Does the Weather Really Matter? The Social Implications of Climate Change

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Does the Weather Really Matter? The Social Implications of Climate Change

By William James Burroughs
Cambridge University Press, 1997
230 pp. $24.95
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Around the globe human beings have adapted successfully to differences in climate much greater than the changes likely to occur over the next century. A British atmospheric physicist turned popular science writer, Burroughs points out that slow changes in average climate will hardly be noticeable. What will be noticeable are weather events that deviate sharply from normal variation. At present, the scientific consensus is agnostic on whether extreme events will increase with global warming. Burr0ughs asks how well people have adapted to such events by looking at severe winters, floods, droughts, and hurricanes, and he finds that they have caused terrible damage and consternation, which adequate warning has greatly reduced. At the same time, we have become less willing to accept acts of God, which, he argues not altogether persuasively, explains some of the journalistic hype about extreme events. The book contains informative chapters on the strengths and weaknesses of the large computer models used to simulate past and future changes in climate and on the difficulties of weather forecasting. Taking a middle-of-the-road, gradualist position on policy to abate climate change, the author warns against expecting additional scientific information to resolve all the complex issues involved. He also warns scientists against using unusual but transient weather events to dramatize their preferred policy positions.