Cover image for The discovery of global warming
The discovery of global warming
Weart, Spencer R., 1942-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2003.
Physical Description:
x, 228 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QC981.8.G56 W43 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
QC981.8.G56 W43 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In 2001 a panel representing virtually all the world's governments and climate scientists announced that they had reached a consensus: the world was warming at a rate without precedent during at least the last ten millennia, and that warming was caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases from human activity. The consensus itself was at least a century in the making. The story of how scientists reached their conclusion - by way of unexpected twists and turns and in the face of formidable intellectual, financial and political obstacles - is told here. Spencer R. Weart explains the emerging science, introduces to us the major players, and shows us how the Earth's irreducibly complicated climate system was mirrored by the global scientific community that studied it. complex that they could never achieve full certainty - yet so important to human survival that provisional answers were essential. Weart unsparingly depicts the conflicts and mistakes, and how they sometimes led to fruitful results. His book reminds us that scientists do not work in isolation but interact in crucial ways with the political system and with the general public. The book not only reveals the history of global warming but also analyzes the nature of modern scientific work as it confronts the most difficult questions about the Earth's future.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

As Weart makes clear, global warming came to be accepted through a long process of incremental research rather than a dramatic revelation. The story goes back to the mid-nineteenth century, when a French scientist wondered why the earth didn't bake to a crisp, and proposed that the planet radiated infrared energy. But when the Frenchman crunched the numbers, the equations indicated that the earth should be frigid, demonstrating that something in addition to solar energy influenced climate. The search for that something over the past 150 years eventually included the gases and aerosols humanity produces, but interestingly, given contemporary awareness and anxiety about warming, cold was what initially gave scientists the shivers. Specifically, the cause of the ice ages was the target of many scientists' projects. Weart's presiding theme is how different disciplines, working on unrelated problems, have synthesized into the geophysics of cold and warm spells on a planetary scale. A soberly written synthesis of science and politics. --Gilbert Taylor Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

It took a century for scientists to agree that gases produced by human activity were causing the world to warm up. Now, in an engaging book that reads like a detective story, physicist Weart (Scientists in Power; Nuclear Fear) reports the history of global warming theory, including the internal conflicts plaguing the research community and the role government has had in promoting climate studies. Some researchers, he writes, pursued red herrings, while others on the right track often could not get attention or funding. Still others made classic errors but uncovered significant seeds of truth in the process. With just enough scientific detail and plenty of biographical narrative, Weart conveys the difficulties of studying vast, chaotic weather systems. As one of the profiled researchers puts it, the earth's climate is "a capricious beast"; instead of taking its threat seriously, he says, we have been "poking it with a sharp stick." Weart's goal is "to help the reader understand our predicament by explaining how we got here." Blending parallel stories, he implies that although geophysicists took a long time to understand the various elements of global warming, they were all working toward a common goal. Without resorting to fear-mongering, Weart gives an informed history and offers his readers solutions to consider. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Choice Review

This new edition of The Discovery of Global Warming (first ed., 2003) is for everyone interested in events that led to our understanding of how human activity affects global climate. Weart (Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics) successfully weaves the scientific, cultural, and political forces that played a role in shifting the paradigm from a world with resistant climate change to one in delicate balance, easily shifting from one state to another. Necessarily, the book omits a number of scientists and policy makers. However, Weart carefully describes the work, perseverance, and passion of many who contributed to our current view of climate change. The conceptual organization is excellent but occasionally suffers from lack of temporal continuity. Weart's description of the scientific process is also excellent. He successfully presents the drama, disagreement, uncertainty, and false hopes and directions embodied in scientific undertakings of this magnitude. In browsing the science section of any bookstore, one notices that climate change is the topic du jour, with numerous books emphasizing the scientific, political, or social aspect of this phenomenon. It is refreshing to find a work that blends all three components in a highly readable and engaging style. This is the story that everyone should know. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All collections. M. Schaab Maine Maritime Academy

Table of Contents

1 How Could Climate Change?
2 Discovering a Possibility
3 A Delicate System
4 A Visible Threat
5 Public Warnings
6 The Erratic Beast
7 Breaking into Politics
8 The Discovery Confirmed
Further Reading