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Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth's Climate [Hardcover]

Stephen H. Schneider , Tim Flannery
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Book Description

Nov. 3 2009
It’s been nearly four decades since scientists first realized that global warming posed a potential threat to our planet. Why, if we knew of the threats way back in the Carter Administration, can’t we act decisively to limit greenhouse gases, deforestation, and catastrophic warming trends? Why are we still addicted to fossil fuels? Have we all just been fiddling for 40 years as the world burns around us?

Schneider, part of the Nobel Prize–winning team that shared the accolade with Al Gore in 2007, had a front-row seat at this unfolding environmental meltdown. Piecing together events like a detective story, Schneider reveals that as expert consensus grew, well-informed activists warned of dangerous changes no one knew how to predict precisely—and special interests seized on that very uncertainty to block any effective response. He persuasively outlines a plan to avert the building threat and develop a positive, practical policy that will bring climate change back under our control, help the economy with a new generation of green energy jobs and productivity, and reduce the dependence on unreliable exporters of oil—and thus ensure a future for ourselves and our planet that’s as rich with promise as our past.

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"Science As A Contact Sport unfolds the incredible true story of the struggle to understand the science and focus the world’s attention on the climate crisis. I have worked with Steve Schneider on the scientific and policy aspects of climate change for decades, and find him adept at bringing scientific clarity to this critical issue--explaining its many facets to concerned policymakers and the public." -Al Gore

"Why haven’t we halted global warming in the decades since it became recognized as a major threat to human well-being? What should we do to halt it now? In this crystal-clear, moving, funny book, Stephen Schneider makes a highly complex subject understandable." - Jared Diamond, author of "Guns, Germs, and Steel," and "Collapse"

"Stephen Schneider is masterful at translating enormously complex scientific principles into a language that we can all comprehend."—Robert Redford

"Give Stephen Schneider points for prescience...The ominous warnings that he and other climatologists sounded...are coming true
sooner.... –Newsweek.com

About the Author

Stephen H. Schneider, PhD, winner of a MacArthur "genius grant," also won a joint Nobel Prize in 2007 with his colleagues on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He has been an expert adviser to the Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and both Bush administrations.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating memoir from a stellar scientist Jan. 15 2012
Format:Hardcover
Usually books about climate change take me some time to read. As fascinating as they are, they're not the kind of literature I would read to relax. They take far more energy to get through than something like Twilight.

This wasn't the case for "Science as a Contact Sport", the new book by Stephen Schneider. I couldn't put it down ' I absolutely whizzed through it. The narrative wasn't about explaining scientific processes as much as describing what it's like to be a climate scientist, and how that has changed since the early 1970s. Perhaps my enjoyment of the narrative was due to the fact that I think I like memoirs ' although the only other memoir I've read is "Memoirs of a Geisha" (and wasn't that fictional?) In any case, "Science as a Contact Sport" was a memoir of the kind of person I want to follow in the general footsteps of: someone who studies climate change, particularly modelling and radiative balance, and has a good sense of how to accurately communicate science to the media and the public.

Schneider has been studying climate change for a long time ' he's literally one of the pioneers of climate modelling ' so his story was able to begin in the 1970s. There were quite a few familiar figures in the early narrative, including James Hansen as a PhD student (there was even a photograph!) and Richard Lindzen, who was brilliant but had unusual views on how to communicate uncertain science to the government and the public.

I was fascinated by the insider's account of the 1970s radiative forcing debate ' which would win out in the end, aerosols or greenhouse gases? As Schneider was the co-author of one of the few papers that predicted a cooling, he was able to explain the problems with that paper and why it was quickly discredited.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  59 reviews
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a science tutorial and not supposed to be Nov. 17 2009
By John Mashey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
1) This is fine, first-hand book on the evolution of climate science over the last 30 years or so with nuanced descriptions of the science arguments and the difficulties in explaining science to policymakers and the public. Thank Stephen especially for the long campaign to regularize the uncertainty descriptions used in the IPCC 3rd and 4th Reviews. Other reviews have covered many of the topics I might have, so I won't repeat, but will offer something different.

