Book web site: http://www.aip.org/history/climate/
Weart, Spencer R.
Harvard University Press 2003
Date finished: 2005-12-12
This book was recommended as a good starting point by a RealClimate.org post, and it certainly deserves the recommendation. In just over 200 pages of straightforward, dryish text Weart goes over the history of global warming, from Svante Arrhenius's formulation of the idea in 1896 up to the present day.
In the first half of the 20th century, scientists became interested in the question of climate. Had Earth's climate remained the same over time? What caused it to change? Examination of ice cores showed that climate has varied wildly in the past, and trapped air bubbles have given readings of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Subtler analyses based on relative isotope abundances provide confirmation of these results and also provide a measurement of temperature. Computer models have grown increasingly sophisticated over time, and these enhancements have improved the results. Once models produce runaway heating or cooling, but modern simulations produce climate results that resemble Earth's actual climate. It's unclear if even current models can really predict what will happen to climate under the influence of increased carbon dioxide, so we really are moving into unknown territory.
A book like this is a useful corrective to people who claim that climate change is "junk science" because no one has considered volcanos, or water vapour, or some other factor. In fact, along the way many, many different ideas have been considered and a number of different disciplines begin to converge to similar conclusions. You have to read a somewhat detailed account of the history to appreciate that, and this book succeeds admirably. Highly recommended if you have an interest in this topic (and you should).
Also, check out the accompanying web site for the book at http://www.aip.org/history/climate/. It's a set of disconnected essays instead of a single narrative like this book, but the site is even larger than the book.
%T The Discovery of Global Warming %A Weart, Spencer R. %U http://www.aip.org/history/climate/ %K meteorology %* * %G ISBN 0-674-01157-0 %P 228pp %I Harvard University Press %D 2003 %@ 2005-12-12