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Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warmingby Chris Mooney
Synopses & Reviews
One of the leading science journalists and commentators working today, Chris Mooney delves into a red-hot debate in meteorology: whether the increasing ferocity of hurricanes is connected to global warming. In the wake of Katrina, Mooney follows the careers of leading scientists on either side of the argument through the 2006 hurricane season, tracing how the media, special interests, politics, and the weather itself have skewed and amplified what was already a fraught scientific debate. As Mooney puts it: "Scientists, like hurricanes, do extraordinary things at high wind speeds."
Mooney — a native of New Orleans — has written a fascinating and urgently compelling book that calls into question the great inconvenient truth of our day: Are we responsible for making hurricanes even bigger monsters than they already are?
"Having witnessed Katrina's devastation of his mother's New Orleans house, science writer Mooney (The Republican War on Science) became concerned that government policy still ignored worst-case scenarios in planning for the future, despite that unprecedented disaster. He set out to explore the question of 'whether global warming will strengthen or otherwise change hurricanes in general, even if it can't explain the absolute existence, attributes, or behavior of any single one of them.' Since storm research's early 19th-century inception, Mooney found, there has been a split between those who believed the field 'should be rooted in the careful collection of data and observations' (e.g., weathermen) and those who preferred 'theory-based deductions from the laws of physics' (e.g., climatologists). Whirling around this longstanding antagonism is a mix of politics, personalities and the drama of these frightening storms. The urgency and difficulty of resolving the question of global warming's existence, and its relationship to storms, has only heated things up. Mooney turns this complicated stew into a page-turner, making the science accessible to the general reader, vividly portraying the scientists and relating new discoveries while scientists and politicians change sides — or stubbornly ignore new evidence. Mooney draws hope from some researchers' integration of both research methods and concludes that to be effective, scientists need to be clear communicators. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'Having witnessed Katrina's devastation of his mother's New Orleans house, science writer Mooney (The Republican War on Science) became concerned that government policy still ignored worst-case scenarios in planning for the future, despite that unprecedented disaster. He set out to explore the question of 'whether global warming will strengthen or otherwise change hurricanes in general, even if it can't explain the absolute existence, attributes, or behavior of any single one of them.' Since storm research's early 19th-century inception, Mooney found, there has been a split between those who believed the field 'should be rooted in the careful collection of data and observations' (e.g., weathermen) and those who preferred 'theory-based deductions from the laws of physics' (e.g., climatologists). Whirling around this longstanding antagonism is a mix of politics, personalities and the drama of these frightening storms. The urgency and difficulty of resolving the question of global warming's existence, and its relationship to storms, has only heated things up. Mooney turns this complicated stew into a page-turner, making the science accessible to the general reader, vividly portraying the scientists and relating new discoveries while scientists and politicians change sides — or stubbornly ignore new evidence. Mooney draws hope from some researchers' integration of both research methods and concludes that to be effective, scientists need to be clear communicators. (July)' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"
"To most Americans, the annual hurricane season used to be a kind of background noise — part of the usual summer cable news fare of celebrity scandals and disappearing young women. But in August 2005, Hurricane Katrina changed all that. Katrina's images — New Orleans under water, its residents trapped and pleading for help from rooftops, freeway overpasses and the Superdome — shook our faith in... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) the government's ability to perform its most fundamental task, protecting people. And Katrina was merely the worst of a record-setting hurricane season, which generated so many storms the National Hurricane Center ran out of names. Coming as scientific evidence mounted for the human role in global warming, the storms seemed a harbinger of bigger disasters to come. Suddenly, hurricanes mattered. Enter the talented science journalist Chris Mooney with 'Storm World,' which skillfully anatomizes the scientific and political debate over hurricanes and global warming. Mooney's previous book, 'The Republican War on Science,' explored the ways that ideologues and special interests allied with the GOP undermined the government's scientific enterprises. 'Storm World' echoes 'War' in some ways, recounting the Bush administration's ham-handed attempts to muzzle government hurricane scientists. But it's a different kind of book than its predecessor: not a big statement, but a blow-by-blow account of a scientific debate unfolding simultaneously in the academy and the real world. Mooney convincingly portrays that debate as a classic paradigm shift in progress. On one side, climate scientists using sophisticated computer models find more and more evidence for a link that seems intuitive — warmer air and warmer seas fuel bigger (but, interestingly, not more) hurricanes. On the other, a group of respected hurricane forecasters — who know it's hard to predict what will happen next week, let alone a century from now — say those climate models are inherently unreliable, and that the data to demonstrate such a connection just don't exist. 'Storm World' tracks the arguments as they evolve — quite rapidly — against the dramatic background of the 2005 hurricane season and into 2006. Shocking findings are unveiled, and several prominent scientists abandon their skepticism to support the idea of a link between hurricanes and global warming. 'Storm World' does a good job explaining the fundamentals of hurricane science and the ways different scientists approach it. Twenty years ago, for example, MIT's Kerry Emanuel wrote the first paper suggesting that climate change might fuel bigger hurricanes. He looks at the global climate as a single, evolving system in which big hurricanes play some as yet unclear role. At one point, Emanuel's modeling led him to speculate that 'hypercanes' — giant hurricanes possibly triggered by the Yucatan asteroid strike 65 million years ago — might have helped kill off the dinosaurs. But in tackling at least four distinct themes — hurricane science, media hype, global warming politics, disaster policy — Mooney seems uncertain of exactly what his principal thrust should be. He works hard to weave the strands together, but often they don't quite mesh. For instance, he devotes a lot of space to Colorado meteorologist William Gray's quixotic crusade to disprove global warming. Gray rejects the broad scientific consensus that global warming is happening. But he's still a big name in the world of meteorology, and he has raised a ruckus by accusing fellow scientists, including some of his former students, of ignorance, opportunism or both for suggesting that a warming atmosphere may fuel stronger hurricanes. He's undeniably colorful. But Gray also comes off as something of a crank, and marginal to the substantive scientific debate on the connection between warming and storms. 