Skip to main content

The Rising Sea – Orrin H. Pilkey and Rob Young ****

In the 21st Century, rising global sea levels caused by human induced global warming will more than likely make many island nations and coastal areas around the world uninhabitable, will destroy important ecosystems, and will leave some of our major cities incredibly vulnerable to flooding, storm surges and infrastructure destruction. Yet, as geologists Orrin H. Pilkey and Rob Young explain in The Rising Sea, the general public is not aware of the seriousness and extent of these problems, and governments are ill prepared to deal with the challenges ahead. The aim of the book is to do something about this, and to provide the facts we need in order to cope with the consequences of sea level rise.
After first covering the causes of sea level rise and how we measure current sea levels, the book goes over how we project future rises and how significant these are likely to be. Here, Pilkey and Young sensibly acknowledge the difficulties in making predictions: for instance, carbon dioxide emissions over the coming years, which will help drive sea level rise, are unknown. But the trends we can find from looking at tide gauge data and satellite data are clear, the authors argue, and they conclude that we should work on the assumption that the mean tide level will have risen seven feet by the year 2100.
Later, the book moves on to what will happen as a result of this rise and what we need to do in response. It suggests, for instance, ways to better manage coastal wetlands so that marshes and mangroves, home to many species, are able to move in response to changes in water levels and salinity. And it argues we need to be more realistic about what we can do to prevent shoreline erosion and that we should accept that many communities at risk will need to be relocated. Mentioned in some detail is Carteret Atoll in the Pacific, a group of islands whose residents began to be evacuated in 1989; the authors rightly emphasise here that people are already having to leave their homelands as a result of sea level rise, and that this is not just a possible scenario for the future.
What struck me whilst reading the book was how often even concerned scientists seem to have underestimated the extent to which sea levels are likely to rise. For instance, as the book explains, in its 2007 fourth assessment report the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did not fully consider the contributions to sea level rise of the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. And some global change researchers have assumed that sea levels will rise at a steady rate over the coming years, even though it is probable that the rate is likely to increase. This is very worrying, and anyone who believes scientists tend to over-exaggerate the dangers we face from global warming should read this.
Throughout the book, Pilkey and Young make their points in clear language and draw on a large amount of research to support what they are saying; by the end, it is difficult not to be convinced of the book’s arguments. And because we hear first hand from some of the communities most at risk from rising sea levels – like, for example, the people of Shishmaref, a shoreline village just south of the Arctic circle, where the authors visited – the need to act now on behalf of these communities is made plain.
It’s difficult to find much wrong with the book, and it generally succeeds in what it intends to do. There is one small point, however. In a chapter entitled A Sea of Denial, we are told to ‘ignore declarations from non-scientists’ about sea level rise and climate change and to get our information from trustworthy sources like, among other places, the journals Science and Nature. I would have preferred it if the book encouraged us only to be sceptical of what we’re told from non-specialists, and there are some good journalists – like Mark Lynas in the UK, for instance – who know their stuff.
Overall, though, the book does a much needed job of speaking up about a very important issue. I hope policymakers begin to take the book’s advice sooner rather than later.

Hardback:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Matt Chorley

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Models of the Mind - Grace Lindsay *****

This is a remarkable book. When Ernest Rutherford made his infamous remark about science being either physics or stamp collecting, it was, of course, an exaggeration. Yet it was based on a point - biology in particular was primarily about collecting information on what happened rather than explaining at a fundamental level why it happened. This book shows how biologists, in collaboration with physicists, mathematicians and computer scientists, have moved on the science of the brain to model some of its underlying mechanisms. Grace Lindsay is careful to emphasise the very real difference between physical and biological problems. Most systems studied by physics are a lot simpler than biological systems, making it easier to make effective mathematical and computational models. But despite this, huge progress has been made drawing on tools and techniques developed for physics and computing to get a better picture of the mechanisms of the brain. In the book we see this from two directions

The Ten Equations that Rule the World - David Sumpter ****

David Sumpter makes it clear in this book that a couple of handfuls of equations have a huge influence on our everyday lives. I needed an equation too to give this book a star rating - I’ve never had one where there was such a divergence of feeling about it. I wanted to give it five stars for the exposition of the power and importance of these equations and just two stars for an aspect of the way that Sumpter did it. The fact that the outcome of applying my star balancing equation was four stars emphasises how good the content is. What we have here is ten key equations from applied mathematics. (Strictly, nine, as the tenth isn’t really an equation, it’s the programmer’s favourite ‘If… then…’ - though as a programmer I was always more an ‘If… then… else…’ fan.) Those equations range from the magnificent one behind Bayesian statistics and the predictive power of logistic regression to the method of determining confidence intervals and the kind of influencer matrix so beloved of social m

How to Read Numbers - Tom Chivers and David Chivers *****

This is one of my favourite kinds of book - it takes on the way statistics are presented to us, points out flaws and pitfalls, and gives clear guidance on how to do it better. The Chivers brothers' book isn't particularly new in doing this - for example, Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot did something similar in the excellent 2007 title The Tiger that Isn't - but it's good to have an up-to-date take on the subject, and How to Read Numbers gives us both some excellent new examples and highlights errors that are more common now. The relatively slim title (and that's a good thing) takes the reader through a whole host of things that can go wrong. So, for example, they explore the dangers of anecdotal evidence, tell of study samples that are too small or badly selected, explore the easily misunderstood meaning of 'statistical significance', consider confounders, effect size, absolute versus relative risk, rankings, cherry picking and more. This is all done i