Chapter 1: THE NATURAL SCIENCE OF GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE

This chapter is intended by its authors to "...introduce material from natural sciences that social scientists should be aware of in analyzing and understanding the human dimensions of climate change." The topics covered contain many that would be included in any discussion of things social scientists "should be aware of." In preparing the chapter, the authors relied heavily on the IPCC reports and on publications used by the IPCC authors. The chapter, however, fails to meet its desired goal.

The chapter might well have met its goal, but to do so the authors would have needed to consider what questions social scientists would likely be considering and what information concerning the present state of scientific understanding of climate change and related topics would aid in this consideration. The chapter text makes no reference to these needs, nor is the text designed to fulfil them.

Indeed, one could imagine that the chapter was intended, not for social scientists, but as a text for beginning students in atmospheric sciences.

For example, the authors quote and reference throughout varying opinions of scientists about a human-induced climate change and note the uncertainties in many of the details of climate change science. But no evaluation of the weight of the various opinions or the importance of the uncertainties is given to the social science reader, who will be left wondering how, with the science apparently in such a chaotic state, a large majority of climate change scientists could have achieved a working agreement on what the most probable course of events will be if emissions of the offending gases continue to increase.

The chapter also fails to place the discussion in a context appropriate for the discussion of human dimensions of the subject. The role of sulfate particles in the troposphere and ozone deletion in the stratosphere in reducing the positive climate forcing of greenhouse gas increases is discussed in several places without noting that the sulfate is mainly responsible for acid precipitation and the ozone depletion is known to have adverse human health effects--facts surely of importance in considerations of possible human reactions to climate change. In discussion of agricultural impacts of a climate change the possibility of weed and insect pests increases as a result of CO2 fertilization and a warmer climate is dismissed with comment that "...pest control measures are already well developed and the research infrastructure produces a constant stream of new techniques to meet natural threats as they emerge." This statement overlooks the growing evidence of the harmful health effects of the widespread dispersal of such substances.

This reviewer believes that the social science reader interested in human dimensions of climate change would be better served by relying on the "Summary for Policymakers" in Volumes I and II of the 1995 IPCC report.


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