This is a page of recommended reading. If you read something that seems important for scientists and engineers who want to ‘save the planet’, please add it here. To learn how, read this or just click ‘Edit’ and add an item like the rest.
Summary: This book is an introduction to tipping points and is intended to be accessible and it covers a lot of ground,both theory of dynamical systems, what makes systems resilient, emergent patterns for example. There are also case studies in the second part for climate, humans, oceans and terrestrial ecosystems. The last part focuses on identifying and feasible methods for predicting tipping points. In this latter part he also proposes policies, and ways to promote good transitions and prevent bad ones from happening. The adventurous explorer has a whole bunch of simple models to play with in the appendix, featuring Hopf bifurcations?, multispecies competition and contingency in behavior. The last is used in Chapter 12, which has humans as case study, to explain why we end up with the current Plan C situation due to human inertia facing complex challenges.
Summary: This book by Dr James Hansen about Climate change. The first chapters are good to read if you want to know the effects in USA of “a too large weapon industry complex” that president Eisenhower warned for in a speech in 1961 and Dr Hansen’s own ups and downs with sitting presidents during his career.
He also explains with clear language the causes and effects of relevant phenomena in global warming. He also gives a scientific rationale for 350 ppm CO2 . Not CO2e, that is, CO2 equivalents, which Bill McKibben had been pestering him for an answer (my wording not his). And the most effective way of achieving this is to phase out coal emissions over 20 years and leaving most of the remaining fossil fuel in the ground. He also gives a good rationale why “clean coal” is in oxymoron.
The chapter suggesting a scenario in which Earth undergoes a runaway greenhouse effect and becomes like Venus seems far-fetched. Reputable scientists have studied this possibility and consider it quite unlikely until the Sun becomes significantly brighter than it is now, approximately 1.1. billion years from now. This chapter does not add to the credibility of the book.
Summary: Eaarth is a book by Bill McKibben about Climate change. The title refers to earth, which is substantially changed by human influence that the author deems a new name for the planet is in order: “let it be Eaarth.”
Summary: A gentle introduction to climate change, written as an undergraduate textbook for non-science majors. Good for the “big picture”. The book’s website has links to interactive computer models and online lectures.
Summary: The purpose of this primer is to help the reader determine whether our understanding of the Earth’s climate is adequate to predict the long term effects of carbon dioxide released as a result of the continued burning of fossil fuels. This is the technical version. Available free online!
Summary: The purpose of this primer is to explore some of the main scientific, economic and political issues surrounding the topic of global warming. This is the layman’s version, suitable for presentations. Available free online!
Summary: Taking for granted the fact that global warming is a major problem, the author begins by listing “3 heresies”: urbanization is green, nuclear power is green, and genetic engineering is green. He presents the case for these in detail. He compares “romantics, scientists and engineers” and explains how the environmental movement needs all three working in synergy. He then turns to “global gardening”. He ends on a dark note by suggesting that we will not get global warming under control in time to avoid the need for geo-engineering, and arguing that we should not flinch from beginning to study the options. An afterword with references is available online.
Summary: This book is a very good synthesis of various disciplines that I’ve used for many years now. Both as a reference and for inspiration. So whenever I need to know about the sulfur cycle or how much fresh water there is in biomass, or the cumulative radiation by all greenhouse gases I take it down from the shelf.
Summary: A must for scientists and engineers who want to save the planet and who suspect that any wise action must take into account the world problematique as a whole.
Summary: A survey and a celebration of all the creatures that have ever lived. The first chapters deal with how and why creatures are classified. The main middle section (over 500 pages) describes (with trees and line art) the main groups of organisms. You will probably want to refer to this rather than read straight through. The last chapter is about saving what is left.
Summary: I haven’t read this book. According to a radio interview with the author it’s a popular account of how mathematicians and biologists are now collaborating fully, leading to the sixth great advance in understanding in biology. (Another one was Mendelian genetics.) It sounds as if they’re possibly overstating things, but Stewart has a track recording of writing reasonably interesting popular maths books.
