Energy and climate books I read in 2010

Here is a selection of sustainable energy and climate change books I read in 2010. I’ve provided a few sentence summary of each book (from my perspective) and a Rating out of 5. Some books have been reviewed in more detail on BNC already — enter from the title of the book in this website’s search box to find the review (or click links provided). For my 2009 list, go here.

Climate science

Tyler Volk. CO2 Rising: The World’s Greatest Environmental Challenge. MIT Press, 2008 (223 pp). Carbon atoms with personality – an entertaining tour of the carbon cycle, and an exploration of how humanity is disrupting the natural balance of flows in and out of the biosphere and geosphere. Full review here. Rating: 3

Edmond Mathez. Climate Change: The Science of Global Warming and Our Energy Future. Columbia University Press, 2009 (318 pp). A richly illustrated guide to all aspects of climate science, impacts, adaptation and mitigation. Superficial in parts, but mostly a superb overview, and excellent value as a student text. Full review here. Rating: 4

Peter Ward. The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps. Basic Books, 2010 (272 pp). A chilling look at our possible destiny along the world’s coastlines as climate change drives an inexorable rise in sea levels. Hypothetical glimpses into possible futures are used as an effective device to indicate the limits of human adaptability. Full review here. Rating: 3.5

Stewart Cohen & Melissa Waddell. Climate Change in the 21st Century. McGill-Queen’s UP, 2010 (379 pp). Mostly a standard, plain text overview of climate change, but saved by the excellent concluding chapters on integrated assessment models and the interrelationship and synergies of anthropogenic climate change within the broader global environmental debate. Rating: 2.5 Continue reading


Systems modelling for synergistic ecological-climate dynamics

For those interested in my current science research directions, I’ve just been funded for another 4 years by the Australian Research Council as a Professorial “Future Fellow“, to continue my work on stochastic systems modelling and scenario optimisation. Here are some details on the project:

Title: Systems modelling for synergistic ecological-climate dynamics

Summary of Proposal: The project aims to improve forecasts of the response of biodiversity to future climate change, and develop better on-ground conservation management. A systems modelling framework will be developed and tested against real-world data, to integrate a wide variety of biological and geophysical inputs and so produce more realistic predictions.

Many computer-based tools have been developed to simulate single-species demography and population dynamics and the effect of habitat loss, disease spread, response to harvest, and shifts in geographical ranges due to climate change. These applications can be individually sophisticated, yet they perform necessarily limited roles in isolation. I will implement a set of ‘meta-modelling’ applications to inter-link separate ecological simulators, by allowing sharing of data structures, parameters and outputs. Using a dynamical systems approach, I will develop and test a framework for multidisciplinary forecasting and sensitivity analysis, providing improved predictions of biodiversity response to the many and complex stressors of global change.

Here is the University of Adelaide media release and below are some further details on the aims and methods:

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CO2 rising – the science of global warming

Below are two climate change book reviews by me; I hope you find them as interesting as I did.

I’ve provided an Amazon link to one and a Book Depository link to another — because I’m not out to promote any particular online bookstore (although I tend to find the latter cheapest, and as to the former, well, I love my Kindle 3G DX [I’m reading Weinberg on it right now])… Oh, and for Australians, never go past the Booko website!


Volk, T. (2008). CO2 Rising: The World’s Greatest Environmental Challenge. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. ISBN 978-0-262-22083-5.

Carbon atoms with personality. That’s the interesting literary device biochemist Tyler Volk uses to illustrate the fantastic convolutions that define the many and varied pathways of the carbon cycle. ‘CO2 Rising‘ tracks the fate of atoms ‘Dave’, ‘Coalleen’, ‘Oiliver’ and others, as they wend their waythrough the Earth’s crust, oceans, biosphere and atmosphere – indeed, all of the reservoirs of carbon on the planet.

In an entertaining way, the reader learns to appreciate the transience of some states of carbon (such as the brief moments an atom is bound up in a molecule of CO2 in a glass of beer, only to be later measured by the instruments of Dave Keeling on the peak of Mauna Loa), and the timelessness of others (such as the subterreanean lumps of coal and pools of oil, sequestering atoms for eons in dark geological vaults).

Understanding the dynamics of different carbon reservoirs is fundamental to appreciating the overarching premise of the book: most carbon is ‘out of action’ in limestones, ocean ooze or buried fossil fuels, for most of time. But as greater and greater quantities of ‘old carbon’ are unearthed to stoke the fires and cement kilns of modern industry, a long-balanced equilibria is disrupted. On a planetary scale, with global consequences.

