Theories and opinions about climate change abound – from those claiming that human-induced climate change is already beyond control to those who express scepticism about the real extent of these changes. How should we weigh up the scientific evidence, and what role does climate change play in the history of the Earth?
In this comprehensive history of the climate and climate change, Antonello Provenzale explains how the planetary climate system works and how the climate has evolved over millions of years. Starting from the catastrophic events that marked the early history of the Earth, including seas of magma, global glaciations and mass extinctions, he shows that the climate has fluctuated between hot and cold periods: at certain times, the Earth was hot and lush with forests, while at others it was almost entirely covered by a thick layer of ice. The mechanisms that determine the modifications of the climate are multiple and complex and include external factors, such as solar luminosity and variations in the Earth's orbit, as well as internal processes connecting the atmosphere, the oceans, the crust, the mantle and the biosphere, which comprises living organisms.
While the climate has fluctuated a great deal in the long history of the Earth, there are two features of our current situation that are a source of real concern. First, the rise in temperature of the last 50 years has been extremely fast, making it difficult for the environment to adapt to the new conditions. Second, the human population is much greater than it was in the past, and this population needs water, food, energy and shelter to survive. If temperatures continue to rise as they have in recent decades, ours will not be an easy world in which to live. To appreciate what is at stake we need to understand how the climate works and how human activity is affecting it – not in order to save the planet, which will do just fine on its own and probably better without us, but to save ourselves.
1. From the Ocean of Magma to the Great Oxygenation
2. A World of Fire and Ice
3. Light Reflected, Light Re-radiated
4. The Explosion that Changed the World
5. Between Catastrophes and Opportunities
6. The Living Planet
7. Winds Up High and Currents in the Deep
8. The Big Heat
9. Rain, Snow and Clouds: The Planetary Water Cycle
10. The Planet Cools
11. The Breath of the Ice
12. Agitated Ice
13. Conquering the Planet
14. The Age of Humanity
15. Global Warming
16. Arctic Sentinels
17. The Mountain Heat
18. Digital Twins
19. Knowing in Order to Anticipate, Anticipating in Order to Act
Conclusion: The Journey Continues
Antonello Provenzale is the Director of the Institute of Geosciences and Earth Resources at the National Research Council of Italy.
"This is a masterly review of the climate crisis from a richly detailed and widely varied point of view. Provenzale, in a clear and thorough fashion, brings the reader through the physical, chemical, biological, social and political aspects of the problem confronting the human race. The author goes deeply into an explanatory tour de force while outlining the challenges that our species faces that must be met if we are to survive, let alone flourish. It is a book that should be read by everyone concerned about our future and the future of our descendants."
– Joseph Pedlosky, Scientist Emeritus, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
"In this lively exposition of Earth's history, Antonello Provenzale covers the facts of climate change over the age of the Earth, along with explanations of these facts that are both solid and easily understandable. A particularly important feature of the book is that it clearly distinguishes between internal factors that drive the climate's natural variability and external ones, like the recent anthropogenic change in atmospheric composition, which modify this natural variability and could rapidly push the climate to extremes that lie well outside humanity's comfort zone. The latter dangers are given sober and convincing consideration."
– Michael Ghil, École Normale Supérieure, Paris, and University of California, Los Angeles