Decisively cutting through the hyperbole on both sides of the debate, distinguished NASA climatologist Claire L. Parkinson brings much-needed balance and perspective to the highly contentious issue of climate change. Offering a deeply knowledgeable overview of global change past and present, the author lays out a compelling argument that our understandings and models are inadequate for confident predictions of the intended and unintended consequences of projects now under consideration to modify future climate. She places current climate change in the perspective of the past 4.6 billion years and delves into the bases of our understandings and their limitations. While clarifying some of the most contentious points in the climate debate, the book treats the reader to a fascinating discussion interweaving Earth history, science, the history of science, and human nature.
Climatologist Parkinson (Earth From Above), a senior fellow at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, warns against "massive geoengineering schemes," currently under consideration by government and advocacy groups, meant to avert impending climate catastrophe, but which themselves may have disastrous unintended consequences. Looking at past examples-from Egypt's massive Aswan Dam, which has spread parasitic diseases and is eroding the fertile delta, to the addition of lead to internal combustion engines and paint-Parkinson worries that fixes under discussion today, like capturing and storing carbon waste or introducing sulfur into the stratosphere to reflect solar heat, may actually lead to problems "far worse than the damage that we are already causing." Instead, Parkinson recommends a moderate approach-limiting population growth; replacing fossil fuels with solar, nuclear, and wind power; changing consumption patterns-while more ambitious plans are carefully evaluated for safety and feasibility. She also raises the possibility that, despite present scientific consensus, predictions of impending catastrophe rest too heavily on climate models that are "far from perfect." This thoughtful treatment of a highly controversial subject merits careful attention from the powers that be, and those who wish to influence them.