When I started E. Kirseten Peters’ book, ‘The Whole Story Of Climate’, I was expecting, based off the cover, something more akin to our current change climate change. Actually, this book goes back to the origins of geology and how what we know about the planet. This is important because if you’re going to understand global warming, then you need to understand the basics of geology so you have an informed opinion. Peters writes in an engaging way so you want to know more which is also a sign of a useful book.
One of the biggest things I learnt from the start was how to pronounce ‘Pleistocene’ – Ply-stow-seen – which Peters continued to do with other epoch words and it had a knowing effect in my reading. Instead of just recognising the word, I read it correctly which has a telling effect on it sinking into my head.
The earliest geologist was Louis Agassiz in the early 18th century, who was actually a naturalist who started off with fish fossils and while taking a holiday break in Switzerland took an interest in the formation of glaciers and how they shaped the landscape. I hadn’t heard of Agassiz before but Peters brought him to life on the page and really brought me up to speed as he travelled the world, especially in Scotland and Northern America and Canada. He made a massive influence on naturalists William Buckland and Charles Darwin. Although Peters only touches on Agassiz’ strong religious beliefs, it’s more amazing that they didn’t have more effect on the evidence he discovered, although I think it should have been covered more effectively, just to put things into perspective.
Gerhard Jakob de Geer was another one who had inner conflicts between his scientific discoveries and his faith, although he furthered the case of glacier movement by working out how they developed and moved. The only place he got too carried away was thinking the glaciation pattern was consistent through out the world.
It was Ernst Jakob Lennart von Podt who made the next significant progress by coring peat bogs and discovering different pollen and seeds at different levels that enabled him to work the rate of layering. This is important because it tells a lot about the climate these seeds would have grown in.
There is a common denominator with all these early geologists. As the subject hadn’t been segregated yet, they all came from different professions with a background knowledge that aided their research than not. This is in stark contrast to today where there is far too much specialisation that one has to ask why not encourage some generalists as well just in case they see things from a different perspective. In the last chapter, Peters points out that because of government funding, she uses her native USA as the key example although I’m sure that it applies in other countries, that researchers go for projects that will get the most government money and climate change is one of these. Whether it’s because they have an idea what the answers will be and need confirming evidence, she doesn’t say but there’s also a strong argument to have more scientifically trained politicians who can make sense of the findings and ask the right questions and get things moving along in the right direction.
In the meantime back to the book and take Andrew Douglass, another all-rounder specialising in astronomy for the best part. His knowledge on climate change extended to observing the planets to see if they had similar effects from solar activity, especially after he started examining wood rings to determine aging and started carbon dating. Ernst Sorge was a weather scientist and his claim to fame was the realisation that ancient air was trapped in glacier ice bubbles and that by examining it, could determine other factors millennia ago. Another vital area for knowing what gases were around from vegetation in earlier times.
Following Peters diagrams of the movement of cold spells based on orbital fluctuations, something that as she points out is invariably missed out by journalists in explaining global warming to the masses, having ice ages on a regular basis is actually quite normal. What isn’t is the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that we are adding to by our own industrialisation. Something that I wasn’t aware of was the amount of underground coalmine fires that are still going on specifically in the USA, India and China. Not all caused by Man as many are natural occurrences. She explains that by reducing these we can do a lot more good than in just reduce industrial emissions. From my perspective, maybe we should remind governments that such natural burning is also reducing the amount of coal we would burn ourselves as a means to get something done about it, which is just simply to starve such mines of oxygen. Now there’s a thing we can do with our waste carbon dioxide.
What becomes very apparent from this book is that climate change is a natural occurrence but is being exasperated by our own industrialisation and we haven’t done nearly enough to cut that down. This isn’t new as physicist John Tyndall discovered this in 1859 when he observed coal gas could block out sunlight.
Peters also points out that climate change isn’t just getting colder but a displacement of warm weather as well and it can happen very rapidly and not a gradual process for our children’s children’s children to worry about. We’re seeing examples of this in the UK as I type this where the continual cloud cover is just blocking out sunlight for a few weeks in February.
I found this an immensely interesting book. Not only did I get a better grounding in geology but also a greater understanding of global warming. It hasn’t changed the thought that we’re exasperating the situation but it does explain that we do have ice ages from time to time. If you have any interest in the subject, which is probably most of you reading this, then it’s worth having a read of this book and influence your politicians that they should read it as well.
(pub: Prometheus Books. 290 page indexed occasionally graph illustrated small hardback. Price: $26.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61614-672-6)
check out websites: www.prometheusbooks.com