“Believe me, Dire Predictions is the book we’ve been waiting for,” says Kerry Walters, a reader of the highly respected work by climate scientists Michael E. Mann and Lee R. Kump. After previewing the second edition, which goes on sale in several formats on Amazon this Friday, May 12, I must agree with her completely. In just over 200 pages, this practical report presents the ordinary reader with essential findings of the current global climate assessment by experts worldwide, arranged in a visually stunning and undeniably powerful format.
Specifically, Mann (Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State, director of its Earth System Science Center, and author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines), whom I interviewed, and Kump (Professor of Geosciences at Penn State) have recast their July 2008 tour-de-force in light of the most current research and events. It will be especially telling for everyone born after 1976, who have never experienced earth’s “normal” climate, and for those old and young who have never come face to face with real climate science. From Dr. Mann:
“We have sought to explain—in a manner that is accessible and engaging, yet scientifically rigorous and comprehensive—the conclusions reached last year by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about what might be the greatest challenge we face as a civilization: the challenge to combat human-caused climate change.”
Dire Predictions describes scientific projections and how they are developed. It also discusses impacts of the anthropogenic climate shift (which have already become measurable) and the world’s vulnerability to them. Biological anthropologist, science communicator, and OpenSource/OpenAccess advocate Greg Laden calls Mann and Kump’s book “everyperson’s guide to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.”
Reviewer Laden sees the UN’s work, which the authors distill in Dire Predictions, as “a massive undertaking,” 3000+ technical pages that only a few readers will have the time or training to plow though and analyze. It is very important that everyone understand the implications of the IPCC reports, Laden says, because human-caused climate change has emerged as today’s number-one existential issue. Individuals, corporations, and governments need to this knowledge to make sensible, workable changes in behavior and policy, or we will all face dire consequences from their inaction.
Unlike its source material, Dire Predictions is not crammed with complicated chemical and mathematical data, climate modeling, and geoforensics. Nor does it resound with gloom. The authors seed their accounts of expected changes with planning, mitigation, and adaptation people can put in place to counter the unavoidable. The sooner, the better, they explain— what Dr. Mann calls “the procrastination penalty” adds up daily. We are presumably now committed to billions, if not trillions, in economic losses by not having acted yet, he says, but there is still time to avert the worst and most costly damages climate change can impose.
So what’s changed since the last edition of the book? Significant developments have occurred in the science since 2007. These include the concept of “the Anthropocene,” the much-debated “Faux Pause,” the issue of equilibrium climate sensitivity, some geoengineering proposals, and relevant changes in US climate (recent cold eastern U.S. winters and unprecedented drought in California). Mann and Kump also explain “tipping points,” abrupt climate change, and irreversibility.
Sea level rise estimates have increased, and “suffocating the ocean” has become more of a concern. Water in general receives more attention in this edition, including the “water-energy nexus.” Also, the authors now see the UN’s forecasting for SLR and some other climate change measurements as overly conservative (i.e., low). Along the lines of New York Times analyst Thomas L. Friedman, they point out that social unrest increases with climate change, notably in Syria, which Friedman emphasized in Years of Living Dangerously. New modules in Dire Predictions also cover ocean heat content, deoxygenation, migrating climate zones, and sustainability.
Dr. Mann offered me a heartfelt comment about another small but positive change in the second edition:
“You put your finger on something important with your comment about diversity. In the first edition, we profiled two climate scientists. Both were senior white male scientists named James. It was clear to us, upon some reflection, that this did not convey–either in reality, or in aspiration–the true diversity of today’s scientific leaders. Suffice it to say that our choice of four scientists profiled this time in the 2nd edition better reflects that diversity.”
DK Publishing, which produced Dire Predictions, is a well respected graphics- and readability-oriented publisher. In particular, credit must go to the book designers, who collaborated with the authors to forge a superlative design for Dire Predictions. Like its predecessor, the new edition progresses through smoothly written text, related boxes, colorful graphic elements, striking images, quickly understandable analogies, and a wealth of online links. These make it both a flexible and easily read introduction for ordinary people and a must for planning, geography, and climate science students at all levels, from middle school through postgraduate study.
The second edition is available in various eText formats, including CourseSmart and Pearson eText. Mobile-enabled QR codes link readers to online media and data sources. Teachers can download PowerPoint slides of key graphics from the Instructor’s Resource Center Website. Previews of the new edition have received 4.2 out of 5 Amazon stars from readers.
Anyone engaged in the climate conversation and wanting to be well informed (but not to the extent of reading long and technical UN reports) should get this book, read it, and keep it handy as a reference. Mann sums up the conclusion of this concise backgrounder on climate change in one sentence: “Readers will learn that the threat is indeed dire, but also, that it is not too late.”