The Endangered Atmosphere: Preserving a Global Commons

In This Review

The Endangered Atmosphere: Preserving a Global Commons

By Marvin S. Soroos
University of South Carolina Press, 1997
339 pp. $39.95
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This book argues that the earth's atmosphere is a common property resource, like fisheries and medieval grazing land, which for millennia humankind has used -- and recently abused -- as a medium for waste disposal. Recognition of overuse has resulted in an international ban on nuclear tests in 1963, limitation on acidic pollutants in 1979, and limits on production of ozone- depleting chemicals in 1985-90. Pending are discussions on emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly methane and carbon dioxide, which are intimately related to agricultural production and the use of fossil fuels. Soroos offers a balanced, informative account of all these issues -- how they rose to public and political attention, how the international community initially responded, how international agreements were finally put in place and with what effect -- although he is too credulous of some of his sources on climate change. He rightly emphasizes the growing importance of international collaboration among scientists for both analysis and consensus-building, and raises but does not pursue questions about the capacity of the world community to set and enforce national quotas for greenhouse gas emissions.