07 PM on June 28, 2006

I second the recommendation that you read the NAS report. I know it's not exactly what you asked, but it's a good summary of the evidence out there, and describes the claims made by climate scientists and their limitations.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:15 PM on June 28, 2006

This will get you a bunch of conservative views on global warming, maybe helpful, maybe not.

It really must be taken with a grain of salt-- if it is true, which scientists believe it is, global warming will call for collective action. Conservatives tend not to like collective action philosophically; plus, some conservative-leaning groups like the Competitive Energy Institute are funded in large part by oil companies. Not that that means that everything they say is a pack of lies, but it does mean that you can't expect it to be 100% impartial fair and balanced. Here's a recent (largely ad hominem) rebuttal of conservative stories on the topic.
posted by ibmcginty at 2:57 PM on June 28, 2006

posted by Neiltupper at 4:08 PM on June 28, 2006

Just nthing the Lomberg book. I'm fairly convinced of the reality of global warming and the human role in it, but Lomberg is honestly skeptical rather than being an oil company shill.
posted by atrazine at 4:25 PM on June 28, 2006

Unfortunately I'm not aware of anything really in the vein you're looking for, dbarefoot. The Lomborg book is as close as it gets, and it has serious limitations. Shouldn't be read without reference to the critiques.

Most ACC sceptics are still fighting the evidence of actual human-induced change (losing that one badly, though). Few are attacking the economic costs in a meaningful way, those that are are in the economic literature and not making the case for the layperson. Or they're attacking specific initiatives, such as Kyoto.

This looks interesting (from 1995). This could be what you're looking for. Here's something from the US Dept of Agriculture.
posted by wilful at 6:04 PM on June 28, 2006

From wilful's second link: The project was funded principally by the Electric Power Research Institute of Palo Alto, California, as part of its academic support program for climate modeling.
posted by russilwvong at 6:46 PM on June 28, 2006

The first time I expressed this opinion mathowie deleted it, but I truly believe that the correct answer to your question is that there aren't any.

There are plenty of questions about rate of change, ability to control climate, and lots of other such things... but I've yet to see a book that goes over the credible scenarios. (And I have a deep interest in this particular subject.)
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 12:01 AM on June 29, 2006

I think you may be coming at this wrong way. As skallas suggested, the structure of dissent in science is not ideological. Scientific consensus is a real object and when scientists disagree with one another it's very rarely at the phenomenal level. The way a lot of people use the words 'dissent' and 'controversy' in this thread is just very misleading. I suggest you go for a deeper understanding of the scientific process itself and what it is that scientists actually do. With the right tools you yourself can analyze the exact nature of the the controvery over climate change (is it missing data, unobservable, non-verifiable, or theoretical implementation details?) from a scientific perspective. I think you'll quickly find that the controversy over CC is what's really controversial among many scientists. I have no idea what your familiarity with these topics is but they're are plenty of good introductory college-level texts out there.
posted by nixerman at 12:44 AM on June 29, 2006

Geological Perspectives of Global Climate Change (Aapg Studies in Geology) (Paperback)
by Lee C. Gerhard (Editor), William E. Harrison (Editor), Bernold M. Hanson (Editor)

may be what you want. I have not finished it, but the most interesting contrarian point in there is that the biggest hazard to civilization is probably an icehouse event, not a greenhouse event. This is not the unanimous thesis of all the authors in that collection, but it is close to majority.
posted by bukvich at 8:23 PM on June 29, 2006

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