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The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change

A Guide to the Debate

The second edition of Dessler and Parson's acclaimed book provides an integrated treatment of the science, technology, economics, policy, and politics of climate change. Aimed at the educated non-specialist, and at courses in environmental policy or climate change, the book clearly lays out the scientific foundations of climate change, the issues in current policy debates, and the interactions between science and politics that make the climate change debate so contentious and confusing. This new edition is brought completely up to date to reflect the rapid movement of events related to climate change. In addition, all sections have been improved, in particular a more thorough primer on the basic science of climate change is included. The book also now integrates the discussion of contrarian claims with the discussion of current scientific knowledge; extends the discussion of cost and benefit estimates; and provides an improved glossary.


 Reviews:

‘This timely, informative and well-written book does an excellent job of explaining, in language accessible to everyone, the scientific basis for our current understanding of global warming and climate change, as well as societal implications and the political barriers to sound, rational policy. Its co-authors are well recognized experts in science and in public policy. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to gain a better understanding of this complex issue – what the debate is all about – and as a core textbook for introductory courses on the environment, climate change, or public policy.’ Professor Neal Lane, Malcolm Gillis University Professor and Senior Fellow of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, Rice University. Former Science Advisor to President Clinton and former Director of the U.S. National Science Foundation

‘As the scientific evidence on human induced climate change becomes stronger and more widely accepted, voices that question it appear to get louder and seemingly more coordinated. In a complex area such as climate change, politics inevitably runs into conflict with the domain of science. This book is a timely analysis of the scientific evidence of climate change as well as the political forces that question its full acceptance. Dessler and Parson have produced a remarkable piece of work that is relevant for the scientific community in understanding the political implications of their work and for politicians and the public at large to understand not only the overwhelming scientific evidence that has emerged in recent years, but also the remaining uncertainties that need to be addressed in future scientific endeavor. This feature alone and the simple and readable manner in which the book is written make it essential reading for scientists as well as the concerned public at large.’ Dr R. K. Pachauri, Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Director General, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), India

'… there is a real need for a comprehensive book on climate change … The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change is it. It does exactly what the title and subtitle promise, providing insights into the causes and effects of the contributing meteorological phenomena and into why it has been so hard to get consensus among governments … copies should be shipped to anyone who doubts the reality of climate change, starting with presidents in denial.' New Scientist

'… requires no specialised knowledge, but is accessible to any educated general reader who wants to make more sense of the climate change debate. It also sheds light on how science is used in policy debates.' The Chemical Engineer

‘Each of the key aspects of global climate change is covered, with up-to-date and well-referenced information throughout. Its impressive breadth and the provision of succinct overviews of source material in the further reading sections of each chapter mean that teachers, lecturers and researchers will all find this book a useful starting point for in-depth study. There are now numerous taught masters courses on 'global change issues', and this book constitutes a must-have addition to their reading lists. … read the book in its entirety - it is well worth it. … [This book] is an excellent attempt at deconstructing the confusion that surrounds the climate-change debate. This reviewer has been waiting some time for a book such as this to appear. … The science and politics of climate change are brought together quite seamlessly, … Dessler and Parson's book is a must for those who want to move beyond the rhetoric and understand the relationship between climate science policy, and also for those seeking an interdisciplinary outlook on the management of global environmental issues. … This book will be most useful to undergraduates and post-graduates in the fields of environmental science, sustainability and international politics. Each of the key aspects of global climate change is covered, with up-to-date and well referenced information throughout. its impressive breadth and the provision of succinct overviews of source material in the further reading sections of each chapter mean that teachers will all find this book a useful starting point for in-depth study. … as a primer that brings together global climate change science and politics it succeeds very well indeed.' Times Higher Education Supplement

'This is an excellent way into the subject for the beginner … one of the most lucid and readable introductory accounts of the topic that has been published in some while. As such it should be seen as a 'must-buy' and an essential addition to the library.' TENews

'This is a book which all scientists and the educated general public should read and reflect upon before it is too late to halt the apparently inevitable progress to Armageddon.' Chromatographia

'… a useful compendium of the current debates in the science and politics of climate change … succinct and consistent book … Ensure[s] fluent reading for non-expert, yet educated, citizens. The book is logically structured and it should become a key reading and teaching source in georgaphy and environmental sciences. It can also be valuable to doctoral students and senior researchers interested in learning about climate change science and politics. Overall it is a book worth having on one's shelf.’ Environmental Sciences

