This is a most remarkable book. For one thing, it’s a book about global warming that in some senses leaves you feeling optimistic – which surely is pretty well unique in the history of publishing. I’m feeling better about climate change after reading this than I have for years.
It’s not that Curt Stager denies the impact of global warming, nor does he doubt that man-made global warming is happening, but instead he takes the big picture, something no one else has really done. By looking back at what happened in the past, both in terms of warming and cooling, and the impact it had on life at the time, he points out that predictions of doom are probably not realistic. After all, human beings survived the last ice age, a climate change event on a bigger scale than anything man made global warming can hit us with – there is no reason to think that we are going to be wiped out by the upcoming change.
Of course, this doesn’t mean there won’t be an impact, which Stager points out in terms of the changes hitting species. And it doesn’t mean we should let anything go. He points out the differences in what we would have to cope with under different scenarios, and it will be a lot easier to maintain out level of civilization with a lesser impact – so all the effort to reduce global warming is worth it – but we shouldn’t see it as a disaster that will end life as we know it.
In fact there’s even good news. It looks like our global warming efforts will cancel the next ice age, which would have produced a much bigger devastating blow to civilization than anything global warming has to offer. In the long term, assuming human beings survive, it looks like global warming will have been a good thing for the human race.
The only reason this isn’t a five star book is that it doesn’t hold up on readability. Stager’s style is fine, but in the end this has the slight feel of a magazine article that has been expanded to make a book, which means there’s much more detail than we really need or want to know (and, as seems the trend with scientist-written books these days, a bit too much ‘me’ in it from Stager). There’s also one slipup, where hydrogen is referred to as an energy source – it isn’t, it’s an energy storage and transmission medium, the energy to produce the hydrogen has to come from somewhere – in his example, the energy source is solar, with hydrogen used as a store.
Nevertheless, despite the flaws, this is a book that every green campaigner should read, learn and inwardly digest, if only to reduce the chances of getting ulcers. It gives a whole new perspective on global warming.
Review by Brian Clegg