(Charles Platt is a guest blogger)
Here are two more books that examine climate change from other perspectives. They differ in their tone and message, but they're both intelligently written.
An Appeal to Reason by Nigel Lawson is a small but heavily referenced overview by a former Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Secretary of State for Energy, and Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK. Lawson is not a scientist but does understand politics, and he sees a lot of it in the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which is the primary source of global-warming projections. If you want an erudite introduction by a shrewd observer, this is a good place to start. This book almost failed to find a publisher because, as one editor put it, it defies the “prevailing orthodoxy.” Contrary to allegations, Lawson inists that he receives no money from special interests.
Cool It by Bjorn Lomborg. Formerly an avid Greenpeace supporter, Lomberg wrote his previous book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, after becoming convinced that many strategies advocated by environmentalists do not have a good cost-benefit ratio if we are primarily concerned with saving lives and fighting the spread of disease. Cool It uses a similar economic approach. He argues convincingly that if world hunger and mortality are our priorities, an immediate reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is a foolish way to allocate resources. Unfortunately this kind of economic assessment tends to be ignored in favor of emotional appeals featuring pictures of polar bears, raising the depressing possibility that people may care more about arctic animals than about third-world human beings.
In any case, the affect of climate on polar bears should not be a significant concern right now, since the observed area of arctic sea ice has continued to fluctuate seasonally from year to year (see the graph below, reproduced from the International Arctic Research Center), and the primary factor affecting the bears has been “harvesting"—i.e. people killing them (see this site sponsored by the International Institute of Forecasters), which is now prohibited by federal law.
As for that picture of bears “stranded” on a piece of ice, here's the back story according to Denis Simard, the Environment Canada representative who distributed it:
". . . have to keep in mind that the bears aren't in danger at all. It was, if you will, their playground for 15 minutes. . . . This is a perfect picture for climate change, in a way, because you have the impression they are in the middle of the ocean and they are going to die. . . . But they were not that far from the coast, and it was possible for them to swim."
The picture was taken in 2004 by marine biologist Amanda Byrd, who refused to draw any conclusions, positive or negative, regarding the welfare of the bears. She was pissed, though, that her photograph was used without her permission.