2) If you want more history, start with:
Spencer Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming (New Histories of Science, Technology, and Medicine), which also has an equivalent website at the American Institute of Physics.
Then, read two of Stephen's earlier books:
Global Warming: Are We Entering the Greenhouse Century?, 1989. andLaboratory Earth the Planetary Gamble We (Science Masters), 1996.
This sequence offers a good look into what was known or not *at the time, not just by hindsight*, how real science works, and how scientists weigh data and competing hypotheses. Much of real science is trying to bound uncertainty, and good scientists change their minds. Some things that were theoretically very likely in 1989, but had not yet emerged from the noise into statistical significance, have long since done so.

3) If you want tutorials, here are my favorites, for 3 levels of background in ascending order

General audience, easily including high school, and inexpensive.
David Archer,The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth's Climate (Science Essentials), 2009. 180 easy pages. See my review over there for advice on figuring out whether or not someone might be an expert [like Archer] or not.

College undergrad textbook, for non-science majors, i.e., a little more math and science:
David Archer, Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, 2008. Not so cheap, but good. 194 (denser) pages.

Serious, but the Real Stuff:
Search: ipcc wg i technical summary
for the ~70-page Technical Summary, what the scientists *really* think. Free. Anyone who has read SaaCS should understand why the Summary for Policy Makers is almost always weakened and uses obscure language compared to the TS. I hear this quite consistently from other IPCC authors, who are often amazed *anything* makes it into the SPM. Consider reading the TS for WG's II and III as well.

4) Bottom line:
So, SaaCS is a good book to read. Even better is to attend live talks by good climate scientists. Stephen is especially adept at giving talks for various backgrounds. There is no real substitute for listening to a real expert, watch them answer questions, and maybe even talk to them. In some places, that may be hard, but many good research universities offer public talks, and speakers may do outreach talks elsewhere.
Here in the SanFrancisco Bay Area, there must be at least 30+ IPCC authors around, and so many talks they sometimes have schedule conflicts. Among Stanford U, SLAC, UC Berkeley, LBNL, LLNL, various government groups, business organizations, and NGOs, anyone should be able to find a few good ones, *if they want to*.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Turned a skeptic into a believer. Dec 16 2009
By MoosePond - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I must admit to having been a fence-sitter on the whole global warming/climate change controversy, not knowing which side to believe. However, this book has moved me firmly into the believer camp as it very logically lays out what's been discovered, why it's important and what it means to the future of our increasingly fragile planet. Highly recommended for anyone willing to take a serious, open-minded look at what is a very serious issue. It's well-written and makes its point(s) without the rhetoric and emotionalism that's so often present.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extreme Science Feb. 5 2010
By L. F. Miller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a science book especially a climate science book unlike any other. The reader gets not just the outcome of the scientific debate nor the "two sides," rather Schneider immerses us in the process of science. If science is a contact sport, and from all accounts (not just this one) it is, then climate science is the Superbowl. Following Schneider on his long journey through the science left me with the following impressions.

1) It is amazing that a science that, in any organized sense, is only about forty years old has accomplished so much in such a short time span. It has involved tens of thousands of scientists from dozens of disciplines and sub-disciplines inventing a "science" in an effort to comprehend one of the most complex phenomenon ever studied (or created) by humans.

2) Climate science is a science that by its very nature involves the amassing of mountains of evidence that point towards the elimination of uncertainties and the statement of probabilities--and not to exact formulas or equations. It has to consider non-linear events, thresholds and tipping points as basic components of its understanding of the complex phenomenon we call climate.

3) Climate science has undertaken these investigations while under attack by the largest and best-funded corporations and economic interests in human history. Where there is not opposition from the fossil fuel industry and its allies, there are an untold number of economic players whose fortunes will be affected by any rearrangement of the rules of the market required by the desperate straits we have put ourselves in.

4) Climate science has been expected to come up with definitive answers as to the probability of humans changing the planet into a totally unfamiliar place in order that an international assemblage of policymakers and political leaders can arrive at a solution to this unprecedented problem and enforce it across the boundaries of 190 nations before time runs out. The goals of social justice must be matched against those of keeping the warming of the climate in check--all within a process that has imposed on itself the requirement of 100% consensus.

