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Into Eternity

The Atlas of Climate Change: Mapping the World's Greatest Challenge

by Kirstin Dow and Thomas E. Downing
University of California Press, Berkeley, 2011
128 pp. Paper, $24.95
ISBN: 978-0-520-26823-4.

Reviewed by Enzo Ferrara
Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca Metrologica (INRIM) and Istituto di Ricerche Interdisciplinari sulla Sostenibilità (IRIS)
Torino, Italy


The current crisis of climate appears as a difficult phenomenon for the layman to appreciate and as a mess to be socially and economically assessed by the expert observer. Some activists object that climate change is almost a matter for socio-psychoanalysts rather than for climatologists (see for example Too Hot Not to Notice? A Planet Connected by Wild Weather by Bill McKibben appeared on Tom Dispatch blog, May 3rd 2012); it is, in fact, difficult to understand how a well educated sapiens sapiens population is capable to keep on ignoring such evidences of pending troubles as those due to the blow up of climate. Consider the first months of the current year, while California sees the looming impacts in the form of epic drought, in Southern England and Wales residents are seeing an opposite but related effect: total rainfall in January 2014 was more than three times the average and – according to the world's longest-running weather station (Radcliff Meteorological Station, Oxford University) – more rain fell there in January 2014 than during any winter month since daily recording started in 1767.

But the pictogram of climate change has not yet entered the public imagery, and most people fail to appreciate the amplitude and endangerment of its extension. Though, if it is impossible to react at once and reverse the problems oppressing us, one can at least prepare a catalog of the troubles. This is the case of The Atlas of Climate Change, a textbook that illustrates in terms and numbers the inventory of what is actually happening in our atmosphere and, as its immediate consequence, on water fluxes. Since its first edition issued in 2006 the information gathered by the Atlas constitutes an insightful guide to analyze the problem of climate, climbing higher up the global agenda. The here considered 2011 edition is separated in eight parts. After the Introduction, the signs of the changing climate are discussed (parts I and II), before the catalogues of its driving agents (III) and the expected consequences (IV). Then the possibilities of personal and collective actions (V) are put down, along with the international policies (VI) adopted to respond and, possibly, find solutions (VII) to the global challenge of climate. The latest developments in research to mitigate and adapt to changes under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) are illustrated.

UNFCC insists on the need to stabilize greenhouse gases at a level that would prevent human induced interference with the climate system, but the effectiveness of international efforts is questioned. Before the deadline for Kyoto Protocol, which expired at the end of 2012, small space to new targets for reduction in emissions was found during the fleet agreements reached in Copenhagen (2009) and Cancun (2010). Actually the agenda adopts the "Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol", agreed in Qatar on December 8th 2012, which includes a second commitment period for the reduction of greenhouse emission, from January 1st 2013 to December 31st 2020.

General evidences and information resources are finally resumed in the last part of the Atlas (VIII) in the shape of tables offering easy to understand details on such data as total population, per capita income, human development index, greenhouse gases emissions, and percentage of population at risk from sea-level rise on a country by country basis.

Addressing the reduction of pollutant emissions and adequate funding on climate change studies and inviting local and regional authorities to develop policies and use of renewable energy sources, the Atlas also advocates conformist solutions to the issue, like trading in carbon credits to share the burden of reducing emissions globally. But, as those on health impacts, sections on agriculture and water security are rather instructive and worrisome. The expectation in a warming world is for an increased frequency of heat waves and greater moisture in the atmosphere leading to extreme precipitation events, intense and frequent. Flooding is expected to be the greatest threat for the immediate future but a large number of “unsettled themes” remain that apply to the consequences the wet weather will have on communities and are not straightforwardly quantifiable in terms of vulnerable populations, or health and economic impacts. These “unsettled themes” urge for increasing the capacity of nations to cope with climatic hazards, raise public awareness, and build a more resilient healthy infrastructure. In this way, this booklet can be a great resource for climatologists, researchers, postgraduate and undergraduate students, and for anyone interested about the issue: the Atlas provides the technical data and also interprets them in a broader perspective, explaining the scientific terminology and inviting thoughts and actions to mitigate the complex effects of the climate changing path, whose final destination is so far unforeseeable.

Last Updated 7 March 2014

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