A couple of years ago Richard Morse suggested I read The Weather Makers to get a convincing argument for why global warming is a Really Big Deal and why we Must Do Something Now.
I read it on my Kindle, and used the Kindle's "add note" feature to jot down my thoughts as I read. Definitely klunky, but better than sticking post-it notes in a paper book or writing in the margins-- the Kindle lets me see all my notes at once and it's way more environmentally friendly to use electrons to read rather than pen and paper.
Which brings me to my first criticism of the book. Flannery repeatedly makes the mistake of believing that we're all competing with each other for a share of a fixed resource pie. For example, talking about grain yields he says "although substantial wheat surpluses were recorded in 1999 and 2004, overall the trend in world food security has been a downward one."
Ummm... no. My favorite usually-unbiased quick source of information (Wikipedia) has a helpful graph of global food production per capita; "food per person increased during the 1961-2005 period."
Flannery's warnings about Peak Oil fall into the same trap. Another "oops" I noted: he predicts "the world may experience the end of cheap oil sometime between now and 2010." Well... no, not yet.
Yes, oil will become more expensive than it is now. No, that won't matter, any more than the fact that whale oil is impossible to buy today but used to be cheap and economically important.
I recently read From Poverity to Prosperity (also on my Kindle), which is all about why thinking about the modern economy in terms of physical stuff is all wrong. In today's world using human ingenuity to rearrange atoms or bits in new and interesting ways is the key to prosperity.
And that brings me to the other major issue I have with this book. Flannery isn't an economist, so why does he dismiss their expert opinion? He admits that "economists who participated in the IPCC discussions stated that doing anything serious about climate change was too expensive to be worthwhile," and then instead of examining their arguments he simply states that "... adaptation of this sort is genocide, and attempted Gaia-cide, as well."
No mention of discount rates or cost/benefit calculations or any serious discussion of how to balance our competing desires for material wealth and a pristine environment, just over-the-top rhetoric and fear-mongering. NO serious scientist thinks that global warming will kill all life on Earth, and as a paleontologist Flannery should know that. Carbon dioxide concentrations in paleolithic times were much, much higher than even the highest of the IPCC projections, and life flourished.
And that brings me to my last criticism. For somebody who has studied the stunning variety of life nature produces (Flannery is an expert in kangaroo evolution, among other things-- didja know that there used to be 10-foot-tall kangaroos hopping around?) he seems amazingly pessimistic about nature's ability to respond to change. Biologists have discovered that new species can evolve in as little as 20 years.
So I remain unconvinced that global warming is a Really Big Deal and that we Must Act Now. As I've said before, I think we should focus on more immediate issues like habitat destruction, pollution from coal-burning power plants, stupid, expensive, environmentally-destructive ethanol subsidies, and environmentally unfriendly zoning laws that encourage cars and energy-inefficient single-family houses.