This is one of the first things I’ve read on Gaia theory that quickly crushes the naive Daisyworld model and moves on to models that aren’t specially designed (as if by a beneficent god) to ensure the stability of the biosphere. Probably experts have already seen these models, but I hadn’t.
Are there already more realistic models of evolved homeostasis that surpass the initial toy-models?
Yes, Lenton discusses some in this book. That’s just one of the many good things about this book - not the main thing, but definitely worth reading.
Summary A nice introductory textbook on physics that focuses on thermodynamics and environmental issues, especially energy and climate change.
Summary: Edwards gives a detailed account of the history and development of global climate and weather observation and modelling, starting with the collection of ships logs, weather collection networks that used telegraphy in the 19th century, and finally explaining the history of numerical weather calculations in the 20th century. If you are interested in a particular scientific topic, is vital to understand the history of that topic as well: This is the place to learn about the history of climate modells.
Summary: This is an introduction to climate modeling for scientists and engineers that are not meteorologists. The first chapter explains the factors that influence the climate on Earth, the second chapter provides an overview of the history of climate modelling, explaining the different kinds of approaches. There is one chapter for each class of models, explaining the basic equations and processes that the models include and graphics displaying the results one can get from them. The accompanying CD contains pictures from the book, and code for several of the models explained in the book. Most of the code is outdated and dysfunctional, though, but the best way to understand what a model really does, is to implement a toy version of it. For this end, the provided code is helpful.
Summary: The book lists the most important topics in weather modelling - climate modelling is secondary - starting with an explanation of appropriate approximations of the Navier-Stokes equations and their discretization, and explains existing weather models and their visualization and common pitfalls. This is a broad introduction suitable for anyone interested in working on weather and climate models, although those who would like to dive into the code themselves will need a much more detailed exposition.
Summary: This book is not about climate modeling, but about atmospheric science in general. I think it offers a very good basic introduction to a wide range of topics associated with the atmosphere. The book starts with the different components in the earth system, touches upon thermodynamic concepts in atmospheric science, discusses radiative transfer, atmospheric chemistry, cloud microphysics, atmospheric dynamics, weather systems and the atmospheric boundary layer. The final chapter is about climate dynamics.
Summary: Analysis of all energy sources, storage, flow and conversion in the biosphere.
Summary: Though I don’t always agree with his views, I can’t fault his approach. Quite simply he puts numbers on things and presents the basic science. Commendably he has made his book free online; or maybe he realised he’d sell more copies this way.
Video summary available The Harvard version of his talk is available on YouTube: Link.
Summary: Peter Tertzakian highlights very clearly, with simple words and numbers, how much energy we are using, why it can’t continue, and what technology can do to help.
Summary: Quoting the review by George Mobus:
Howard T. Odum (1924-2002) is considered the father of systems ecology. He had spent his life studying the subsystems of ecological systems, and in particular the flows of energy through those systems. He identified numerous important principles of energy, work, efficiency, cycles, etc. Today, systems ecologists are still finding verification in their field studies of models suggested by Odum’s theories. Some of the best advances in understanding ecological systems has come from those theories. Then Odum turned his attention to human social systems as another form of ecology. Indeed he showed how to understand human systems as embedded in and supported by the non-human Ecos, or what we have called the natural ecosystem. One of his many must-read books that summarizes his thinking along these lines is Environment, Power, and Society for the Twenty-First Century: The Hierarchy of Energy (2007, Columbia University Press).
Summary: Not read yet, but Robert Rapier’s review hints it has some interesting detailed “scenarios” for future energy extraction and usage.:
This is a good book for those new to the topic of peak oil, and for those who are involved in mitigation efforts — particularly government leaders — this book will be of great value. I don’t think the section on global warming added anything to the book; in fact many people will be turned off by the book after they read that section. But overall the book gets high marks for advancing the conversation further into the implications of specific mitigation pathways, and really thinking through how the future may unfold.
