GREENHOUSE by Gale E. Christianson


The 200-Year Story of Global Warming
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At least half this book is fascinating history of technology—the birth and growth of the Industrial Revolution; the second half describes what that portends in terms of global warming. Christianson is a historian (Indiana State Univ.) who has written biographies of Newton, Hubble, and Loren Eiseley, and clearly has a scholar’s eye for depth and detail. His story begins with the mathematician Fourier, whose studies of heat diffusion led to the idea that gases in the earth’s atmosphere trapped sunlight and re-radiated it back to the earth as heat. Next are 19th- century tales of the soot and blackening of the skies over English cities as coal replaced wood in homes and factories—and mutant moths with black wings replaced their spotted forebears on blackened tree trunks. Coal mining, iron and steel works, the coming of the railroads, the discovery of oil, the automobile age. . . . Each new development is neatly captured in fine style, with sketches of colorful personalities. The sky begins to fall in the second half, where Christianson lays out chapter and verse on the increasing load of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the chlorofluorocarbon-ozone hole story, deforestation and droughts, rain forest loss, the evidence from ice core bores, and more. International agreements to control emissions and pollution are fought out between the have and have-not nations, resulting in only modest gains and the dim prospect that countries like China and India will not comply. On the other hand, Christianson and others acknowledge that climate and weather are notoriously complex to model, so maybe we don’t have all the answers yet. That said, the book ends on an ominous note: recent studies indicate that “the average global temperature has increased by 1.8 degrees over the past five centuries. And about 80 percent of the warming has occurred since 1750.” One can only conclude that Christianson’s case for global warming should be read as global warning. (30 illustrations)

Pub Date: May 15th, 1999
ISBN: 0-8027-1346-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Walker
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999


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