"Global Climate Change: A Primer"

September 15, 2012

Book Shelf


Global Climate Change: A Primer

By Orrin H. Pilkey and Keith C. Pilkey
With batik art by Mary Edna
Duke University Press, $19.95 paperback or $69.95 library cloth

Reviewed by Tom Henry

Orrin Pilkey, a Duke University geology professor who is one of America’s top coastline scientists, has put out a nifty overview of what’s at stake with the climate change debate.

It walks readers through the origins and complexities of the issue with no-nonsense candor, then ends with some thoughts about far-reaching geoengineering techniques that scientists are already investigating as radical — but potentially viable — last-ditch solutions if mankind’s current generation continues to fail to address the problem enough on a global scale. 

The 142-page book is co-authored by his son, Keith C. Pilkey, an attorney with a long-standing interest in geoengineering and corporate influence on science policy. It is illustrated with dreamy batik art by Mary Edna Fraser. Batik art is a centuries-old art form on fabric. Fraser creates hers from a hybrid of maps, satellite images and photographs, with wax used to manipulate her placement of dyes.

The writing offers a strong mix of science and policy, with a heavier emphasis more appropriately on the science. It is impassioned, yet well-grounded and devoid of sentimentalism. Regional pockets of North America and the rest of the world are explored. It makes a convincing argument why people should care more about Miami, Boston, New Orleans and other low-lying areas on this continent, but also what developing news in Greenland, Antarctica, and the South Pacific means.

The book has a strong, yet rational indictment of the political processes that have been distorted. It acknowledges some of the scientific community’s communication gaffes and missed opportunities.

It examines the undercurrent of a disinformation campaign pushed by a small-but-vocal opposition, including a good analysis of the spin behind the 2009 controversy over emails that deniers used to suggest dissension among the ranks of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group of climatologists that won a Nobel Prize for its work on climate change. That alleged scandal, which Pilkey claims was grossly exaggerated for political gain, broke — no coincidence — as negotiations for a landmark global accord on climate change were about to begin in Copenhagen.

The illustrations are beautiful and the writing, while perhaps not as tailored to the layman as Al Gore’s books and a few others, is pretty darned solid. It certainly is at a level fit for most journalists, especially those who specialize in environmental writing.

The range of subject matter covered is impressive. It includes overviews on sea level rise, ocean acidification, glacier and sea ice melting, changing habitats, desertification, and impacts to people, animals, coral reefs, marshes, and mangroves.

The Pilkeys move from one to another in logical sequence and tie them neatly together to help the reader better understand how one issue affects another.

This shouldn’t be your only climate change primer, but it deserves to be on your short list.  

Tom Henry is an editorial writer-columnist for The (Toledo) Blade.  He is a member of SEJ’s board of directors and SEJournal’s editorial board and is SEJournal’s book editor.

* From the quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Summer/Fall 2012. Each new issue of SEJournal is available to members and subscribers only; find subscription information here or learn how to join SEJ. Past issues are archived for the public here.

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