Dire Predictions: Unique, and Uniquely Illustrated Addition to Climate Science Communications

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Climatologist Michael E. Mann might be forgiven for having wondered if yet another book on global climate change was warranted. Whether yet another global warming book could make a significant contribution to the field, could be different from the many – and many of them excellent – that preceded it.

In fact, Mann and co-author and Penn State colleague Lee R. Kump had just such reservations when they were approached by DK Publishing, Inc., part of Pearson Education. It didn’t hurt that Mann recognized the publishing company as the publisher of some of his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter’s books. He was challenged too by the notion of taking what he calls the “somewhat inhospitable concepts” of climate change and bringing them to a broader lay audience through a collaborative partnership with the publisher.

DK’s book publishing reputation as “information architects” also came into play, and the final product – Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming – The Illustrated Guide to the Findings of the IPCC – clearly stands apart from most of its black-type-on-white-paper predecessors.

Mann, one of the principals behind Realclimate.org and the single scientist most closely identified with the well-known “hockey stick” data, is no stranger to communicating climate science information far beyond merely the pages of stodgy peer-reviewed academic journals. With the 208-page chock-full-of-fascinating-graphics paperback, he and Kump have opened a valuable new vista on climate change learning and science education.

It won’t take long for even the most casual reader to see that this book is unlike most any other dealing with climate science. Or, for that matter, dealing with practically any other serious issue.

Practically every page spread – all, that is, save for the one-page “About the Authors” and the 10 pages of glossary, index, picture credits, and acknowledgements – is studded with stunning and informative graphics and illustrations. Hear that? Repeat: Stunning and informative.

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A challenge for some readers may lie in deciding which to do first – read the words or study the images and graphics on each page spread. Either way, information and understanding lie just ahead.

Think you already know quite a bit about climate change science? Go ahead. Pick it up, and learn more. As an amazon.com reviewer from Portland, Or., wrote: “I’ve read hundreds of books and articles and papers on climate change, and yet I still learn things from nearly every page in the book, no matter where in it I start.”

Newer to the subject and looking for an accessible read to come up to speed without having to first earn your doctorate? Here’s the take of another amazon.com reviewer, this one writing from Lewisburg, Pa.:

“If you’re like me, you’ve longed for a user-friendly book to both clarify your own thoughts about global warming and to recommend to those acquaintances, friends, relatives, and colleagues who are either indifferent to climate change or think it’s a bunch of tree-hugging hooey. Believe me, Dire Predictions is the book we’ve been waiting for. I rarely gush in the reviews I write. But I’m gushing in this one.”

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The Mann/Kump book is divided into five major sections, each of course brightly color-coded for easy tabbing in keeping with the overall layout: Climate Change Basics, Climate Change Projections, The Impacts of Climate Change, Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change, and Solving Global Warming.

They address most issues under those chapter titles in a single two-page spread, at times inevitably having to make the tough call on withholding excruciating scientific detail in favor of providing an accessible read for a broad audience.

In a phone interview, Mann said no significant errors have been identified in the book, just a handful of “technically speaking” nits he and Kump expect to address in an eventual second printing. For instance, Mann said, he hopes a second printing will include a suitable graphic to illustrate the connection between carbon dioxide emissions and concentrations in the atmosphere.

Mann acknowledged in the phone interview that the book’s outstanding graphics, in many cases lying under the text, in a few places can slow down the reading. He said too that he wishes the front cover were less inclined to dog-ear … all the better for its being the coffee table addition in some households.

That notwithstanding, Mann said the book so far has exceeded his, his co-author’s, and the publisher’s expectations. And he says he doesn’t regret having to tone down some of the scientific gravitas for the sake of readability and understanding by the lay audience it targets.

For journalists wanting a valuable book shelf addition to their climate change references, for climate science teachers, and for climate scientists and other scientists wanting an outstanding and unique example of effective science communications, Dire Predictions (ISBN 978-0-7566-3995-2), available online from amazon.com for $16.50, is a real bargain. And also – as politicians say and scientists should – “it’s the real thing.” (As a matter of fact, it would make a great stocking stuffer for your favorite relative or your favorite editor or elected official.)

Just don’t forget to enjoy both the narrative and the illustrations. Together, they make Dire Predictions a compelling package and a must-read.

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is editor of The Yale Forum (E-mail: bud@yaleclimatemediaforum.org).
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