(The authors apparently (same review) “start out by indicating that they are agnostic on global warming, but then proceed to attack the integrity of the science of global warming.”.)
Author: Gregor Czisch
Publisher: Institution of Engineering and Technology (20 Nov 2010)
ISBN-10: 1849191565, ISBN-13: 978-1849191562
This book is not yet published (in May 2011) but looks useful. The following is from Amazon’s listing:
This book pursues the fundamental idea of using renewable energies in a rational economic way to come to a climate friendly electricity supply. An electricity network for the whole of Europe and parts of the neighbouring continents Africa and Asia is found to be the most cost effective solution. The sources of renewable and partly decentralised electricity generation could be connected in a comprehensive power supply, to meet the electricity needs of the whole region. Gregor Czisch examines which options will lend themselves in the future, from both a technical and an economic viewpoint, to meeting European electricity requirements. He shows that extremely promising and affordable options exist in the use of renewable energy in all its diversity in a system facilitating international cooperation. In this book, Czisch examines different scenarios for a CO2-neutral electricity system under different political, technological and economic conditions for Europe and its closer surroundings. The aim was to find in each variation the economically optimal solution, whereby the supply area embraces approximately 1.1 billion inhabitants and an electricity consumption of roughly 4000 Terawatthours per annum (TWh/a).
Author: Jeremy Leggett
Publisher: Profile Books (25 Jun 2009)
ISBN-10: 1846688736, ISBN-13: 978-1846688737
This was recommended by Keith Barnham on the SGR mailing list.
Clean, silent, renewable and climate-friendly … solar power is the holy grail of energy. And there’s no shortage of sunlight out there: enough falls on the surface of the planet each day to power human society many thousands of times over. Edited by a leading solar expert, The Solar Century provides a groundbreaking vision of a sun-powered world. The first definitive book on the subject, it covers everything from how ancient societies viewed the sun through to present-day panels thin enough to be delivered ‘by the roll’. Presented in stunning full-colour throughout, The Solar Century showcases solar applications from the household scale through to great public architecture; from solar as a force for good in developing countries through to giant solar power stations planned for the world’s deserts. The book also debunks many myths about solar – such as the idea that it and other renewable energies will always need fossil-fuel stations on standby. Essential reading for anyone interested in science, energy and the future of our planet.
Summary: from Wikipedia:
Discusses the effect of global warming on the world economy. Although not the first economic report on climate change, it is significant as the largest and most widely known and discussed report of its kind. The Review’s executive summary states that “the Review first examines the evidence on the economic impacts of climate change itself, and explores the economics of stabilising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The second half of the Review considers the complex policy challenges involved in managing the transition to a low-carbon economy and in ensuring that societies can adapt to the consequences of climate change that can no longer be avoided”
Even though it was under critisism at the time its very good for arguing with politicians and economists. There are also summaries available- a 2 page summary without pictures and a longer with pictures. I liked the latter as i gives more understanding context for the rationales he makes.
Summary: Quoting the review by George Mobus:
In this book he and Elisabeth take on the situation regarding social ecology under the conditions of diminishing energy flows. Taking principles from systems ecology involving systems suffering from the decline of energy (e.g. deciduous forests in fall), showing how such systems have adapted or respond to those conditions, they have applied these to the human social system. The Odums argued that if we humans were wise enough to apply these principles through policy decisions to ourselves, we might find similar ways to adapt with much less suffering than is potentially implied by sudden and drastic social collapse.
I’m afraid I do not share the optimism of the Odums’, that we humans will, in fact, adopt any of these policies as sociopolitical bodies. I have a much more cynical view of human behavior based on what I think is a general lack of sufficient sapience in the average human brain to be able to understand and act on the situation we put ourselves in. However, I do feel there are a fair number of very sapient individuals in the world who are developing much greater wisdom, especially in a world so full of challenges and lessons to learn. The knowledge of systems ecology and general systems science that Odum has explicated can still be of value to those who are able to grasp it and turn it into actionable ideas for the future.
