Skip to main content

Images from a Warming Planet - Ashley Cooper ****

I'm not a big fan of coffee table books - and this is certainly big and heavy enough to make a coffee table from if you attached legs (I certainly wouldn't fancy reading it in bed) - but Ashley Cooper's 495 photographs covering the impact of climate change, fossil fuel energy generation and renewables are absolutely stunning - crisp, large scale, extremely colourful and putting across a message that is sometimes hard to convey in words. Whether Cooper is showing oil refineries and damaged landscapes or homes battered by storms and decaying after drought, these are dramatic images.

In his foreword, Jonathon Porritt says 'do not allow the power of the images come between you and the people' - emphasising that it's not enough to record what's happening, but rather we should this kind of thing as a call to arms. My only concern here is that there's an awful lot of 'isn't this terrible' scenes and some nice images of the small scale 'good stuff' - but not enough suggestive of how we get from here to there. For example, there's a section on renewables which has a number of visually striking wind farms, but not much in the way of the more important solar farms - and no mention of the huge need to develop better storage (which often feels a bit too hard-tech to be truly green) because most renewables are not consistent in their output.

From a scientific viewpoint, I would have liked to have seen more restraint in the assumptions of causality. We are presented with the impact of storms, for example, as if they are definitively the result of climate change. Scientists would always temper the assertion, because there have always been devastating storms. We can say with a high probability that storms are more frequent as a result of climate change, but we can't say that a particular storm was caused by it. There's also an amusing little scientific contradiction on a page that comments about Iceland getting 30% of its energy from geothermal and also carries a picture of the Sun saying 'Ultimately all the Earth's energy comes from the Sun' - it certainly mostly does, but there are exceptions, notably nuclear (which only gets a passing dismissal later on) and geothermal.

So there may be rather too much of an 'isn't this terrible' message accompanied by over-simplistic solutions - but this shouldn't get in the way of these stunning images and the job I hope they can do in persuading some of the undecided on climate change. If the pictures get the message that we need to do something across to their viewership (somehow, readership doesn't work) and they then look elsewhere for those solutions, then at least the images are doing their job. And despite Mr Porritt's concerns, I don't think we should underplay the power of the photography. It's a great book visually and I'm delighted to have had a chance to get a good look at it.

The best place to get the book is the author's website: www.imagesfromawarmingplanet.net

Hardback:  


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Demon in the Machine - Paul Davies *****

Physicists have a habit of dabbling in biology and, perhaps surprisingly, biologists tend to be quite tolerant of it. (I find it hard to believe the reverse would be true if biologists tried to do physics.) Perhaps one reason for that tolerance is Schrödinger’s lecture series and book What is Life?, which had a huge impact on molecular biology and with a reference to which, not surprisingly, Paul Davies begins his fascinating book. 

At the heart of the The Demon in the Machine (we'll come back to that demon in a moment) is the relationship between life and information. In essence, Davies points out that if we try to reduce life to its simple physical components it is like trying to work with a computer that has no software. The equivalent of software here is information, not just in the best publicised aspect of the information stored in the DNA, but on a far broader scale, operating in networks across the organism.
This information and its processing gives life its emergent compl…

The Cosmic Mystery Tour – Nicholas Mee ****

This is another book, like last year’s Enjoy Our Universe by Alvaro de Rújula, that sets out to provide a light-hearted introduction to physics and astrophysics for the general reader. It’s from the same publisher (OUP) and packaged in the same way: as a high quality small-format hardback with 200 glossy pages, the majority of them adorned with colour pictures. But that’s where the resemblance ends. Unlike its predecessor, this new book by Nicholas Mee delivers exactly what it promises.

It’s not that de Rújula’s book was a bad one, but he just wasn’t able to think his way into the reader’s mind. He kept saying ‘physics is fun’, but he was talking about the fun a professional physicist gets out of doing it – which is a very arcane, often highly mathematical, type of fun. The result, for a non-specialist reader, was actually quite alienating. Mee, on the other hand, understands exactly how his readers think, what they find interesting, and the details that – no matter how important they …

Professor Maxwell's Duplicitous Demon - Brian Clegg ****

‘It’s not uncommon when trying to give Maxwell his rightful place in the pantheon of physics to bracket him with Newton and Einstein’, Brian Clegg says towards the end of this book. In one sense that’s perfectly true. Dip into any physics textbook and you’ll see Maxwell’s name at least as often as the other two. His greatest achievement – Maxwell’s equations – did for electromagnetism what Newton had done for gravity, while laying the essential theoretical groundwork for everything Einstein was to do.

There’s a big difference, though. A few years ago, when I was offered the chance to write short biographies of Newton and Einstein, I jumped at it – because they addressed mysteries of the universe that anyone can relate to, and their lives outside physics were, if anything, even more fascinating. At the risk of sounding downright rude, you can’t say either of those things about James Clerk Maxwell. In spite of that, Brian Clegg has done a wonderful job here of recounting just what Maxwel…