Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change, Must Read Book

Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming by Michael Mann and Lee Kump is everyperson’s guide to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The IPCC issues a periodic set of reports on the state of global climate change, and has been doing so for almost two decades. It is a massive undertaking and few have the time or training to read though and absorb it, yet it is very important that every citizen understands the reports’ implications. Why? Because human caused climate change has emerged as the number one existential issue of the day, and individuals, corporations, and governments must act to implement sensible and workable changes in behavior and policy or there will be dire consequences.

Dire Predictions is a DK Publishing product, which means it is very visual, succinct, and as is the case with all the DK products I’ve seen, well done. This is the second edition of the book, updated to reflect the most recent IPCC findings. The book gives a basic background on climate change, describes scientific projections and how they are developed, discuses impacts of climate change, and outlines vulnerability and modes of adaptation to change. The book finishes with a panoply of suggestions for solving the climate change crisis. Since Dire Predictions reflects the IPCC reports, it can be used as a primer in understanding the much more extensive and intensive original document, but it can also be used entirely on its own. I would recommend Dire Predictions for use in any of a wide range of classroom settings. It could be a primary text in middle school or high school Earth Systems classes, or a supplementary text in intro college courses. Anyone who is engaged in the climate change conversation and wants to be well informed simply needs to get this book, read it, and have it handy as a reference.

See: An interview with Michael Mann by yours truly

Lee Kump is a professor in Geosciences at Penn State, and author of a major textbook “The Earth System.” Michael Mann is Distinguished Professor of Meteorology and Director of the Earth System Science Centre at Penn State, and author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines (as well as countless scientific publications). Mann has been on top of the climate change issue for years. His work in the late 1980s, with colleagues, produced the famous “Hockey Stick” graph which had two major impacts. First, it made the link between the recent century or so of direct observation of Earth’s surface temperatures (with thermometers and/or satellites) and the “paleo” record made up of proxyindicators of temperature, an essential step in placing modern climate change in long term perspective. Second, using this connection, Mann and colleagues showed that recent global warming, known to be primarily caused by human released greenhouse gas pollution, was already extreme and likely to get more extreme. Since then, Mann has been a key scientist involved with the IPCC, and has carried out many important research projects.

See: New Research on Tree Rings as Indicators of Past Climate

I asked Dr. Mann to address a handful of questions I had about Dire Predictions.

Question: Some might think of the title of the book as a bit extreme, even “alarmist,” to reference a term we often see used by climate science deniers. I assume you chose it carefully. Why “Dire Predictions: [subtitle]” instead of “Understanding Climate Change: [subtitle]”?

Answer: This was a mutual decision between the authors (Lee Kump and myself) and the publisher. The publisher felt this title both communicates the nature of the content of the book and the larger message of urgency; The predictions really are “dire” for the worst case scenarios, i.e. if we fail to act on climate change.

Question: What are the biggest changes, or perhaps most interesting changes, between the first and second edition, such as new research? Did any of the initial projections get less dire? More dire?

Answer: The main difference is that the book reflects the latest science as reported in the most recent (5th) IPCC assessment report. Some spreads remained unchanged, i.e. we felt there were no significant developments in the science since the last report (and last book). But in other cases, there were some substantial developments, i.e. we felt compelled to talk about the “Faux Pause” since it has gotten so much attention, and the issue of equilibrium climate sensitivity is discussed in more depth. The concept of the “Anthropocene” is dealt with more explicitly. And the issue of recent cold eastern U.S. winters and what it really means, and the unprecedented current drought in California are discussed.

Question: It seems that for decades the climate science has been settled sufficiently to realize that release of fossil Carbon will have serious consequences. Yet policy and technology changes to address this have been slow. Is this simply because such things take a long time, or have the efforts of science deniers been successful in slowing down action? How much better (or less dire) would things be in, say, 2050 had people, corporations, and governments accepted climate change as a serious matter 20 years ago? In other words, how much damage has science denialism done?

Answer: Oh, that’s a fundamentally important point. There is a huge “procrastination penalty” in not acting on the problem, and we’ve presumably committed to billions if not trillions of economic losses by not having acted yet. But there is still time to avert the worst and most costly damages, so there is an urgency of action unlike there has ever been before. This is something we tackle head on in the book.

See: Michael Mann Answers Questions From Dangerous Children About Ian Somerhalder

Question: Since you finished working on the second edition, are there any new research findings you wish you could somehow add to the book? Or, any changes in what is emphasized?

Indeed. As you know, Stefan Rahmstorf, I and others recently published an article in Nature Climate Change demonstrating that the AMOC (North Atlantic ocean circulation, the so-called “conveyor belt”) may be weakening even faster than the IPCC models indicate. Yet, we have downplayed that topic (though it is mentioned in a brand new spread on “Tipping Points”) because the consensus has leaned toward this being one of the less likely tipping points to occur in the decades ahead. This is a reminder that science is often fast-moving, and in this case, had we waited a year to publish the 2nd edition of DP, we might have chosen to actually give the AMOC collapse issue even more attention!

See: A list of climate change books

Question: I’m wondering if the projections for sea level rise in Dire Predictions are conservative with respect to more recent research. Also, there seems to be a more clear and explicit link between climate change an ware or social unrest. Would these issues also have more attention if you had another shot at the book?

Answer: We do discuss the sea level rise and the fact that iPCC projections here (and for many other variables) have been historically too conservative. There is some discussion now about the role of water resources in national security and conflict, and the huge advances that are taking place in renewable energy (that is something that has changed dramatically since the first edition—and a reminder of the reasons there are for cautious optimism).

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I just read a paper on what is the definition of a "reasonable person" in the context of tort law.


"The economic definition can be traced back to a series of cases decided by Judge Learned Hand in the 1940s, in which he related three variables in an algebraic inequality: If the probability of harm is labeled P, the severity of harm L, and the burden of precautions needed to eliminate the risk of harm B, “liability depends upon whether B is less than L multiplied by P: [that is], whether B < PL.”16 Put differently, failure to take cost-justified precautions is negligent. Imposing liability on negligent injurers forces potential injurers to take into account, or internalize, the externalities of inefficient conduct, thereby preventing such conduct. According to economic wisdom, this deterrence of unreasonable risk is the primary objective of tort liability.17"

By the "reasonable person" standard, the Koch brothers have opened themselves up to significant tort liability. Climate change denialism isn't so much a question of "free speech", as it is a question of shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, or shouting "there is no fire" as the theater is burning down.

It is beyond negligent to attempt to suppress harm mitigation. It is "reckless endangerment".

By daedalus2u (not verified) on 30 Apr 2015 #permalink

"Theater" definitely enters into it.

Don't trust these scientists they're probably drinking free beers together.

By Max Millhiser (not verified) on 30 Apr 2015 #permalink

"There is a huge “procrastination penalty” in not acting on the problem, and we’ve presumably committed to billions if not trillions of economic losses by not having acted yet. "

I've been reading that many scientists and policy-makers have been saying that the days of economic growth will have to come to an end to save the planet. So why the concern over economic losses from climate change?

The scientific community will have great difficulty in convincing the majority of the public. They admit that the ice on the south pole is increasing. I just heard some scientific experts saying they were over confident in their computer models and they are not sure of the effect of carbon dioxide increases.
One only has only to look at the twists and turns and complete surprises in space exploration to see we that we think we know much more than we do.
I believe we are affecting the earths climate but we really don't know what the future holds.

By magnocrat (not verified) on 02 May 2015 #permalink