'As more and more extreme weather events around the globe are being associated with climate change, it is sometimes difficult to be able to see the wood for the trees, but this book takes the reader very clearly through the 'maze' of claims and counter-claims. … if only government leaders would read, digest and follow up some of the suggestions in the last chapter, there would be optimism that the problem can be overcome. As always with Cambridge University Press, the book, which is illustrated with diagrams, charts and boxes, is impeccably produced, and is an absolute 'must' for every reader of this journal.' International Journal of Meteorology

'Written by an atmospheric scientist and a law professor with extensive public policy experience, the book effectively tackles the rough-and-tumble intersection of science and policy that has led to confusion and inaction … The scholarly value of [the book] is indisputable. Dessler and Parson independently possess significant authority on both the science and the politics of climate change. Their treatment of the subject illustrates the complexity of the problem with remarkable ease and clarity … the carefully thought-through recommendations make this book critical reading for policymakers … considering action on the issue.' Maria Ivanova, The College of William and Mary

'… coverage and presentation of climate science and policy [is] commendable … a good candidate for a primer for multidisciplinary classes devoted to climate policy …' Randall M Wigle, Wilfrid Laurier University

"This book would make a very good supplemental resource for an environmental science course, and it would be a good entry point for students who want deeper knowledge of climate change issues." W.E Williams, St. Mary's College of Maryland

"...the book treats this contentious field clearly, dispassionately, and logically. ...Highly recommended." CHOICE

"[This] refined second edition offers one of the best summary backgrounds of this complex topic now available. They carefully describe what we know about the science of climate change, and why we can make some overall global forecasts with confidence." Oceanography

'… both insightful and engaging … the book is also highly readable and well suited to reach a wide audience. That's good, because the gaps in understanding between scientists, policy makers, journalists, and the public remain a major barrier to the adoption of sensible responses to the problem. Dessler and Parson's book will help because it provides us with a sound and thoughtful guide to the climate change debate. … It explains scientific and policy debates, discusses areas of knowledge and uncertainty regarding climate change, and offers possible policy options.' American Meteorological Society

Reference Title: Further reading for Chapter 1

Reference Type: further-reading

David Archer (2007). Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
K. Emanuel (2007). What We Know About Climate Change. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
These two relatively short books describe the basic science of global warming. They are written for those without a deep scientific background.

Reference Title: Further reading for Chapter 2

Reference Type: further-reading

Alexander Farrell and Jill Jäger , eds. (2005). Assessments of Regional and Global Environmental Risks: Designing Processes for the Effective Use of Science in Decision-making. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future.
The studies collected in this volume examine how scientific and technical assessments of several environmental issues were designed and managed, to provide practical insights into how to conduct effective assessments. Produced from the same research project as the Mitchell et al. volume cited below, this one uses the same framework to evaluate assessments according to their scientific credibility, legitimacy, and decision relevance and saliency.
Sheila Jasanoff (1990). The Fifth Branch: Science Advisors as Policymakers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
This study of scientific advisory bodies to US government agencies examines the processes by which the boundaries between the scientific and political domains were negotiated in several regulatory controversies, and the conditions that contributed to more or less stable and effective maintenance of the boundary – and a more or less constructive relationship between scientific advice and regulatory decision-making – in each case.
Thomas Kuhn (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
This study of the social processes by which scientific disciplines make progress was the first to note the contrast between two starkly different modes of change in scientific understanding: normal, incremental progress that depends on a certain deep and unexamined structure of shared assumptions (which Kuhn called “paradigms”) about what questions are important and what lines of research are interesting or promising; and occasional revolutionary upheavals that follow the accumulation of some critical quantity of results that do not fit within the paradigm.
Ronald Mitchell , William Clark , David Cash , and Nancy Dickson , eds. (2006). Global Environmental Assessments: Information and Influence. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
This synthesized collection of studies of scientific assessment processes in several environmental issues examines the mechanisms by which assessments can inform and influence policy decisions, and the conditions that shape whether they do so. It examines how assessments operate and are used in political settings, and argues that effective assessments, in addition to being scientifically credible, must also be perceived as legitimate in their process and participation, and must present their outputs in terms that are sufficiently salient and relevant to decision-makers.
William D. Ruckelshaus (1985). Risk, Science, and Democracy, Issues in Science and Technology. 1:3, Spring 1985, pp. 19–38.
Ruckelshaus, Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency under Presidents Nixon and Reagan, argues that effective environmental policy depends on maintaining enough separation between scientific-based processes of assessing environmental risks, and more political processes of deciding what to do about the risks based on the best scientific information that is available.