Summary: On a par with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Criticised by many at the time and since, the authors had nevertheless said what assumptions they were making and what the outcomes of their models were. Hard-line proponents of the price mechanism as the cure for all ills objected to Jay Forrester’s approach to modeling dynamic systems. A thirty-year-on retrospective edition was published for which a synopsis is available.
Summary: This is the book that started the economic theory of public goods. Public goods are goods which, if they are provided at any, are provided to all. The basic problem is that each individual actor is only incentivized to contribute directly to the good if there is a chance that their individual contribution makes the difference on it being provided. Whenever possible, that leaves the provision of the good to the single most important player. If a small group can provide it, they can do so only after complex negotiations where each tries to shirk as much of the responsibility as possible. With large groups, the good can only be provided if there is some sort of coercion.
Summary: I confess, I haven’t read the book, but I’ve listened to the abridged version on CD many times as I drive between Toronto and Ottawa. It never fails to inspire me. Peter Senge et al discuss how organizations, private, public, and non-profit, can all work together and build on their organizational strengths to create more sustainable operations.
Summary: This is a history of climate change and its effects on people, starting from the tail end of the last ice age (around 18000 BC). The author synthesizes a lot of research and presents it in a highly readable form — almost like a story. Watch civilizations rise and fall before your eyes. Learn about the Younger Dryas episode, the way rainfall and drought shaped the history of Mesopotamia, the flood that changed the Euxine Lake into the Black Sea, the collapse of the Mayan civilization, and more.
Summary: A brief autobiography which provides interesting insight into Keeling’s consistent work to capture an accurate record of atmospheric CO2 levels.
Summary: This book describes how nature would change if humanity would instantly vanish from its surface: What would remain of human artefacts like cities, plastic or the influence on the climate?
Summary: Jared Diamond investigates the rise and fall of ancient and modern civilizations and settlements, from the first colonization of Pacific islands to the settlements of the Vikings in Greenland, to current-day problems in Australia and elsewhere. He identifies several main reasons why some human settlements failed to survive, while others persisted and continue to persist for thousands of years. The last part of the book is about practical lessons, listing the most serious environmental problems, which we need to solve. His approach is both holistic, scientific and entertaining. Last but not least he is able to supplement his narration with field work carried out by himself.
Summary: I haven’t read this yet, but I’ve heard it’s a good companion to Jared Diamond’s book Collapse, recommended above. A very detailed summary by Anatoly Karlin is available on his blog.
Concerning a practical hands-on introduction, this is probably the most evolved text.
If you want more theory but are fine with a less refined piece of work, then this is quite useful.
Concerning temperate climates—in particular, Europe—this is a well researched piece of work that almost could be used as a college textbook. For Europeans, this would probably be my first recommendation.
Also see Psychology of sustainability.
Summary: Hamilton summarizes both scientific facts in chapter one on global warming and also has chapter that summarizes a conference held in 2009 about what the implications are for living in a world with 4 degrees higher global mean temperature which will be the most likely scenario if we don’t start to decrease the from 2015. That is a must-read for anyone interested in climate change. So at least it is easy to remember. The rest of the book is about economic growth fetishism, the consumer self and a chapter that I thought was very enlightening apart from chapter 1 and 7, which is Many forms of denial - which describes eg. how tobacco industry scientists formed “think tanks” which when that war was lost ended up targeting environmentalism and human climate change.
Summary: Gigerenzer is the Director of the Adaptive Behavior and Cognition Group at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. He works on risk communication and this book explains his work on how to understand and present statistical information. Grigerenzer tells us that scientists have to understand how humans process numbers and risks and have to explain their results accordingly.
Summary: Gigerenzer is the Director of the Adaptive Behavior and Cognition Group at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. This book explains that and how human intuition works with a multitude of heuristics and information selection, Grigerenzer points out that intuition is not more often wrong than logical reasoning, but that both are successful strategies needed for different situations. In the modern western culture intuition is usually discarded in favor of rationality, Grigerenzer explains that this is not justified.
