rusq: Vol. 53 Issue 1: p. 82
Sources: Climate Change: An Encyclopedia of Science and History
Linda Loos Scarth

retired reference librarian, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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. These often interesting climate change connections would be better as examples within an appropriate entry or as separate entries, rather than disrupting the readability and importance of particular entries.

Sometimes rather silly descriptions divert from the entry topic. The introductory paragraph to the “Christian Response to Climate Change” describes the advertisement by the Alliance for Climate Change featuring Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi on the need to address issues of climate change. Before getting to the content of the ad, it is noted that they are seated on a small couch—“often referred to as a love seat” (231). The insert block sharing this page is by climate change denier, Senator James M. Inhofe (R-OK) on the failure of what he called eco-doomsayers.

The entry itself does mention the growing number of Christian leaders who espouse Earth stewardship. Two other block quotes are from Pope Benedict XVI and the Reverend Sally Bingham, with no context provided. The text then returns to Gingrich’s politics and ends with his regret for participating in the advertisement. A photograph of biologist, E. O. Wilson, appears with this entry, with only the caption that he leads in “efforts to team with evangelical Christians to fight global warming” (237). As religious organizations are important opinion leaders, one would expect that the topic would be well researched and covered. The “Further Reading” for this entry includes a letter to the editor from a climate scientist with no mention of religion.

Most of the topics in the table of contents do factually describe an issue, organization, activity, or concept. The organization “” is one of those, as is the “‘Precautionary Principle.” The essay “Environmental Thought in the 19th Century” offers brief descriptions of approximately 20 significant people, events and ideas that contributed to modern understanding of human-nature interactions and preservation, but does not address their relationships to climate change.

Examples of the wide ranging essays are the: “European Union Climate Policy,” “Paleoclimatology,” and “Food and Nutrition Security.” “Renewable Energy” is a good introduction to a number of types of renewables. However, it included a brief note on carbon tax, which probably deserved its own entry, though it is mentioned in “Cap and Trade Economics.” Some renewable energy types also have their own entries.

While providing interesting information about their topics, some entries fail to stress their connection to climate change. The “North American Free Trade Agreement,” describes what it is, but does not discuss what it has to do with climate change. A person reading “Oil Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico” will learn about the extent, some of the difficulties, technologies, and politics around this activity. Then the entry ends by stating that the 2010 BP/Macondo Oil spill was not as great an ecological disaster as originally feared. No factual scientific information is provided for this statement, nor is the very fact that drilling and flaring wells are known contributors to climate change.

Skeptics are defined in several ways in this work. In the entry “Climate Change Skeptics and Public Policy,” skeptics are defined as persons “who generally do not believe that humans are accelerating, or causing global climate change” (255). In “Skeptics, Naysayers, Anomalies, and Controversies,” the skeptic is defined as “a person who objects to scientific results for reasons that can be recognized as good science by the [scientific] community under challenge” (1229). The key difference in these definitions is belief versus reason. A better term for the first type could be climate change denier, which was rarely mentioned throughout and does not occur in the index. In the second definition, the person doubting for specific reasons that can be verified as correct or incorrect.

The appendixes are 200 pages of excerpts from many major meetings and documents including the Copenhagen, Kyoto, and Cancun agreements. There are major speeches, United Nations documents, court decisions, and assessment reports. These are only found by title in the table of contents and are not indexed.

Most entries have further reading suggestions, as do some of the appendices. There is a 42-page general bibliography including online resources. The bibliography could benefit from topical headings with more consideration to relevancy with the subject. The further reading lists usually include highly reputable sources and appear to be relevant to the topic.

Discerning readers, browsing and reading entries that catch their attentions, will acquire many facts, interesting ideas, bits of history, and some new concepts. Those using it to find introductory information on a wide range of topics sometimes connected to climate will do so. However, this is not an encyclopedia that helps general users and students connect the content to the reality of climate change. The design, the presentation, and the inclusion of some questionable content reduce its utility. The double messages and irrelevant inclusions may confuse some readers. These flaws cast a wide shadow over the entries with otherwise credible information. With many other choices for resources on climate change, this is an optional purchase for most libraries.

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