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Coming to Terms

Mary Peet

Climate Change and the Global Harvest: Potential Impacts of the Greenhouse Effect on Agriculture. Cynthia Rosenzweig and Daniel Hillel. 324 pp. Oxford University Press, 1998. $65.

Paraphrasing a Mark Twain quip, a caption from a cartoon showing long lines of sport-utility vehicles idling in traffic reads, "Everybody does something about global warming, but nobody talks about it." Why is no one talking about global warming, even with record heat waves and possibly related climatic disturbances over the past few years? Global warming issues seem to lack the broad, public, poster-child appeal of environmental preservation. Will this book change that? Unfortunately, the Silent Spring that would raise public consciousness about climate change has yet to be written. This book is not light reading and not intended for nonscientists.

That said, I found Climate Change and the Global Harvest very useful in accessing and understanding cross-disciplinary literature. Chapters on effects of climate change on crop yields, pests, water resources and sea-level rise, food security, regional risks, economics and adaptation follow general chapters on global warming and agricultural emissions. The definition of terms was particularly useful. For example, the "The Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming" chapter explains how "GCM" originally stood for "general circulation model" but now means "global climate model," a change in terminology I had always found confusing. Even the terms "global warming" and "greenhouse effect" are sometimes used interchangeably in the popular press, and it is useful to have a careful, scientific definition. It turns out that there are differences between the main types of GCMs, and this explanation of them is a valuable service because the literature on GCMs is not very accessible to non-modelers. In fact, public and even scientific apathy on this issue could easily be laid at the doorstep of a mind-numbing series of acronyms (GISS, UKMO, CCC, GFDL, CSIRO, to name only a few), all of which predict slightly different scenarios.

The main value of a cross-disciplinary book like this is the instant entrée granted into the literature. It is often hard to find basic background graphs that explain concepts or problems. It is also hard to find comparisons of responses from different investigators. All of these, and more, are found throughout the book—in fact, the table- and figure-dense layout of Climate Change is its best feature, especially for teachers. Few facing pages are entirely text, and all figures are clearly drawn. Organization, thoroughness, objectivity and thoughtful analysis and interpretation characterize Climate Change. It has many other useful features as a reference text: an extensive, well-organized bibliography, a comprehensive index and notes broken down by chapter detailing specific terms and issues.

Climate Change talks about global warming in a way that should help scientists in a wide variety of disciplines explain it to their colleages, students and the public. Although the title suggests an agricultural emphasis, most of the projected effects on insects, diseases and weeds also would affect ecosystems. Food security and economic stability issues are also important for everyone. I would suggest this book for anyone who cares about the long-term weather forecast and wants to not only talk about it but talk knowledgeably.—Mary Peet, Horticulture Science, North Carolina State University


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