Top Books of 2012: Environmentalism and Climate Change

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Welcome to the first post of my “2012 in review” series, which will have one post every day for the next 2-3 weeks. The first 7 posts will be lists of the top 10 books of the year for a specific category: Environmentalism and Climate Change; Evolution; Historical Geology; History of Science; Human Biology; Palaeontology; and Zoology (ordered alphabetically). These will be followed by top 10 discoveries/papers of the year in all the fields I usually cover, topped off with an absolute top 10 discoveries, and finally a review of the blog’s progress in 2012 and future outlook.

Anyway, let’s start off with the environmentalism books. I use “environmentalism” as an umbrella term for all the important issues we’re facing today that are associated with a changing environment and its impact on the bio- and anthroposphere, including climate change, extinctions, and energy production. The books include only academic and popular books, not standard textbooks.

  1. Weart. The Rise of Nuclear Fear. (Harvard University Press)
riseofnuclearfear 2011 saw one of the strongest natural disasters in history hit the coast of Japan, but the media and populistic fallout from it was far worse than any purported nuclear fallout. If there is one word to summarise it, it would be “ridiculous”, especially in this day and age when the only way out of our mess is to let go of silly emotional arguments and embrace facts – and the facts are clear that nuclear power is one of the safest ways to make energy, and by far the best transitional energy source until we get renewables properly sorted out. This book examines the historical and cultural backgrounds to the hysteria behind the anti-nuclear movement and in so doing, provides an objective resource to the pros and cons of nuclear energy – it chastises the exaggerations made by both sides.

  1. Berezon & Campbell. Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left. (PublicAffairs)
antiscienceleft My ranking this book as #2 should tell you just how much I despise what I see as a profoundly anti-scientific environmental movement. It’s so pervasive and embarrassing that I hesitate to call myself an environmentalist, because I know I’ll be lumped in with nature-worshipping and science-ignorant New Age hippies – an attitude commonly seen on the left side of the spectrum, both in Europe and apparently in the USA too. This book is Americentric, and it focuses generally on science denialism, but the attitude is one that affects environmental issues too, hence my categorising it here.

  1. Stone. The City and the Coming Climate: Climate Change in the Places We Live. (Cambridge University Press)
cityclimate There are many books that deal with climate change generally and its impact on the biosphere and human health, but this one is unique by concentrating on how the effect of climate change is amplified in cities, and how this will affect our urban lives, and makes a very strong point that even if we manage to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we will still be forced to do permanent changes to our lifestyles in order to be sustainable.

  1. Seidl. Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming. (Beacon Press)
8598 This is actually a 2011 book but was only released in paperback this year, so I’m sort of cheating by putting it here. It deserves it in any case. Book #3 made the point that climate change is going to affect our lives no matter how much we curb our emissions. This book links up with it thematically by giving examples from both human history and the biosphere on how to adapt to climate change. Even if you don’t care for that theme, the compendium of information itself is useful, if only as trivia.

  1. McKibben. The Global Warming Reader: A Century of Writing About Climate Change. (Penguin Books)
the-global-warming-reader-a-century-of-writing-about-climate-change This book is an anthology of the essential writings on climate change, collected by one of the leaders of the field. They range from purely academic accounts, to call to arms, and even include some of the skeptical views for good measure. If you need a resource on thoughts on climate change and their history, the development of the science behind climate change, or just answers to your questions with a historical twist, then this book is for you.

  1. Sale. Our Dying Planet: An Ecologist’s View of the Crisis We Face. (University of California Press)
our-dying-planet-an-ecologists-view-of-the-crisis-we-face There are relatively few books on climate change written by those who experience and research it first hand, and this book fills the gap perfectly, giving a perspective from the point of view of a coral researcher, i.e. from someone who researches the ecology of one of the most climate-sensitive organismal groups on Earth. This account gives the issue of climate change a tangible sense of what is ecologically at stake, away from the usual statistics on atmospheric conditions and tales of political and social inaction.

  1. Boyle (ed.). Renewable Energy: Power for a Sustainable Future. (3rd ed., Oxford University Press)
414lKy7pYWL._SL500_AA300_ I know I said no textbooks, but it would be a shame if I left this list with no book on renewable energies, and this 3rd edition of Renewable Energy is the gold standard. It’s UK-centric, but when it comes to information about the actual technology and possibilities, it’s up-to-date and applicable for any country. It’s at an undergraduate level too, so it doesn’t take much to get a hang of it – and the excellent diagrams will make sure you can grasp any concept presented.

  1. Cowie. Climate Change: Biological and Human Aspects. (2nd ed.; Cambridge University Press)
170544329 Every year sees the release of an excellent academic text on climate change summarising all aspects of what we know. This is this year’s version of that book, and it’s a useful tome for anyone looking for the most current and up-to-date resource book on climate change.

  1. Rogers, Johnston, Murphy & Clarke (eds.). Antarctic Ecosystems: An Extreme Environment in a Changing World. (Wiley-Blackwell)
1405198400 This is the most expensive book that will be in any of the lists, and I arguably shouldn’t even have included it because it’s beyond the reach of most, and it’s not really focused on environmental issues. I decided to put it in here for two reasons: it’s the best available summary of Antarctic biology and ecology, and I personally view Antarctica as one of the most ideal places to observe the effects of environmental change, a view that is reinforced time and again in all case studies discussed in the book. If you’re a working biologist interested in climate change, you should try and find this book (preferably through an institutional library to not break your bank account).

  1. Alcamo & Olesen. Life in Europe Under Climate Change. (Wiley-Blackwell)
{C117E825-4FEF-477F-B8D2-01796E4392C1}Img100 The book that rounds off the list is Eurocentric, focusing on how the climate will change in Europe and those changes’ effects on European cities. Spoiler alert: things don’t really look good except for Northern Europe, and there will be changes even there. While the specifics of the climate changes described are only applicable for Europe, the sustainability and adaptability themes are applicable globally for developed countries, so you might find a use for the book even if you’re not European.

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