Climate books with clout

David Reay examines the evolution of books about global warming and highlights those that have had most influence on public perceptions.

In the past two decades, a plethora of global-warming books has catered for increasingly sophisticated and specialist demand.

Science, policy and public opinion evolve daily, so any new book on climate change risks being outdated before it hits the shelves.

Novertheless, some accounts have been highly influential.

The first popularclimate-change books were generalists.

Released into a world with few competitors, Bill McKibben's The End of Nature (Random House, 1989) and John Houghton's excellentGlobal Warming : The Complete Briefing (Lion Publishing, 1994) flourished as an increasing number of readers looked for a digestible take on the dense tomes of the bewly formed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) , of which Houghton was co-chairman.

These books used the blunt declaration that anthropogenic global warming is real to pull in a lay audience whose awareness of climate change was only just beginning to build.

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### DataBace ###
nature Vol.461 1019-1162 Issue no.7267 22 Octover 2009
Editorials p.1027 :"Climate of compromise"
Destination Copenhagen :「コペンハーゲン会議の行方
News p.1034 / Time running out for climate for climate talks
News Feature p.1042 / When the Ice melts
News Feature p.1048 / Counting carbon in the Amazon
Opinion p.1054 / India pushes for common responsibility ; Technological partnerships
Opinion p.1055 / China expects leadership from rich nations
Opinion p.1056 / Copenhagen needs a strong lead negotiator
; A whole solutionClever tacticsNo regrets
Books & Arts p.1058-1059 /Conveying the campaign messageSpanning diversityQ&A : The science of persuasion

Then, against the backdrop of the Kyoto Protocol negotiations in the late 1990s, and with the first nudges of selection pressure from readers, climate-change books began to speciate.

Expanding niche audiences demanded texts that were tailored to their own demographics, ethics and politics.

As the new millennium dawned, there was the literary equivalent of a Cambrian explosion.

Vivid palaeoclimate narratives auch as The Tow-Mile Time Machine by Richard Alley (Princeton University Press,2000) and impact travelogues like Mark Lynas's superb High Tide (Flamingo, 2004) shouldered their way into the territory of popular science.

The genus of 'individual action' rapidly expanded, its variants ranging from Mayer Hillman's puritanical How We Can Save the Planet (Penguin, 2004) to the geatle hectoring of titles including Leo Hickman's A Good Life (Eden Project Books, 2005) and my own Climate Change Begins at Home (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

Meanwhile, manifestos illuminated by policy proliferated, such as Contraction and Convergence by Aubrey Meyer (Green Books, 2000) and George Monbio's incisive polemic Heat (Allen Lane, 2006).

Along with them came contrarian lambasts including Hot Talk, Cold Science by Fred Singer (Independent Institute, 2001) and wide-mouthed critiques such as Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist (Cambridge Universty Press, 2001).

Each found its own oasis of readers.

With new editions, columns and serializations, they could draw in new ewaders or occupy another's territory.

None could yet lay claim to a true mass audience.

Then, in 2006, along came An Inconvenient Truth.

Al Gore's book (Bloomsbury), wretten to accompany his blockbusting film, quickly topped The New York Times non-fiction bestseller list.

Nothing has matched it in terms of global popularity, although big hitters such as The Economics of Climate Change by Nicholas Stern (Cambridge University press, 2007) and update instalments of the IPCC Assesment Report (Cambridge Universuty Press, 2007) have arguably had a greater impact on global policy.

The evolution of climate books shows no sign of stopping.

Recent years have seen the success of 'apocalypse-soon' titles, such as James Lovelock's The Revenge of Gaia (Allen Lane, 2006) and Fred pearce's The Last Generation (Eden Project Books, 2006).

Today, no big policy-maker's CV is complete without at least one climate-change book ― Gabrielle Walker and David King's crackingly good The Hot Topic (Bloomsbury, 2008) being mu pick of the bunch.

Gore has penned a version of An Inconvenient Truth for the young adult market, and the current best-seller lists of global-warming titles include those aimed at audiences from churchgoers and corporations to doctors and climbers.

There are now for more books to read on cutting emissions than there is time to act.

On the projected impacts of warming.

Lynas's Six Degrees (Fourth Estate, 2007) is hard to beat.

But as for books on adaptation to a warmer planet, the literary landscape remains sparse.

And with increasing pressure to reduce emissions and improve impact projections, more topics are still to come under the literary spotlight.

When I canvassed my carbon-management masters students on theur favourite climate books, responses sampled most of the spreading family tree.

Plaudits came in for Nigel Lawson's sceptialAn Appeal to Reason (Overlook Press, 2008) alongside those for Stern's A Blueprint For A Safer Pkanet (Bodley Head, 2009) ; James Garvey's Ethics of Climate Change (Continuum, 2008) ; and Chris Goodall's Ten Technologies to Save the Pranet (Green Plofile, 2008).

The common thread is that they are recently published, well-written books that increase understanding and provoke debate ― whether or not the thesis tallied with the reader's.

If books have canged public attiudes to climate changr in the past two decades ― and I believe that they have ― then it is those that have challenged our preconceptions and taught us something new that deserve the credit.

One of the triumphs of Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist was the intense debate that each engendered.

The very process of claim slugging it out with counterclaim on Internet message boards and newspaper correspondence pages increased awareness and understanding of the issues being discussed.

In the future the public might opt for dynamic electronic-book titles that can hit screens with up-to- date information and resopnd to readers' queries.

The carbon footprint of 'dead-terr' editions counts against them too, with the extra burden of emissions from production and distribution giving their e-competitors another boost.

In this market, there is little room for generalists without a big name.

Newcomers must rely more on the publicity fillip of controversy, or on translating large online followings into book buyers ― as with Davud McKay's surprise hit Sustainable Energy (UIT, 2008) and Greg Craven's What's the Worst that Could Happen ? (Perigee,2009), both YouTube-powered examples.

Another Inconvenient Truth may yet spring from the tangle of climate book publishing.

Still, there is only one author who has suffcient fame, influence and writing tslent to do it on a world-changing scale.

His name is Barack Obama.

David Reay is a senior lecturer in the School of Geo Sciences, University of edinburgh, UK,and author of your planet needs You ! .

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