Keeping Our Cool: Canada in a Warming World

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.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

12 thoughts on “Keeping Our Cool: Canada in a Warming World

  1. 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.

    Would this be comprehensible to laypeople?

    Also, what books do a better job of discussing policy?

  2. I think non-experts will find the explanations comprehensible, though it is certainly not easy subject matter. I would actually be interested in seeing the impressions of someone who read this as their first major book on climate change.

    On policy, the book I would most recommend is George Monbiot’s Heat. It doesn’t necessarily discuss all possible policies, and some of his specific prescriptions may be wrong, but the book makes a convincing case of why we need to act, as well as what acting effectively would involve.

    Joseph Romm’s Hell and High Water: Global Warming – the Solution and the Politics and What We Should Do focuses on the US and has some biases. Nonetheless, it is a useful work written by someone who has a firm grip on the issues.

    Jeffrey Simpson’s Hot Air: Meeting Canada’s Climate Change Challenge is a bit like Weaver’s book, in that it is somewhat stronger on analysis than policy recommendation. Still, it does quite a good job of evaluating some of the policies that have already been put in place.

    Broecker’s Fixing Climate: What Past Climate Changes Reveal About the Current Threat–and How to Counter It provides an unusual perspective on possible solutions, focusing on capturing CO2 straight out of the air.

  3. Book Review: Keeping Our Cool
    October 3, 200
    Andrew Weaver. KEEPING OUR COOL: CANADA IN A WARMING WORLD. Viking Canada, Toronto, 2008.

    Few Canadians understand the science of climate change as well as University of Victoria professor Andrew Weaver. Not only is he chief editor of the highly-respected Journal of Climate, he was a lead author of the last three major reports published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and thus a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

  4. Three senior Canadian members of the 2007 Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are calling on Elizabeth May to lead Greens to make the difference in more than 50 close ridings where the Conservatives are set to win with a fraction of the expected Green Party vote. The leading Canadian climate scientists making the call are Dr. Andrew Weaver from the University of Victoria, Dr. William Peltier from the University of Toronto and Dr. John Stone from Carleton University.

    “It looks like the unprecedented desire to vote for the environment could result in a terrible three way split of environmental voters in key ridings. Elizabeth May and her appeal have an extraordinary opportunity to make the change the Green movement wants to see in our government. Ms. May and the Greens alone can help make the difference between the Harper majority that the climate scientists fear and a Liberal minority under which great progress can be made to fight climate change.”

  5. But this has always been one of Weaver’s strengths. Without ever dumbing the issue down, he keeps it as simple and understandable as he can.

    He agrees the crux of his book comes down to a single alarming sentence on page 28: “People have simply no idea how serious this issue is.”

    It’s so serious, he said, that unless we reach a point where we stop emitting greenhouse gases entirely, 80 per cent of the world’s species will become extinct, and human civilization as we know it will be destroyed, by the end of this century.

  6. Andrew Weaver has a new article in The Vancouver Sun:

    In the fight over clean energy, will ‘environmentalists’ stand with science?
    By Andrew Weaver March 23, 2009

    “Switching from fossil fuels to emissions-free energy sources is not going to happen without resistance. Each new hydro and wind project is being opposed by well-meaning citizens and environmental groups not familiar with the science. Each energy conservation policy is fought bitterly by “public interest groups” demagoguing to keep energy subsidized. Each attempt to tax carbon and each law to reduce emissions draws the fossil fuel lobby into action alongside these “public interest” groups.

    The public debate has become a caricature. People complain about windmills blocking their view. Kayakers complain about seeing a transmission line on their weekend excursions. The public dialogue is riddled with outlandish and demonstrably false assertions such as windmills will devastate local bird populations or a hydro project will create more greenhouse emissions than it will displace by eliminating a coal-burning power plant. Some of the most insidious arguments attempt to slow things down: That we should do more planning, that we should do energy conservation first and build renewable energy later, that we shouldn’t do anything until China does.

    These arguments are fundamentally not serious. They come from groups and spokespeople that have simply not grappled with the math — with the scale and speed at which we must eliminate fossil fuel emissions.”

  7. Climate scientist Sues National Post for Libel

    VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA–(Marketwire – April 21, 2010) – University of Victoria Professor Andrew Weaver, the Canada Research Chair in Climate Modelling and Analysis, launched a lawsuit today in BC Supreme Court against three writers at The National Post (and the newspaper as a whole), over a series of unjustified libels based on grossly irresponsible falsehoods that have gone viral on the Internet.
    In a statement released at the same time the suit was filed, Dr. Weaver said, “I asked The National Post to do the right thing – to retract a number of recent articles that attributed to me statements I never made, accused me of things I never did, and attacked me for views I never held. To my absolute astonishment, the newspaper refused.”
    Dr. Weaver’s statement of claim not only asks for a Court injunction requiring The National Post to remove all of the false allegations from its Internet websites, but also seeks an unprecedented Court order requiring the newspaper to assist Dr. Weaver in removing the defamatory National Post articles from the many other Internet sites where they have been re-posted.
    “If I sit back and do nothing to clear my name, these libels will stay on the Internet forever. They’ll poison the factual record, misleading people who are looking for reliable scientific information about global warming,” said Weaver.
    The suit names Financial Post Editor Terence Corcoran, columnist Peter Foster, reporter Kevin Libin and National Post publisher Gordon Fisher, as well as several still-unidentified editors and copy editors. It seeks general, aggravated damages, special and exemplary damages and legal costs in relation to articles by Foster on December 9, 2009 (“Weaver’s Web”), Corcoran on December 10, 2009 (“Weaver’s Web II”) and January 27, 2010 (“Climate Agency going up in flames”), and Libin on February 2, 2010 (“So much for pure science”).
    The Statement of Claim was filed April 20, 2010 at the BC Supreme Court Registry at the Vancouver Courthouse: Weaver v Corcoran and others, SCBC No.102698, Vancouver Registry. Court record information and documents are publicly accessible online at Court Services Online:

  8. Canadian readers should keep an eye out for Generation Us, a tiny climate change primer by University of Victoria Professor Andrew Weaver, the Canada Research Chair in Climate Modelling and Analysis.

    Subtitled The Challenge of Global Warming, Generation Us is like a climate change CliffNotes. Published by Raven Books as part of a “Rapid Reads” series, this is a short, succinct, clear and readable rendering of the science – followed by a passionate appeal for us all to move from “Generation Me” (which really seems to have outlasted its stylishness) to Generation Us, in which we start taking seriously the opportunity we have to mitigate the climate damage that we have already inflicted on future generations.

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