Canadian climatologist Andrew Weaver’s Keeping Our Cool provides an excellent and accessible introduction to climatic science. It also provides a great deal of useful information specific to Canada. As a result, if I had to recommend a single book to non-scientist Canadians seeking to understand the science of climate change, it would be this one. On the matter of what is to be done, the book is useful in a numerical sense but not particularly so in a policy sense. The discussion of economic instruments is superficial and the author basically assumes that a price of carbon plus new technology will address the problem.
The book covers climatic science on two levels: in terms of the contents themselves, such as you would find in textbooks and scientific papers, and in terms of the position of science within a broader societal debate. He accurately highlights the degree to which entrenched interests have seriously muddled the public debate, creating deep confusion about how certain we are about key aspects of how the climate works. Topics well covered by the book include electromagnetic radiation, time lags associated with climate change, the nature of radiative forcing, the nature and role of the IPCC, ocean acidification, the history of human emissions, the general history of the climate, climate modeling, aerosols, hurricanes, climate change impacts in general, permafrost, and the need for humanity to eventually become carbon neutral. One quibble has to do with the sequencing: while the narrative always flows well, the progression through climate science looks a bit convoluted in retrospect. That makes it a bit hard to find your way back to this or that piece of useful information. The book features some good numbers, graphs, and analysis that I have not seen elsewhere – such as a calculation of how much more carbon dioxide humanity can emit in total, given the desire to keep temperature change to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels and various plausible values for climatic sensitivity. A second quibble is that the graphics are all black and white and printed at a fairly low quality. Sometimes, that makes them hard to interpret.
On the matter of international and intergenerational equity, Weaver comes to appropriate conclusions (that we should be concerned about future generations and that the rich states that caused the problem need to act first in solving it), but he fails to examine the ethical and policy issues in great depth. That is a minor failing, given the major purpose of the book, but it would probably leave someone who read only this book with a somewhat mistaken impression about the scale of changes being advocated and the ease with which they might be achieved. The book exaggerates the difference between a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade system with 100% auctioning, and doesn’t pay sufficient attention to areas in which regulation have the potential to be more effective than taxes (building codes, transport standards, etc).
In general, Weaver’s book is a strong and useful introduction to climatic science. When it comes to the big questions about climate ethics, and the policy and technological measures that will permit the emergence of a low-carbon society, other authors have done better.