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Of brains, biceps and baloney

Guest Post by Geoff RussellGeoff is a mathematician and computer programmer and is a member of Animal Liberation SA. His recently published book is CSIRO Perfidy.

NASA climate scientist James Hansen’s recent book Storms of my Grandchildren makes accessible the evidence behind the judgement of many climate scientists that we need to get atmospheric carbon dioxide back to 350 ppm (or perhaps 300-325 to be really safe) to avoid dangerous climate tipping points. But he also makes it clear that merely redesigning the global energy infrastructure isn’t enough, other important climate forcings like methane, nitrous oxide and black carbon must also be reduced.

What do we need to do?

Here’s Hansen’s todo list. Stick it on the fridge.

  1. Phase out all coal fired power stations by 2030. Of course, you can still use coal if you sequester all the emissions, … good luck with that.
  2. Undo 200 years of deforestation. We need to start this now, but it will take over 100 years and contribute a reduction of about 50ppm by 2150.
  3. Reduce non-carbon dioxide forcings. Hansen is a little vague here, but the argument implies that pre-industrial levels are required.

Now, if the next sentence doesn’t hit like a shattering ice-shelf, then reread until it does. All three items are mandatory. This isn’t a smorgasbord where you pick what you want and ignore the rest. With countries around the world still building new coal power plants, the first todo is looking shaky. Fortunately the second and third are technically easier. We don’t need any new science or technologies but the politics are diabolical.

You can’t tackle reforestation without a global food system rethink. People who’ve read my previous posts on BNC understand this, but be patient while I race through a little background for new readers.

As with reforestation, steep reductions of methane, black carbon and nitrous oxide forcings also require a rethink of the global food system. This is because 96 megatonnes of the 350 mega tonnes of anthropogenic methane emitted annually are due to livestock. It’s also livestock production which is responsible for the bulk of the annual global conflagrations responsible for preventing plenty of natural reforestation while also contributing rather a lot of black carbon. This is covered in Boverty I. The good news is that 38 megatonnes of methane emissions will go when we stop mining coal and another 73 megatonnes are tied up with oil and gas production and can be relatively easily dealt with when there is a will to do so.

The livestock reforestation impediment

Currently, a major sticking point on reforestation is the attitude to animal product consumption of the UN FAO which is summed up in the just released report on the greenhouse gases associated with the dairy sector: Without concerted action, emissions [from livestock] are unlikely to fall. On the contrary, they are rising, as global demand for meat, milk and eggs continues to grow rapidly. Projected population growth and rising incomes are expected to drive total consumption higher–with meat and milk consumption doubling by 2050 compared to 2000 (FAO, 2006b).

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Who crippled the Murray Darling Basin?

Guest Post by Geoff RussellGeoff is a mathematician and computer programmer and is a member of Animal Liberation SA. His recently published book is CSIRO Perfidy.

If I see another fruit tree, I’ll throw up!

I guess that most people have seen information about the eco-footprint of different foods. It takes so many litres of water to produce a kilo of this or that food. Or figures about how much energy is consumed in the production of meat, coffee, chocolate or rice. But there are much bigger aspects to the environmental footprints of animal product that are rarely considered in such studies. This blog piece will end up at a great piece of Australian scientific research from the University of Queensland (with software from CSIRO) on the big picture impacts, the regional impacts of choosing to eat large amounts of animal products.

Placing that research in context will take some time, but before we get started on these big issues, let’s have a quick quiz.

  1. How many news reports have you seen about the water shortages in the Murray Darling Basin (MDB) without fruit trees being the dominant image? Rows of citrus fill the frame like Matt Preston’s gourmet gut. I guess it’s more convenient for TV film crews than battling the high seas of manure at a dairy.
  2. How many of the 13,700 billion litres of water extracted from the waters of the Murray Darling Basin go to fruit trees?

The fruit industry, according to a 2004 CSIRO report used 2.6 percent of water extracted in the basin. The vegetable industry is even smaller at about half that … 1.3 percent. The four biggest users were, in order, dairy (34 percent), cotton (24 percent) and rice (16 percent) and beef (7 percent).

You could cynically argue that it is quite accurate to feature fruit trees in the MDB stories. The fruit growers may be the smallest in the list of people causing the problems in the MDB, but they will, individually, be paying a major price.

Now let’s slow down, take a step back and look at the bigger picture behind the MDB problems.

Global warming “gone” … but the Murray crisis continues

Global warming has largely vanished from center stage in Australian political life. The old Prime Minister was too poll-driven to take tough decisions and the new one is transparently disinterested in such matters.  The boredom in her voice even overwhelms the dry monotone delivery and becomes palpable as she goes through the motions of feigning Government commitment to de-carbonising our lifestyles.

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