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Environmental Science

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What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren

Most of us are familiar with the term climate change but few of us understand the science behind it. We don’t fully comprehend how climate change will affect us, and for that reason we might not consider it as pressing a concern as, say, housing prices or unemployment. This book explains the scientific knowledge about global climate change clearly and concisely in engaging, nontechnical language, describes how it will affect all of us, and suggests how government, business, and citizens can take action against it.

Coal and the Hidden Threat to Health

We will not find “exposure to burning coal” listed as the cause of death on a single death certificate, but tens of thousands of deaths from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and other illnesses are clearly linked to coal-derived pollution. As politicians and advertising campaigns extol the virtues of “clean coal,” the dirty secret is that coal kills. In The Silent Epidemic, Alan Lockwood, a physician, describes and documents the adverse health effects of burning coal.

Climate engineering—which could slow the pace of global warming by injecting reflective particles into the upper atmosphere—has emerged in recent years as an extremely controversial technology. And for good reason: it carries unknown risks and it may undermine commitments to conserving energy. Some critics also view it as an immoral human breach of the natural world. The latter objection, David Keith argues in A Scientist’s Case for Climate Engineering, is groundless; we have been using technology to alter our environment for years.

Lessons from Abrupt Climate Change

Viewed from above, Greenland offers an endless vista of whiteness interrupted only by scattered ponds of azure-colored melt water. Ninety percent of Greenland is covered by ice; its ice sheet, the largest outside Antarctica, stretches almost 1,000 miles from north to south and 600 miles from east to west. But this stark view of ice and snow is changing—and changing rapidly. Greenland’s ice sheet is melting; the dazzling, photogenic display of icebergs breaking off Greenland’s rapidly melting glaciers has become a tourist attraction.

Climate Change and Energy Scarcity

The future is not what it used to be because we can no longer rely on the comforting assumption that it will resemble the past. Past abundance of fuel, for example, does not imply unending abundance. Infinite growth on a finite planet is not possible.

Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming

Global warming skeptics often fall back on the argument that the scientific case for global warming is all model predictions, nothing but simulation; they warn us that we need to wait for real data, “sound science.” In A Vast Machine Paul Edwards has news for these skeptics: without models, there are no data. Today, no collection of signals or observations—even from satellites, which can “see” the whole planet with a single instrument—becomes global in time and space without passing through a series of data models. Everything we know about the world’s climate we know through models.

What We Have Taken from Nature

The biosphere—the Earth’s thin layer of life—dates from nearly four billion years ago, when the first simple organisms appeared. Many species have exerted enormous influence on the biosphere’s character and productivity, but none has transformed the Earth in so many ways and on such a scale as Homo sapiens. In Harvesting the Biosphere, Vaclav Smil offers an interdisciplinary and quantitative account of human claims on the biosphere’s stores of living matter, from prehistory to the present day.

The vast majority of scientists agree that human activity has significantly increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere--most dramatically since the 1970s. Yet global warming skeptics and ill-informed elected officials continue to dismiss this broad scientific consensus.

Choosing Among Options

Human survival depends on a continuing supply of energy, but the need for ever-increasing amounts of it poses a dilemma: How can we find energy sources that are sustainable and ways to convert and utilize energy that are more efficient? This widely used textbook is designed for advanced undergraduate and graduate students as well as others who have an interest in exploring energy resource options and technologies with a view toward achieving sustainability on local, national, and global scales.

The Next Fifty Years

Fundamental change occurs most often in one of two ways: as a "fatal discontinuity," a sudden catastrophic event that is potentially world changing, or as a persistent, gradual trend. Global catastrophes include volcanic eruptions, viral pandemics, wars, and large-scale terrorist attacks; trends are demographic, environmental, economic, and political shifts that unfold over time. In this provocative book, scientist Vaclav Smil takes a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary look at the catastrophes and trends the next fifty years may bring.

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