“Goldilocks Planet” review

Jun 17 2012 Published by under Book Review, Global meltdown, Great News

I just bought the Kindle version of “The Goldilocks Planet, The 4 billion years story of Earth’s climate”. And I submitted the following review at  Amazon, which I hope will appear on that site shortly.

Update: Amazon has kindly decided to publish the review.

Errors in grammar and spelling:

1. At location 977, the text reads: “So when a palaeontologist looks at the fossils of penguins and walruses 100 million years hence, he, she, or it will discern”.

This must be “he or she”.

Update: As “David” in comments points out, 100 million years in the future there might possibly be neutral paleontologists, so it is not necessarily a mistake in grammar. It is still something that irritated me.

2. At location 1387, the text says “In the forests, roamed animals.” The comma needs to be removed.

3. At location 1413, the text says “More about these oxygen crises anon.” And at location 2671 it reads “But more of that anon.”

I am sorry, but I don’t understand that at all. It would make sense if “anon” were replaced with “later” or “in another chapter”.

4. At location 2868, the text says “Even when found, they not easy to interpret.” That must be “they are not easy to interpret.”

5. At location 3469 it says “The test centred on…” That should probably be “centered” instead.

Interesting and important fact:

I was well aware of the fact that the greenhouse effect on Venus is extremely strong. This is a basic premise of my recent global warming science fiction novel “Great News”. What I did not realize is that Venus actually receives less sunlight at its surface than does the Earth (location 214), because of the massive reflective cloud cover. And even with less energy coming in to the planet surface than to ours, temperatures at surface level are well over 400 degrees Celsius.

The more you know, the less sure things become:

As someone interested in global warming, I know basic facts like the effect of CO2 on the climate. In contrast, when reading this introduction to the exact science of climate history, I learn of many discussions on the finer points of reading the clues remaining after millions of years. One thing one can learn from this book is that the climate is extremely complex to begin with, even when discussing what is happening right now, with ever more data available, and even more so when discussing history millions or billions of years ago. Or when discussing the future.

So the authors, as respectable climate scientists, need to say something like “global warming is extremely likely to be caused by humanity.”

In contrast, I would just say “it sure and definitely is”, since I neither know nor care about all the detail.

The missing discussion of Venus syndrome:

The authors spend over 90.000 words talking about the history and future of the climate. But somehow they manage to avoid addressing the most important question of all. Earth right now has a “Goldilocks” climate. Will that stay that way, or can we somehow set off a runaway feedback loop that boils the planet just like Venus? James Hansen says we can, and I would expect a book on this topic to discuss his ideas.

5 Stars:

I would recommend buying and reading this book to anyone interested in climate issues, which should include everyone on the planet. There is no other question so important as climate change. And I think everyone can learn from this introduction to climate history.

I personally found it over a Twitter link by New York Times journalist Andy Revkin, who wrote that this book is high on his to-read list. As well it should be, in my humble opinion. The link went to a blog post at the Oxford University Press blog (the publishers), with the title “Time-travelling to distant climates”. The science fiction angle in that title got my interest. And the blog post, written by the authors of the book, is a nice short description of the book.

2 responses so far

  • David says:

    I disagree with your first point. A palaeontologist that far in the future may be an it: an evolved neutre or hermaphrodite species, an artificially created one, an artificial intelligence without gender, etc.

    • Karl-Friedrich Lenz says:

      You are right. That may be possible.

      I am still irritated by this, even if I must admit that it is not a definite mistake.

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