Synopses & Reviews
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 a gripping story about the controversy and strong personalities surrounding hurricanes and the issue of global warming, where scientists and politicians--and their often clashing agendas--collide."--Rick Anthes, President, American Meteorological Society and President, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research "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
"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.)"
"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
"[B]rilliantly and compellingly explains the complex relationships among global warming, climate modeling, government science, and hurricane forecasting." Library Journal
"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
"... a well-researched, nuanced book ..." The New York Times
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."--Boyce Rensenberger, Scientfic American"Addresses a vitally important topic and gets it basically right."--John Horgan, New York Times Book Review
"The author's thorough research is evident throughout, and he does a fine job of sifting through complexities and presenting the science in an engaging and readable package. ... In Storm World, Mooney catches real science in the act and, in so doing, weaves a story as intriguing as it is important." The Los Angeles Times
"... a well-researched, nuanced book ..." -- The New York Times
"Storm World ... skillfully anatomizes the scientific and political debate over hurricanes and global warming." The Washington Post Book World
"Riveting." The Boston Globe
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?
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.
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 disastersculminating in Katrinaare 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), Mooneya native of New Orleanshas written what will surely be one of the most talked-about books of the year.
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 Part II
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
Interview with Chris Mooney, author of Storm World
Q: Storm World examines the political and scientific controversy surrounding claims that global warming will increase, or has already increased, hurricane frequency or intensity. Why do you think hurricanes in particular have become such a hot button for the global warming issue?
A: Without a doubt, the reason is the weather; or, to be more precise, the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons in the Atlantic basin. First came the four storms hitting Florida in 2004 including the terrifying monster that was Ivan then came Katrina, Rita, and Wilma in 2005, a record year for hurricane destruction. Each of these three Category 5 storms ultimately caused over $10 billion in damage to the United States. Katrina caused an estimated $81 billion in damage and killed fifteen-hundred people.
And even as all this was happening, new scientific research began to suggest that hurricanes have dramatically intensified due to global warming. Suddenly everything came together and the media piled on as well, helping to transform the image of a cyclonic storm into a new icon of global warming.
Q: You report that in late 2006, some research was starting to suggest that even as the climate affects hurricanes, hurricanes might also be affecting the climate. Why is this a significant change in scientific thinking about hurricanes, and what does it mean to the hurricane-global warming debate?
A: As I describe toward the end of the book, previous hurricane specialists, including William Gray of Colorado State University, had essentially said, Look, if hurricanes didnt occur, regular tropical thunderstorms and disturbances could fulfill the same basic role in the climate system. But now some scientists, including Kerry Emanuel of MIT, are seeking to overturn that argument. These researchers think hurricanes play an essential and irreplaceable role in the climate system by, in essence, exporting heat out of the tropics a task they perform either by stirring up the oceans and helping to drive warm water toward the poles or by transporting heat out of those oceans and up into the atmosphere.
It stands to reason that if hurricanes are moving enough heat around in this way, any significant change to hurricanes could have a corresponding effect on the climate. For example, stronger hurricanes could help cool down the tropics and warm the higher latitudes. And heres the kicker: This could imply that if the planet continues to warm, hurricanes might go into overdrive to help cool things down. Thats more than a little scary.
I want to emphasize that these ideas are at the cutting edge right now, and they havent necessarily won widespread acceptance. I expect that ongoing scientific research over the next five to ten years will provide much more illumination about the possible role that hurricanes play in the larger climate system.
Q: Storm World includes fascinating profiles of the scientists at the heart of the debate who, in some cases, unleashed personal attacks as the media focused more and more attention on the issue. Was it challenging to separate the personalities from the science as you interviewed these experts for the book?
A: Definitely. For example, the scientist of whom Im probably most critical, William Gray, is also the one with whom I spent the most time researching the book. I followed Gray around the country and watched him give talks to huge crowds at hurricane conferences. I really enjoyed hanging out with him and hearing his stories about the heroic early days of storm-flying hurricane research. Its not by accident that Gray trained many of todays top hurricane researchers. He has a larger-than-life personality one scientist described him to me as the Howard Stern of meteorology." He really draws you in.
When it came to writing the book, I had to separate out my very positive impression of Gray as a person from my quite critical view of his stance on global warming: Gray rejects the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are driving a trend of rising global temperatures. So on the one hand, I tried to convey what a compelling character Gray is and to give a sense of his considerable past achievements; on the other, I refuse to accept his position on climate change. I summarize the tension between those two elements with a quotation from Arthur C. Clarke: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
Q: At the heart of this controversy is the claim that a warmer planet will be one in which hurricanes are more intense. Some scientists say that the hurricane changes are already happening; others say they wont happen for a long time, if at all. If scientists cant come to a consensus on this, how can policy makers and citizens do so?
