Poles Apart


Poles Apart

Product details

Product name: Poles Apart: Beyond the Shouting, Who's Right About Climate Change

Reviewer: Kate Arneman

Author: Gareth Morgan and John McCrystal

Publisher: Scribe

Price: $35

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Warning: this book may raise your temperature!

New Zealanders Gareth Morgan and John McCrystal posit themselves as well-educated, informed citizens who are agnostic about "the theory of anthropogenic global warming". But it's a bit of a stretch to accept their utter objectivity when, early in the book, they give the two opposing camps in the debate the labels Alarmists (people who believe global warming is caused by human activity) and Sceptics (those who don't).

Yet beyond the controversy, there is substance.

Poles Apart is prefaced by a quote from economist John Maynard Keynes: "If the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

Whatever the initial ideological positions of its authors, the book remains true to this intellectually honest approach. When it comes to the Sceptics, the authors acknowledge that this is a mixed church that includes everyone from conspiracy theorists to those with a financial stake in the debate to scientists with genuine concerns. Only the latter are included in the scope of this book.

Neither of the authors are scientists: Morgan is an economist, investment portfolio manager and writer; McCrystal is a writer and researcher with a background in political science.

To assess the weight of evidence for both sides of the debate they hired two panels of scientists to help them digest volumes of highly specialised and technical scientific material.

To start with, we are given a scientific explanation of the greenhouse effect (natural and enhanced), the carbon cycle and global warming.

Chapter two is an overview of the kind of information and records we have about climate and the history of different recording methods, along with their limitations and varying reliability (on which the Sceptics love to dwell). The historical details make the graphs and technical information about thermometers, weather balloons and ice cores more palatable, even engrossing at times.

After this crash course, it's time for the debate to begin. We're presented with the common ground between the two camps, followed by two chapters that lay out and cast a critical eye over the arguments and supporting evidence for each side in turn.

Neither side, say the authors, is immune to name-calling and personal attacks on their opponents, or cherry-picking and massaging data to suit their own purposes.

After thrashing it out, the authors conclude that "the 'Alarmists' were right", but they remain (frustratingly for this 'Alarmist') cautious about rushing into a response.

This is a dense read. The politics and engaging writing spices things up, but absorbing the science can be hard work, even though the authors have done an exemplary job of collating and condensing the key information.

Though you may be an 'Alarmist', you might well be interested by the territory this book charts and gratified by the destination it reaches.

And even if you feel the debate has long moved past "Is global warming real?" to "What can we do about itt?", this book could be a useful guide to what makes climate change 'Sceptics' tick.

Printed on paper from sustainable regrowth forests.

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