Reference Title: Further reading for Chapter 3

Reference Type: further-reading

ACIA (2004). Impacts of a Warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
This report is a synthesis of the key findings of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) and is written in plain language accessible to policy-makers and the general public. The ACIA is a comprehensively researched and peer-reviewed assessment of Arctic climate change and its impacts for the region and for the world. It was written by an international team of hundreds of scientists, and also includes the special knowledge of indigenous people. This synthesis, as well as the full report, are available online at http://www.acia.uaf.edu.
K. Emanuel (2007). What We Know About Climate Change. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
This relatively short book outlines the basic science of global warming and how the current understanding has emerged.
IPCC (2007a). Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, S. Solomon , D. Qin , M. Manning , Z. Chen , M. Marquis , K.B. Averyt , M. Tignor , and H.L. Miller (eds.). Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 996 pp.
This is the most recent full-scale report of the IPCC's Working Group I, the group responsible for international assessments of the atmospheric science of climate change. It is the most recent authoritative statement of the status of scientific knowledge about climate change, and an essential source for anyone wishing to be literate in the climate change debate. In addition to the fully detailed and cited syntheses of specific aspects of climate-change science presented in each chapter, the report includes a technical summary and a policy-makers' summary that present the most important results and conclusions in more condensed and accessible form. We draw extensively on this report for many of the scientific conclusions we present in this chapter.
IPCC (2007b). Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M.L. Parry , O.F. Canziani , J.P. Palutikof , P.J. van der Linden , and C.E. Hanson (eds.) Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 976 pp.
This is the most recent full assessment of the IPCC's Working Group II, which summarizes present knowledge about potential impacts of climate change, ability to adapt, and vulnerability of environmental and social systems to climate change.
IPCC (2007d). Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri , and A. Reisinger (eds.). Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
This report summarizes and integrates the principal results of the three IPCC working groups into a single volume.
US Climate Change Science Program (2006). Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere: Steps for Understanding and Reconciling Differences, T.R. Karl, S.J. Hassol, C.D. Miller, and W.L. Murray (eds.).
This peer-reviewed assessment describes the numerous details of a calculation of the global average temperature. The trends in several important data sets are compared, and it is concluded that the trends are all generally consistent, although some discrepancies do exist.
US Climate Change Science Program (2009). Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. Unified Synthesis Product, T.R. Karl, J. M. Melillo, and T. C. Peterson (eds.).
This report, produced by the US Climate Change Science Program, provides a detailed assessment of potential climate-change impacts, vulnerabilities, and capacity for adaptation for the United States. Separate studies examine effects of climate change on nine major US regions and seven sectors of national importance, updating the last comprehensive assessment of US impacts of climate change and variability published in 2001. Like the IPCC reports, this assessment involved the work of hundreds of scientists and was subjected to a rigorous and thoroughly documented process of peer review.
S. R. Weart (2003). The Discovery of Global Warming. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
A highly readable and accessible history of major developments in the science of climate change, from the nineteenth century through the formation of the modern consensus about the reality and predominant human cause of recent climate change as expressed in the 2001 IPCC report.

Reference Title: Further reading for Chapter 4

Reference Type: further-reading

Leon Clarke , J. Edmonds , H. Jacoby , H. Pitcher , J. Reilly , and R. Richels (2007). Scenarios of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Atmospheric Concentrations. Synthesis and Assessment Product 2.1a. Washington, DC: US Climate Change Science Program.
A recent analysis of the economic, technological, and policy implications of stabilizing climate change at four alternative levels, based on joint controls of multiple greenhouse gases, using three integrated-assessment models.
IPCC (2000). Emission Scenarios. Special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. N. Nakicenovic and R. Swart (eds.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
IPCC (2007b). Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M. L. Parry , O. F. Canziani , J. P. Palutikof , P. J. van der Linden , and C. E. Hanson (eds.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
This is the most recent full assessment of the IPCC's Working Group II, which reviews knowledge of potential impacts of climate change, ability to adapt, and vulnerability of environmental and social systems to climate change.
IPCC (2007c). Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, B. Metz , O. Davidson , P. Bosch , R. Dave , and L. Meyer (eds.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
This is the most recent full assessment of the IPCC's Working Group III, which reviews knowledge of technical and economic opportunities to reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases and policy instruments to promote such reductions.
IPCC (2007d). Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Core Writing Team, R.K., Pachauri , and A. Reisinger (eds.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
The IPCC “synthesis report” combines results from an assessment's three working groups to present an integrated analysis of the implications of alternative emissions trajectories and reduction goals.
Richard Moss et al (2009). Representative Concentration Pathways: A New Approach to Scenario Development for the IPCC. Nature, in press. Available at: www.pnl.gov/gtsp/publications/2008/papers/20080903_nature_rcp_new_ scenarios.pdf
The 2000 special report on emissions scenarios provided the results and background for the IPCC baseline emissions scenarios used as inputs to climate-model projections through the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. The Moss et al. paper outlines the new process for generating climate scenarios, starting with coordination on alternative pathways for radiative forcing, to be used in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report.
William Nordhaus (2008). A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies. New Haven: Yale University Press.
The most recent analysis of climate mitigation and adaptation responses, using the DICE integrated-assessment model. Includes a discussion of the Stern Review and the role of discounting assumptions in generating its large climate-damage estimates, as well as a discussion of the policy choice between emission taxes and cap-and-trade systems.
Nicholas H. Stern (2007). The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
A comprehensive economic assessment of climate change, led by the former chief economic advisor of the UK government. Controversy over this assessment's high climate impact estimates, mainly due to a low discount rate, generated substantially increased attention to the problem of identifying socially optimal climate strategies.
Jefferson W. Tester , E.M. Drake , M.J. Driscoll , M.W. Golay , and W.A. Paters (2005). Sustainable Energy: Choosing Among Options. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
A comprehensive text on alternative energy resources and technologies, and the key uncertainties and analytic methods involved in assessing alternative energy futures.

