The Discovery of Global Warming

Front Cover
Harvard University Press, Jun 30, 2009 - Science - 240 pages
2 Reviews

In 2001 a panel representing virtually all the world's governments and climate scientists announced that they had reached a consensus: the world was warming at a rate without precedent during at least the last ten millennia, and that warming was caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases from human activity. The consensus itself was at least a century in the making. The story of how scientists reached their conclusion--by way of unexpected twists and turns and in the face of formidable intellectual, financial, and political obstacles--is told for the first time in The Discovery of Global Warming. Spencer R. Weart lucidly explains the emerging science, introduces us to the major players, and shows us how the Earth's irreducibly complicated climate system was mirrored by the global scientific community that studied it.

Unlike familiar tales of Science Triumphant, this book portrays scientists working on bits and pieces of a topic so complex that they could never achieve full certainty--yet so important to human survival that provisional answers were essential. Weart unsparingly depicts the conflicts and mistakes, and how they sometimes led to fruitful results. His book reminds us that scientists do not work in isolation, but interact in crucial ways with the political system and with the general public. The book not only reveals the history of global warming, but also analyzes the nature of modern scientific work as it confronts the most difficult questions about the Earth's future.



Table of Contents:

Preface

1. How Could Climate Change?
2. Discovering a Possibility
3. A Delicate System
4. A Visible Threat
5. Public Warnings
6. The Erratic Beast
7. Breaking into Politics
8. The Discovery Confirmed

Reflections
Milestones
Notes
Further Reading
Index



Reviews of this book:
A soberly written synthesis of science and politics.
--Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

Reviews of this book:
Charting the evolution and confirmation of the theory [of global warming], Spencer R. Weart, director of the Center for the History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics, dissects the interwoven threads of research and reveals the political and societal subtexts that colored scientists' views and the public reception their work received.
--Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times Book Review

Reviews of this book:
It took a century for scientists to agree that gases produced by human activity were causing the world to warm up. Now, in an engaging book that reads like a detective story, physicist Weart reports the history of global warming theory, including the internal conflicts plaguing the research community and the role government has had in promoting climate studies.
--Publishers Weekly

Reviews of this book:
It is almost two centuries since the French mathematician Jean Baptiste Fourier discovered that the Earth was far warmer than it had any right to be, given its distance from the Sun...Spencer Weart's book about how Fourier's initially inconsequential discovery finally triggered urgent debate about the future habitability of the Earth is lucid, painstaking and commendably brief, packing everything into 200 pages.
--Fred Pearce, The Independent

Reviews of this book:
[The Discovery of Global Warming] is a well-written, well-researched and well-balanced account of the issues involved...This is not a sermon for the faithful, or verses from Revelation for the evangelicals, but a serious summary for those who like reasoned argument. Read it--and be converted.
--John Emsley, Times Literary Supplement

Reviews of this book:
This is a terrific book...Perhaps the finest compliment I could give this book is to report that I intend to use it instead of my own book...for my climate class. The Discovery of Global Warming is more up-to-date, better balanced historically, beautifully written and, not least important, short and to the point. I think the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] needs to enlist a few good historians like Weart for its next assessment.
--Stephen H. Schneider, Nature

Reviews of this book:
This short, well-written book by a science historian at the American Institute of Physics adds a serious voice to the overheated debate about global warming and would serve as a great starting point for anyone who wants to better understand the issue.
--Maureen Christie, American Scientist

Reviews of this book:
I was very pleasantly surprised to find that Spencer Weart's account provides much valuable and interesting material about how the discipline developed--not just from the perspective of climate science but also within the context of the field's relation to other scientific disciplines, the media, political trends, and even 20th-century history (particularly the Cold War). In addition, Weart has done a valuable service by recording for posterity background information on some of the key discoveries and historical figures who contributed to our present understanding of the global warming problem.
--Thomas J. Crowley, Science

Reviews of this book:
Weart has done us all a service by bringing the discovery of global warming into a short, compendious and persuasive book for a general readership. He is especially strong on the early days and the scientific background.
--Crispin Tickell, Times Higher Education Supplement

A Capricious Beast Ever since the days when he had trudged around fossil lake basins in Nevada for his doctoral thesis, Wally Broecker had been interested in sudden climate shifts. The reported sudden jumps of CO2 in Greenland ice cores stimulated him to put this interest into conjunction with his oceanographic interests. The result was a surprising and important calculation. The key was what Broecker later described as a "great conveyor belt'"of seawater carrying heat northward. . . . The energy carried to the neighborhood of Iceland was "staggering," Broecker realized, nearly a third as much as the Sun sheds upon the entire North Atlantic. If something were to shut down the conveyor, climate would change across much of the Northern Hemisphere' There was reason to believe a shutdown could happen swiftly. In many regions the consequences for climate would be spectacular. Broecker was foremost in taking this disagreeable news to the public. In 1987 he wrote that we had been treating the greenhouse effect as a 'cocktail hour curiosity,' but now 'we must view it as a threat to human beings and wildlife.' The climate system was a capricious beast, he said, and we were poking it with a sharp stick.

I found the book enjoyable, thoughtful, and an excellent introduction to the history of what may be one of the most important subjects of the next one hundred years.
--Clark Miller, University of Wisconsin

The Discovery of Global Warming raises important scientific issues and topics and includes essential detail. Readers should be able to follow the discussion and emerge at the end with a good understanding of how scientists have developed a consensus on global warming, what it is, and what issues now face human society.
--Thomas R. Dunlap, Texas A&M University
 

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Contents

How Could Climate Change?
1
Discovering a Possibility
19
A Delicate System
38
A Visible Threat
63
Public Warnings
86
The Erratic Beast
114
Breaking into Politics
138
Speaking Science to Power
155
The Work Completedand Begun
177
Reflections
197
Milestones
205
Notes
213
Index
225
Copyright

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About the author (2009)

Spencer R. Weart is Director Emeritus of the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics.

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