Summary: This professor makes a lot of excellent comments about the pace of innovation and infrastructure. The breakfast I had in Luxembourg today was certainly dependent on diesel engines and jet engines: inventions that go all the way back to such men as Rudolf Diesel. I’ve yet to read all his books, however it is worthwhile noting this man is an advisor to Bill Gates.
Summary: This a quick introduction to the most devastating fact of our time: even if we stop putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere entirely, a lot of it will stay there for a very long time. As David Archer says, “The climatic impacts of releasing fossil fuel CO2 to the atmosphere will last longer than Stonehenge, longer than time capsules, longer than nuclear waste, far longer than the age of human civilization so far.” So, cutting back CO2 emissions will not make global warming go away: it will only slow down! And to keep CO2 levels from going above dangerous levels, truly dramatic cuts are required starting now.
Summary: This article attempts to find thresholds that when crossed could have disastrous consequences for humanity. Three of the nine thresholds listed here have already been crossed: atmospheric carbon dioxide (now 387 ppm, with a proposed threshold of 350 ppm), rate of biodiversity loss (now species per million per year, with a proposed threshold of 10), and the amount of nitrogen removed from the atmosphere per year for use in fertilizer etcetera (now 121 megatons per year, with a proposed threshold of 35). The other five involve phosphorus, ozone in the stratosphere, ocean acidification, global freshwater, land used for crops, atmospheric aerosols and miscellaneous chemical pollution. It’s an important step toward understanding the limits we face.
Summary: Other small articles on sea level change can be reached from the side bar. The highlighted one includes Dr. John Cook’s picture of the last 140,000 years, shown below. We note with trepidation that 7000 years of stable sea level is unusual, and that the last interglacial ended by switching fairly quickly from sea level rising at about 1mm/year to falling at 10mm/year (rates estimated from the picture).
Summary: A reading list of classic technical articles in climate modeling.
Summary: Each year, irrigated Saharan- and Australian-desert forests could sequester amounts of atmospheric CO2 at least equal to that from burning fossil fuels. Without any rain, to capture CO2 produced from gasoline requires adding about $1 to the per-gallon pump-price to cover irrigation costs, using reverse osmosis (RO), desalinated, sea water. Such mature technology is economically competitive with the currently favored, untested, power-plant Carbon Capture (and deep underground, or under-ocean) Sequestration (CCS). Afforestation sequesters CO2, mostly as easily stored wood, both from distributed sources (automotive, aviation, etc., that CCS cannot address) and from power plants. Climatological feasibility and sustainability of such irrigated forests, and their potential global impacts are explored using a general circulation model (GCM). Biogeophysical feedback is shown to stimulate considerable rainfall over these forests, reducing desalination and irrigation costs; economic value of marketed, renewable, forest biomass, further reduces costs; and separately, energy conservation also reduces the size of the required forests and therefore their total capital and operating costs. The few negative climate impacts outside of the forests are discussed, with caveats. If confirmed with other GCMs, such irrigated, subtropical afforestation probably provides the best, near-term route to complete control of green-house-gas-induced, global warming.
Summary: Most of ES&T deals with chemical contamination, but many papers also address climate change.
Summary: The result of three months’ intensive work by a group of 14 authors from Asia, Europe and North America, ‘The Hartwell Paper’ argues that a radical change of approach is required, given that the 1992 United Nations international climate policy framework has failed to produce any discernible real world reductions in greenhouse gases. It also argues that the crash of 2009 is a ‘crisis that must not be wasted’.
Summary: Does what it says on the tin. A carefully drafted summary of the present situation.
Summary: On his blog Evolving Economics, Jason Collins recommends reading in four categories:
Summary: A short article about satellites flying in formation for the first time in order to provide more reliable data about the climate.
Summary: News from the University of Cincinnati about a mass extinction 251 million years ago.