A: Well, that gets to a chief conclusion of the book. Just because scientists dont know everything doesnt mean they dont know anything. Just because theres scientific uncertainty, it doesnt mean we cant take reasonable actions now, based upon the best available knowledge, to protect ourselves, rather than simply waiting around for scientists to sort everything out.
From a policy perspective, I would argue that we know enough about how hurricanes work and, in particular, about their reliance on ocean warmth for a power source to be justifiably concerned that they will intensify significantly due to global warming (assuming they havent already). This, in turn, ought to lead us to take precautionary measures now to get ready for a world in which hurricanes might be more deadly.
In many cases, such precautionary measures make good sense anyway: Whether or not global warming creates stronger hurricanes, were always going to have hurricanes, and were extremely vulnerable to them in the United States due to the massive movement of persons and property to coastal regions; this is what some scientists have memorably called our lemming like march to the sea. So the smartest policy would be to deal with our coastal problem immediately focusing on things such as insurance policies, evacuation routes, and building codes as we continue to improve our ability to forecast hurricane paths and intensities. For cities like New Orleans, were also going to need to build up stronger defenseslevees, seawalls, and so on.
But the point is that we can get started on all of this now, with or without global warming. And then, if scientists conclude that storms are going to be 5 or 10 or 25 percent stronger, we can add to our protections accordingly.
Q: Your family hails from New Orleans. Was it difficult to balance your emotions about Katrinas devastation of that city with the need for journalistic objectivity as you wrote Storm World?
A: Yes, especially at first. Following the shock of Katrina, I along with many others who were concerned about global warming quickly seized upon hurricanes as a new symbol of climate change. At first I didnt pay much attention to the serious scientific debate that was brewing over whether hurricanes had, indeed, intensified in a measurable and provable way.
But as I began researching the book and learned a great deal more about hurricanes, I saw that the science was very complex, and that where leading scientists disagreed, I had no business taking sides. So the book evolved into a narrative account of what happens when scientists fall into conflict even as politics, the media, and the weather itself keep adding fuel to the fire.
My previous book, The Republican War on Science, delivered a strong and even polemical argument. Storm World does something differentit tells a story about high-stakes science in a political context, centering on the careers and personalities of the key scientists involved. Its a type of story were seeing more and more of nowadays, as science itself becomes increasingly relevant to decision making, and thus increasingly drawn into politics.
Q: Storm World focuses on the U.S. politics of hurricanes and global warming. Where does the rest of the world stand on this?
A: The community of scientists is global, and many other nations besides the United States Australia, Japan, and Madagascar, to name just a few examples regularly experience hurricanes. The debate in the United States thus reverberates widely, and, some of the top scientists involved in that debate originally hail from other nations, such as Australia and New Zealand.
A summary statement about the relationship between hurricanes and global warming released by the World Meteorological Organization in late 2006 (and reprinted at the end of my book) was composed after leading hurricane specialists from around the world met in Costa Rica to go over the latest research. You can read it here. The statement shows that, just as scientists in the United States do, global scientists acknowledge that a debate continues over precisely how much hurricanes have already changed as a result of ongoing global warming.
Despite the uncertainties, however, theres also much in the World Meteorological Organizations statement to be worried about. For instance, theres a general expectation that global warming will cause hurricanes to intensify (and to dump more rainfall) over the coming decades, even if it has not measurably affected them yet. And theres an acknowledgment of the obvious point that if global warming triggers a rise in sea levelone of the most certain outcomes of climate change then destructive hurricane storm surges will penetrate farther inland.
Q: When it comes to global warming, individual citizens often feel at the mercy of governments for solutions. Besides the commonly touted step of driving a hybrid car, is there really anything an individual can do to combat global warming?
A: Thats a tough one. Personally, I believe that we all need to make changes in our lives. But we should also realize that governments, rather than individuals, must take the biggest steps to stave off global warming.
So, for example, because I fly a lot I buy credits from TerraPass to offset the carbon dioxide emissions caused by my airline travel. I want my personal life to reflect my values. When I go on the road to talk about Storm World, Ill know that I'm doing my part.
However, from the standpoint of individual citizens, perhaps the most effective thing we can do is write to our legislators and lobby our government to take action on global warming before its too late.
Copyright © 2007 Harcourt
Questions written by Deborah Halverson