An entertaining pop-science examination of yet another part of the world we take for granted.
Pollack (Geophysics/Univ. of Michigan; Uncertain Science…Uncertain World, 2003), who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, delivers a lucid review of ice’s unique qualities, its role in geological and human history and why it’s disappearing from Earth’s glaciers and polar regions. Ice forms the planet’s second largest reservoir of water. The ocean contains 96 percent, while ice contains a little more than three percent. This may sound trivial, but if all of today’s ice melted, the oceans would rise 250 feet. Unfortunately, writes Pollack, this is already happening at an alarming rate. Although the media rightly blame the greenhouse effect, the implication that it’s a new phenomenon is incorrect. In fact, life would never have arisen without it—99 percent of atmospheric gases (nitrogen and oxygen) allow sunlight to pass in and out. If no other gas existed, the earth would be 70 degrees colder and frozen solid. Luckily, for billions of years, tiny amounts of “greenhouse gases”—today mostly carbon dioxide—absorb some reflected sunlight and warm the planet. Natural processes such as volcano eruptions, erosion and photosynthesis have varied the concentration of greenhouse gases and thus the earth’s climate. Pollack asserts that human activity—burning fossil fuels, clearing forests, agribusiness—became the principle source of greenhouse gases 50 years ago, pushing levels to the highest in recorded history, with no end in sight. Without drastic action, he says, the consequences, even beyond the threat of drastically rising sea levels, will be dire: “more severe droughts, increasingly violent storms, the spread of disease, the loss of crops, disappearing wildlife and politically destabilizing tides of climate refugees.”
A clear, engaging review of a disturbing environmental pattern.