Monday, April 07, 2008

Chris Mooney's "Storm World"

If you're perplexed by the conflict over global warming, wondering how to decide who to believe, or wondering how "the other guys" can be so earnestly stupid, you might find some food for thought in Chris Mooney's book, Storm World.

If you're thinking, aha, Mooney, that's the guy who wrote The Republican War on Science, so that's where Laura's coming from - think again. I haven't read that book and probably won't, since I have very little faith in politicians of any stripe, either as people to rely on or as people to blame. I have my own work to do, walking the walk.

I recommend Storm World not as support for a position, but as context for thinking about positions regarding global warming. Mooney does an admirable (and surprisingly entertaining) job of chronicling the scientific debate around hurricane formation, hurricane intensity, and how global warming could influence hurricanes. Without hiding his own opinions, he illuminates the perspectives of numerous hurricane researchers and the way those perspectives have changed through time with ongoing research and debate. Although he disagrees with Bill Gray, he is refreshingly sympathetic towards this prominent hurricane scientist, who has devoted his retirement to convincing people that there is no global warming-hurricane connection. Mooney is also refreshingly critical of environmental activists making claims that are not supported by current hurricane research.

Overall, Mooney reveals that much of the actual discussion among scientists is not nearly so polarized or conclusive as media coverage suggests. More importantly, he takes us inside the research processes of actual scientists and shows how their quite different perspectives legitimately emerge from their work. This book may not make you any more certain about who to believe. In fact, it may well make you less certain, and that could be a good thing.

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