By Sarah-Jane O'Connor 22/01/2016 4


Anyone who was paying attention to global temperatures in 2015 probably knew what was coming on Thursday morning.

Yep, 2015 was the hottest year since modern records began in 1880. Though the latter part of the year was boosted by El Niño, 2015 continued a trend of record-breaking temperatures, with 15 of the 16 hottest years occurring since 2001.

At the start her book Towards a warmer world: what climate change will mean for New Zealand’s future science journalist Veronika Meduna called it:

The year 2014 was the hottest on record since we’ve begun collecting global temperature measurements in 1880, but the generations alive in 2100 won’t remember that. Even at its midway point, 2015 was already promising to take over this dubious record, and there will be many years between our time and theirs that will supersede it. In fact, from the perspective of the end of this century, the record-warm years we live in now will look extremely cold.

From her years of reporting – you probably know her through Radio New Zealand’s Our Changing World – Meduna has a lovely touch when writing about complex topics in an accessible way.

Towards a warmer world is a quick read, clocking in at less than 80 pages (sans references): it reads more like a long essay than a book. Without in-text citations or footnotes, the text flows well – though that style perhaps won’t suit those who prefer to see citation information immediately.

But Towards a warmer world isn’t the book for those wanting to delve deep into the science of climate change. It’s a good place to start though, with Meduna giving a clear and readable overview of the key points. She discusses the weather we saw in June 2015 – storms, floods, some of the highest June rainfalls recorded in various New Zealand towns – and how a warming atmosphere likely contributed.

She talks to New Zealand scientists, including some of the big names like James Renwick and Tim Naish about their research, but also about the implications of a warming world that are becoming more apparent.

It’s been a slow trend to move away from an emphasis on “global warming” – and all the jokes about warmer weather sounding like a good thing – to the broader implications of what a warm atmosphere will bring: higher sea levels, more frequent and intense storms, shifting species boundaries and so forth.

That’s one of the strengths of Meduna’s book. She narrows the complex, sometimes confusing, climate science down to what it will mean for us. What changes will New Zealand see in the coming century and what ought we be preparing for.

And that isn’t just limited to sea level rise (though that is an important effect for New Zealand, our coastline is the tenth largest in the world); Meduna covers agricultural and horticultural issues, conservation, the possibility for increased wildfires and the potential for pest species to expand their range.

If climate science and the implications of climate change seem overwhelming, this would be a good place to start with plenty of further reading recommended at the end.

Towards a Warmer World: what climate change will be for New Zealand’s future, Veronika Meduna, BWB Texts.

Featured image: Hoffellsjökull Glacier – Iceland, Flickr CC, Cheryl Strahl.


4 Responses to “Book review: Towards a Warmer World”

  • There are several very questionable claims and assumptions associated with all this alarmist climate change stuff. For one thing, the link between increasing global average temperatures and sea level rise is tenuous at best. Should we be directly tracking sea level rise, rather than inferring it from tracking global average temperatures? There ought to already be a measurable increase in the former (sea level rise) if it is really correlated with the latter (rise in global average temperature). So what is the current rate of sea level rise, and how long will it take (at that rate) to become a problem?

  • Stephen –

    With the caveat that this isn’t my area:

    A few moments on google (‘measuring global sea level rise’) show that people are directly measuring sea level rise using core samples, tide gauge readings, and satellite measurements, as shown on a number of sites.

    Here’s one interactive site for tide data: e.g. http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/sltrends/sltrends.html (Zoom out or move to get the rest of the world. USA sites often start focus on North America…! Perhaps a sociologist can talk about that?!)

    and another from satellite data: http://www.star.nesdis.noaa.gov/sod/lsa/SeaLevelRise/slr/mssh_2014-1993_300.png

    As I was saying this isn’t my area. It looks as if they have to factor in land movements in the case of tide data (including earth rebound from glacier melts and movements from large earthquakes) and I imagine the effects of large ocean currents (and perhaps the rotation of the earth?) for the satellite data.

    (Also, as Alison alluded earlier, if the laws of physics and physical chemistry are available, you might as well use them. We know sea water expands if it’s heated, and by how much; try googling ‘expansion of seawater with temperature’.)

    The satellite data is pretty interesting stuff. I looked into it briefly as they show the detailed land movements, up and down, around Christchurch after the earthquakes – http://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/2011/03/08/christchurch-lyttelton-earthquake-ground-movement-captured-by-satellite-imagery/

    I can’t help you with the forward projections, but I imagine a little searching will find something on that. (I know there are interactive sites showing estimated sea level heights, no idea how they relate to the current science.)

  • Thanks for the comments, Grant. I am still somewhat astonished, however, given the amount of alarmist reports linking global warming with sea-level rise, that we are having to scratch around for any real data to back up this purported link! Such data is crucial to the argument! And I’m sorry, but although I’m no expert, I find it almost laughable that a few degrees (average) warming of sea water could raise the sea level by way of thermal expansion! A lot also depends on the relative rates of polar ice melting vs. polar seas freezing. A rise in average temperature isn’t going to have a significant effect if the magnitude of temperature fluctuation is high and ice melts slowly but polar seas freeze quickly. I don’t know if that is the case, but it illustrates the many possible confounding variables. I very much doubt that it is as simple as sea level rise corresponding directly to global average temperature.

  • You think that Stephen already knows all this stuff, that he just happens to be a casual reader who stumbled over this topic. His use of “alarmist” clearly indicates where he comes from.

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