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Book Global Catastrophes: A Very Short Introduction by McGuire Bill (2009-10-18)


Global Catastrophes: A Very Short Introduction by McGuire Bill (2009-10-18)

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  • OUP Oxford (26 Jan. 2006) (1600)
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Review Text

  • By The Wanderer on April 21, 2008

    The Very Short Introduction series by Oxford University Press has a good reputation for presenting challenging subjects in an easily accessible manner. "Global Catastrophes" by Bill McGuire is one of its very best examples. Originally published in 2002 as "A Guide to the End of the World", it has since been updated to include events as recent as 2005, with a new preface as well as a fully revised text and bibliography.The book deals exclusively with environmental phenomena rather than man-made, technological disasters. In each chapter McGuire explores the evidence for - as well as the likely effects of - of different catastrophes that could, in the near future, put an end to human civilisation, namely global warming, a new ice age, supervolanoes and other tectonic hazards, and lastly asteroidal impact. His mastery of the material is clear, and at every stage he is careful to back up his arguments with facts and figures drawn from scientific studies and computer models. At the same time his style is conversational and makes on the whole for easy reading, although occasionally the analogies he chooses tend to confuse rather than illuminate.The opening chapter on global warming is the book's tour de force - as well as probably the most relevant for the reader today - providing a succinct summary of the main issues and sources of contention. McGuire pulls no punches, making it clear just how unprecedented is the effect that human industrial activity is having on the global climate, and how our planet is hotter now than it has been for 90% of its history. For any sceptics of climate change, or of its future implications for our civilisation, this will be a potent wake-up call. In complete contrast, the next chapter explores the counter-intuitive (yet nevertheless scientifically plausible) theory that rising global temperatures could in fact trigger a rapid freeze and a return to Ice Age conditions. But regardless of whether we are set for global warming or global cooling, McGuire demonstrates why this is an especially bad period in geological time for us to be experimenting with our atmosphere and climate.The third chapter - on supervolcanoes and other tectonic events - is similarly well-argued, as one might expect from a Professor of Vulcanology at University College London. One disappointment, however, is the short treatment afforded to the topic of flood basalt eruptions, in particular the Deccan Trap event, which is now thought to have been a contributing factor in the decline and extinction of the dinosaurs. A significant amount of research is now being conducted into these events, which could have been explored further. Finally, McGuire's discussion of potential extinction-level asteroidal impact is both balanced and considered, stressing the catastrophic effect this would have while also underlining the unlikelihood of such an event occurring in the near future.The book includes 20 images and diagrams, serving to illustrate and reinforce McGuire's points, as well as 2 appendices, summarising the relative frequency of the various threats and plotting the most significant on a geological timescale. The bibliography is thorough, divided according to the relevant chapters, and runs to no less than 65 titles, making this book an excellent platform for exploring the subject further.All in all, "Global Catastrophes: A Very Short Introduction" is an excellent overview of what is a difficult, unsettling and sometimes contentious subject, and a book that I can highly recommend.

  • By Dr. P. R. Lewis on June 11, 2012

    McGuire is a new breed of ivory tower academic, who seems to ignore the truth even when presented to him on a plate. This small book exaggerates and spins up natural disasters like earthquakes, volcanos and hurricanes etc like no-one else. He selects a few examples from the long past of the earth to conjure up a doom-laden future which bears little relation to the concrete reality. The UK is in no more danger today than yesterday from such disasters, and the areas of the world where they do occur and recur are well known by now both to the inhabitants and the insurers. He is at his most mendacious when pontificating about AGW, the theory that global warming is occurring and that it is man-made. He calls any scientists among the large and growing band of scientists who dare question the theory as "maverick" or in the pay of large oil companies, but yet they are proving to be correct in their assessment of the real situation. This missionary zeal from a geologist ill becomes him, especially now after the Climategate scandal, and the many revelations of the dirty tricks waged by a small group of activists such as Michael Mann and Phil Jones. He refers to the infamous hockey stick graph of Mann despite the fact that this graph was spun by manipulating the evidence to eliminate the Medieval Warm period and the Little Ice age from the record, and despite the solid historic evidence for both periods. Who does he think he is kidding? The earth is now in a cooling phase and few if any of the IPCC dire predictions have occurred. Hurricanes have neither increased in frequency or intensity in the last decades, for example, and the sea level has risen little if at all over the same timescale. McGuire has done a great disservice to popular science writing with this biased and fantastic diatribe. If any reader wants to read unbiased and neutral accounts of climate science, then they could do no better than the book by Robert Carter Climate: The Counter-Consensus - A Palaeoclimatologist Speaks (Independent Minds) or the detailed analysis by Ian Plimer Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Science.

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