Reference Title: Further reading for Chapter 5

Reference Type: further-reading

Joseph E. Aldy , A. J. Krupnick , R. G. Newell , I. W. H. Parry , and W. A. Pizer (2009). Designing Climate Mitigation Policy. Discussion paper 08–16 (May). Washington, DC: Resources for the Future. At www.rff.org/RFF/Documents/RFF-DP-08–16.pdf
A thorough review of recent issues in policy design to reduce emissions, including estimates of costs and benefits, the optimal trajectory of emissions prices, policy instrument design, and the relationship between emissions and technology policies.
Joseph E. Aldy and R.N. Stavins , eds. (2009). Post-Kyoto International Climate Policy: Summary for Policymakers. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
A discussion of alternative approaches to negotiating new climate agreements after 2012, stressing approaches that might be negotiated in Copenhagen as successors to the Kyoto Protocol.
Council on Foreign Relations (2008). Confronting Climate Change: A Strategy for U.S. Foreign Policy. Independent Task Force Report No. 61, G.E. Pataki and T.J. Vilsack, chairs. New York: Council on Foreign Relations.
The most recent of many senior panel reports presenting recommendations for US climate-change policy, with particular emphasis on how US actions can achieve leverage to influence global emissions trends. Three brief dissenting statements compactly capture three of the most acute present dimensions of policy disagreement – how much to integrate forest emissions into near-term steps, whether to favor taxes or cap-and-trade systems, and whether international negotiations should initially stress binding treaties under UN auspices, or political agreements adopted in smaller and less formal settings.
Robert Lempert (2009). Setting Appropriate Goals: A Long-term Climate Decision. Workshop, Shaping Tomorrow Today: Near-term steps towards long-term goals. Santa Monica: RAND Pardee Center. At www.rand.org/international_programs/pardee
An innovative discussion of alternative long-term strategies to manage climate change, the assumptions that each depends upon, and the role of alternative types of goals in shaping a strategy that is more robust to uncertainties.
Edward A. Parson (2008). The Long Haul: Managing the Energy Transition to Limit Climate Change. Workshop synthesis report, August 2008. At www-personal.umich.edu/~parson/website/research.html
The report of a workshop that examined how climate policies might need to be adjusted over time in response to evolution of knowledge, uncertainties, and capabilities, and what near-term decisions regarding policies and institutions might best contribute to that required future adaptation.

Reference Type: bibliography

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Aldy, J. E. and Stavins, R. N. , eds. (2009). Post-Kyoto International Climate Policy: Summary for Policymakers. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Archer, D. (2007). Global Warming: UnderStanding the Forecast. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
CCSP (US Climate Change Science Program) (2006). Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere: Steps for Understanding and Reconciling Differences. Karl, T. R. , Hassol, S. J. , Miller, C. D. , and Murray W. L. , eds. Washington, DC: Climate Change Science Program. http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap1–1/default.php
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Clarke, L. , Edmonds, J. , Jacoby, H. , Pitcher, H. , Reilly, J. , and Richels, R. (2007). Scenarios of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Atmospheric Concentrations. Synthesis and Assessment Product 2.1a. Washington, DC: US Climate Change Science Program. http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap2–1/default.php
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IPCC (2000). Emission Scenarios. Special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Nakicenovic, N. and Swart, R. , eds. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
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IPCC (2007b). Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Parry, M.L. , Canziani, O.F. , Palutikof, J.P. , van der Linden, P.J. , and Hanson, C.E. , eds. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
IPCC (2007c). Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Metz, B. , Davidson, O. , Bosch, P. , Dave, R. , and Meyer, L. , eds. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
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