It is truly amazing that this gang of climate scientists has accomplished so much in such a short time-span within the political pressure cooker they operate. We owe these scientists, and Steven Schneider as their note-taker, a deep debt of gratitude for all they have done to make the world a better place. Schneider gives us an insider's view into how to compete in "extreme science."
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An insiders view of the climate debate and the IPCC process Dec 15 2009
By David J Kent - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Read this book. Seriously. Read it. Those who are familiar with the IPCC and with the climate change discussions will have heard of Stephen H. Schneider. Not only did he receive the collective 2007 Nobel Peace Prize as a member of the IPCC (along with Al Gore), Schneider has played an important and often pivotal role in the development of the science over the last four decades. He has also been the focus of much of the climate denialist attacks.

In Science as a Contact Sport, published in late 2009, Schneider gives us a reasoned, informative and insightful look into both the history of climate change science and the inner workings of the IPCC process in developing the first four Assessment Reports. Essentially this is a memoir, and through his personal experiences from the center of the scientific debate Schneider opens a window into how the scientific consensus was developed over more than forty years of focused research, as well as glimpses into the initial discovery of the role of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases in causing a warming of the earth.

In a writing style that mirrors his real-life tendency of being both in-your-face and humorous, his use of anecdote and metaphor are instrumental in getting the point across and tunneling into the real issues. Climate deniers, as he calls them, have used his earlier work on the cooling of the atmosphere due to aerosol releases to suggest that he is a scientist for any temperature. This is just one example of the way denialists misrepresent his work and the work of others to push their free market agendas. He addresses some of these willful distortions in chapters on how the companies who are most affected by possible policy options "heat up" the debate and in a chapter called "Media Wars: The Stories Behind Persistent Distortion." He coins the term "mediarology" to define how difficult it is to communicate honestly complex science through the media. And he talks about other tactics used to distort the discussion, where the deniers goal isn't to inform the truth but to be victorious (defined as "delaying" action). Schneider notes that even though such obvious denier fraud as the "Great Global Warming Swindle," which was thoroughly debunked as garbage at the time it was released (hundreds of errors and a willful attempt to mislead), is still used by denialists to "support" their charade.

But the main benefit of the book is the "history-in-the-making" aspect of the process. From the inside Schneider relates how scientists first came to suspect that the world was getting warmer, the investigations that were undertaken, the honest disagreements between scientists as they tried to understand what they were observing, how increasing technological and computing capability from the 1970s through the present day allowed greater and more accurate modeling, and how the IPCC process works to develop a consensus. This last part is particularly revealing, as the IPCC insists that there be 100% consensus on the final work product. All parties argue for days to come up with just the right wording, and since the IPCC consists of representatives from the governments of all parts of the world, there were many cases where countries like Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia pushed for more moderate language than the scientists felt was warranted by their review of the scientific literature. The result is two-fold. First, that no one can claim their views went unheard. And second, the final conclusions in the IPCC reports are clearly much more moderated than the science would have predicted. In other words, the IPCC reports are more likely to be underestimating the problem rather than overestimating it. Having followed the process in Schneider's book, it is easy to see why more recent science tends to show the problem is getting worse, faster than the IPCC predicted.

I recommend this book to everyone looking to get an insider's view of the history and process of the development of our understanding of climate change.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting quasi-biography, not a tell-all on the intricacies of global warming Nov. 6 2009
By Sreeram Ramakrishnan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
if one were to trust the marketing of the book, (marketed as answering key questions such as "Why, if we knew of the threats way back in the Carter Administration, can't we act decisively to limit greenhouse gases, deforestation, and catastrophic warming trends? Why are we still addicted to fossil fuels? Have we all just been fiddling for 40 years as the world burns around us?"), it does a remarkably poor job.

Schneider, however, succeeds in providing an engaging account of his own growth and glimpses of various key personalities in this field such as Gore, Crutzen, Broeker, etc. Written mostly in a first-person narrative style, Schneider takes us through his rationale on some of his public statements which helps define a broader viewpoint regarding the initial (heated) public discussions that formed the genesis of the "global warming movement". For a reader curious about the personalities involved in this critical topic, this book will be of great value. For someone who was looking to get a rigorous treatment of the controversies on data, evidence etc will have to be satisfied with mostly a very well-thought-out chapter on "media wars". Overall, a good, rare look at the key personalities, but unfortunately, the book may not advance the debate on potential solutions to global warming significantly.
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