Climate Change: An Encyclopedia of Science and History

By Scarth, Linda Loos | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Climate Change: An Encyclopedia of Science and History


Scarth, Linda Loos, Reference & User Services Quarterly


Climate Change: An Encyclopedia of Science and History. Ed. by Brian C. Black. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2013. 4 vols. acid free $399 (ISBN 978-1-59884-761-1). Ebook available (978-1-59884-762-8), call for pricing.

The first indication of the mixed message of this encyclopedia is the first sentence in the publisher's announcement: "Climate change is a controversial topic." It may have once been controversial but modern science has determined that climate change is real and definitely not controversial. It seems that one of the purposes of this work is to keep the climate pot boiling, rather than to provide unambiguous explanations of the science, environmental changes, and social impacts. The history of that science and the causes and contributors to climate change are many and important and what one would expect from the title.

Climate change is more than an environmental issue. It is a social, political, scientific, personal, national, and global reality. Science can only report what changes have happened, what is currently happening, and what is likely to happen as conditions change. It may not be able to say precisely what will happen, where, or exactly when but does predict based on facts. The contributors come from many disciplines with interests in the social environment around the causes and effects of climate change. Only a few appear to be climate scientists or experts.

The editor states that there is "more than enough data on how to keep the Earth robust and fit" and that this encyclopedia is dedicated to that aim (xx). "Robust and fit," which usually describe athletes, are odd terms to describe an ecologically safe and sustainable environment. This encyclopedia could have served its purpose better by emphasizing that the only current controversies are on the alternate plans and efforts to mitigate the highly probable outcomes. Political and public relations controversies should have been identified as such and factual information provided.

Many of the brief, scientific, wide-ranging biographies put faces on important ideas. Some of them are undermined by the juxtaposition of inserts that may be irrelevant or seemingly designed to cast doubt on the main idea or credibility of the entry. For example, the first page of the entry on James Hansen, a leading climate scientist, includes a quote from Hugo Chavez of Venezuela at the Copenhagen climate meeting in 2009. Chavez spoke of the need for socialism to save the planet and the evils of capitalism. This sensationalism seems placed to minimize the serious science that Dr. Hansen represents.

People seeking clear definitions of terms like: climatic determinism, fracking, geoengineering, greenwashing, hydrokinetic, methane, and tipping point, will find them. Along the way they may be confused by inserts that are as long as several pages. These inserts serve as sidebars, sometimes of questionable merit, usually by their locations. They are indicated by bold black lines above and below and by pale clip-art (large quotation marks for statements, a magnifying glass indicating a "Climate-History Connection," and a sun to indicate a "Hot Spot"). The Chavez quote is one of the more blatant inserts.

The term "Hot Spot" is a geographical location about which there is a social, environmental or climate change issue. The term "Hot Spots" is in the index, as are the geographic locations separately. Their placements do not always relate directly to the adjacent entry or are the connections explained. Interspersed in the entry "Balance of Nature" are the "Hot Spots" Vanuatu and Venice, Italy. Vanuatu's wide ranging environmental problems are listed, as is Venice's long flood history. The "Balance of Nature" entry itself deals with defining the two words, balance and nature, separately and together pulling in ideas from ecologists, philosophers and physicists.

In the middle of the entry "Medieval Warm Period" is a signed "Climate History Connection" about "The West African Great Warming" by another contributor. …

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