'Storm World' is at its most cogent on the author's favorite issue: science in the noisy public square. Many hurricane scientists reacted with dismay when their subtle arguments were distorted by press accounts or used to score partisan points in the political storm that erupted after Katrina. One declared he'll become 'a bloody hermit on a mountaintop' the next time he publishes a paper. But Georgia Tech climate scientist Judith Curry decided that maybe it's the tradition-bound rules of academia that are out of sync with today's wired world, and that perhaps scientists should learn how to communicate in the age of blogs and the 24/7 news cycle. That would help the public and politicians gain a deeper understanding of the hurricane threat — which, Mooney regrettably concludes, looks as if it will indeed be getting worse. John McQuaid is the co-author of 'Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms.'" Reviewed by Martin KettleCarlos LozadaGuy VanderhaegheJordana HornJohn McQuaid, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"Mooney serves his readers as both an empiricist who gathers data and an analyst who puts it into context. The result is an important book, whose author succeeds admirably in both his roles." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"In Storm World, Mooney catches real science in the act and, in so doing, weaves a story as intriguing as it is important." Thomas Hayden, Los Angeles Times
"Mooney provides a fine overview of the long, intertwined history of hurricane prediction, climate science and the politicization of the debate over global warming.... To boil this down to a debate between theorists and empiricists is to oversimplify, of course, and Mooney does justice to the debate in all its complexity, painting vivid portraits of scientists at work and in conflict." Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
"Mooney has written a well-researched, nuanced book that suffers from poor organization and a lack of pizazz....But it's hard to go too wrong with hurricanes and the people who love to fight over them." New York Times
Book News Annotation:
The author of The Republican War on Science, whose mother's house was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, presents a fair examination of the facts, leading scientists' theories, political debate, media spin, and insurance industry concerns over whether global warming is causing more intense storms. Drawing on extensive interviews, the Washington journalist includes an explanation of hurricane and cyclone scales, and diagrams. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science and one the leading young environmental journalists and bloggers working today, immerses readers in the world of those who study hurricanes. What was once an arcane branch of meteorology (itself an arcane science) has become embroiled in one of the politicized and hotly contested debates in American science: whether or not the recent hurricane disasters—culminating in Katrina—are connected to global warming. Mooney follows the lives and careers of the two leading scientists who stand, bitterly opposed, on either side of the issue. One believes global warming has nothing to do with hurricane ferocity or frequency; the other believes as fervently that it does; both have staked their reputations on their respective positions. Mooney shows these two men in action as they debate the issue across the country and are followed by the media. He also uses them as a way of showing how Hurricane Studies have evolved, and how government, the media, Big Business, and politics, have affected the ways we study and interpret weather patterns. Hurricanes are natural disasters, capable of inflicting almost unimaginable destruction. The culture that has grown up around predicting, charting, and even defining them is very much man-made.
Combining lively portraits of the leading figures, vivid science journalism, and the very latest reportage from weather front (the last section of the book will cover the 2006 hurricane season), Mooney—a native of New Orleans—has written what will surely be one of the most talked-about books of the year.
PRAISE FOR STORM WORLD
"Mooney chose to walk a minefield in attempting to assess a controversial and quickly evolving field in climate research. He not only succeeded in producing a fair and accurate description of the science, but produced a fascinating read as well."--Climatologist Michael Mann of RealClimate.org
"Storm World is of unique importance to all with environmental interests, especially those who find themselves conflicted on one of the worlds most important issues: the significance of global warming, its potential impact on the environment, and in particular on the frequency and strength of destructive hurricanes."--Dr. Robert Simpson, former director of the National Hurricane Center, and Dr. Joanne Simpson, former President of the American Meteorological Society and recipient of a Carl-Gustaf Rossby Award.
PRAISE FOR THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE
"Nothing short of a landmark in contemporary political reporting."—Salon.com
"A well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists . . . Thankfully, Mooney is both a wonk and a clear writer."—Scientific American
One of the leading science journalists and commentators working today, Mooney delves into a red-hot debate in meteorology: whether the increasing ferocity of hurricanes is connected to global warming.
About the Author
Chris Mooney is the Washington correspondent for Seed magazine and author of The Republican War on Science. He lives in Washington, D.C.
Table of Contents
Prologue: 6229 Memphis Street 1
Introduction: The Party Line” 5
Warming and Storming
1 Chimneys and Whirlpools 15
2 Of Heat Engines . . . 31
3 . . . and Computer Models 44
4 Lay That Matrix Down” 59
5 From Hypercanes to Hurricane Andrew 80
Interlude: Among the Forecasters 103
6 The Luck of Florida 109
7 Frictional Divergence 123
8 Meet the Press 137
9 The #$%^& Hit the Fan” 155
10 Resistance 169
11 Consensus” 180
12 Preseason Warm-Ups 205
13 Where Are the Storms? 224
14 Hurricane Climatology 245
Conclusion: Home Again 260
Appendix I: The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale; Note on Units of Measurement 281
Appendix II: Cyclone Typology 285
Appendix III: Early Hurricane-Climate Speculations 287
Appendix IV: Consensus Statements by Participants
In the World Meteorological Organizations 6th International Workshop on Tropical Cyclones, San Jose, Costa Rica, November 2006 293
Bibliography and Recommended Reading 371
List of Interviews 377
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