Book Review: The Climate Change Conversation

Nobel laureate Al Gore presenting his famous slide show on climate change

Nobel laureate Al Gore presenting his famous slide show on climate change

Climate Change also directly addresses the politics of communicating science; the introduction even includes a figure showing politically motivated edits to a scientific report. Another chapter addresses the problem of communicating science as “news.” It points to, among other things, the “tyranny of balance” that occurs when journalists attempt to balance yea-sayers with nay-sayers without giving any indication of whether one position or the other is on the fringe. Climate Change closes with a sober look at the potential effects of altered climates on human security and the unknown challenges that lie ahead.

Is human activity altering the earth’s climate? Both books agree that the 2007 IPCC report summarizes the state of the science, and that there is a consensus: yes, we are altering the earth’s climate. What We Know about Climate Change makes that case as elegantly as one could hope for. Climate Change goes a step further and examines the challenge of making policy based on climate science. It suggests that a major difficulty involves communicating science that has policy-related, and thus political, implications through news media ill suited for the task and to a public that often has a simplistic view of science. Both books contribute to the policy-making process by communicating the science well and by shifting the focus away from supposed scientific disagreements and toward the difficult work of reaching consensus on an informed response to the concerns that exist.

Hugh Gorman is associate professor of environmental history and policy at Michigan Technological University.