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5.0 out of 5 starsLeaning in from a mostly U. S. perspective ...
Reviewed in the United States on May 23, 2015
Leaning in from a mostly U.S. perspective, this thoughtful book offers a detailed history of the study of human-caused climate change and efforts (and inaction) to address it up to 1997. From the Cold War to the debate over supersonic planes to the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, 'Behind the Curve' gives a compelling behind-the-scenes account of what was, what could have been and why.
5.0 out of 5 starsintelligent and unique perspective
Reviewed in the United States on April 22, 2014
Couldn't put it down. The perspective is much different and broader than the coverage you get in the media. It's a complex issue with a complex history. And the book is enlightening bit still treats me like an adult. Loved it.
Wholly didactic and intricate in its portrayal of climate history, Dr. Howe's Behind the Curve is a work that will be quite difficult for the average reader. Dr. Howe goes into great detail about the political origins of climate change, spanning over half a century in his work. Dr. Howe begins by first discussing the Cold War beginnings of atmospheric research, which inevitably led to a scientific interest in atmospheric CO2 levels. Dr. Howe then goes to great lengths to describe the bipartisan nature of climate change that originated in the 80s with the Reagan administration, and how climate science began to be corresponded as a left-wing issue. Although a refreshing perspective on the politics of climate change, I believe the book to be too narrow-minded, with many other factors contributing to the cause being left out. Starting in the 1950 and following up in the early 2000s, Behind the Curve is a good read, albeit a politically-themed read. I would only recommend this book if you are well-versed in your understanding of climate change and politics.
3.0 out of 5 starsWell researched, interesting, but the author does not make his main point
Reviewed in the United States on May 8, 2014
This is an interesting book for its history of climate science and climate change in the last half of the twentieth century up to and including the Kyoto Protocol fiasco. In particular, there is insight to be gained about the clash between the objectives of environmentalists and those of climate scientists during this period, and the ultimate unity of purpose of the groups brought about by a common enemy (and I won't spoil the read by saying more along those lines), that I have not seen presented so well or thoroughly elsewhere.
However, I believe that the author has failed to make the case for his primary premise, that climate scientists have erred in addressing anthropogenic climate change by focusing on a "science first" approach that places priority on "more and better science" whenever the world is not making adequate progress on this issue. First of all, it is not clear what other appropriate role those scientists really should try to play, and the author does not particularly enlighten us on this point. In the final analysis, climate scientists are, after all, scientists.
A bigger problem with the author's hypothesis is illustrated by excerpts from his summary argument, in the last few pages before his epilogue, about the failure of the Kyoto Protocol. The following passages are from pp. 194--195:
"[T]he politics of international governance that sunk the Kyoto Protocol grew directly out of the science politics that had earlier weakened the IPCC and undercut the nascent UNFCCC. In the 1980s and early 1990s, opponents of serious national and international efforts to curb emissions realized that the first, best way to influence the political discussion about global warming was to challenge the science behind it. By weakening scientific consensus and challenging scientific certainty, representatives from business and industry sought to insulate themselves from blame--and regulation--in future political debates that might unfold in legal and moral terms. ... The no-regrets policy, based on economic precaution and questioning scientific certainty, was tenable only as long as the IPCC assessments continued to reflect a conservative view of the science behind global warming. Scientific uncertainty justified greater economic precaution. ...
"Moreover, the turn toward economics as an arbiter of climate change policy was not a turn away from a deep faith in the power of science to define rational policy on global warming, but rather an extension of it. ... Even more so than in debates about the science of global warming, in debates about the economics of global warming, advocates on all sides relied on numbers to determine winners and losers. ... [U]ltimately, the language of science and the language of economics masked a constellation of moral and political concerns in artificially rational, objective terms."
Is the author claiming that without the conservative IPCC assessments there would be no reason for some to attempt to justify greater economic precaution? One should remember that there are far more conservative views out there of the science behind global warming, often made by those with a vested interest in not addressing climate change at all, than those presented in the IPCC reports. The broad scientific and intergovernmental ratification of the IPCC does put a floor under the views that would not be there otherwise, even if some would wish that the IPCC reports not be as cautious as they are.
And concerning the language of science and economics masking a constellation of moral and political concerns in artificially rational, objective terms--Just try having any discussion about those moral and political concerns arising from anthropogenic climate change without referring to the "artificially rational" scientific and economic data and projections that are the basis for even knowing that we should have any concerns. In particular, that scientific information is not easily expressed in anything but the language of science. If the point is that the data and other numbers have been overemphasized, then (1) it is hard to overemphasize the field day that those whose product is doubt would have if less emphasis were placed on the science, and (2) even if there has somehow been an overemphasis on the language of science, then it is difficult to see how scientists are ultimately responsible.
I am not really lobbying against the purchase of this book, since, again, it is an interesting read about the history of climate change and its politics in the last half of the twentieth century. I am glad to have it in my library as an additional reference. However, I would still advise the reader to consider carefully whether the author has made the case for his primary point. And if the only reason for reading it is for that history, then perhaps one should first read Spencer Weart’s Discovery of Global Warming, and, if the reader is fascinated by the politics of that history and of the IPCC, following that up with Bert Bolin's A History of the Science and Politics of Climate Change.
Wearing my editor's hat, I'd just note that this book appears to be more nearly error-free than most. The only one that is worth a warning for those citing information from it is that the references to Russell Seitz (a climate change blogger) should be to the scientist Frederick Seitz.
This thoughtful book provides a detailed history of the study of human-caused climate change and efforts to address it. Beginning with the politics of science stemming from the Cold War through the early 2000s.