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The Atlas of Climate Change. Mapping the World’s Greatest Challenge

by Kirstin Dow and Thomas E. Downing
University of California Press, Berkeley, 2006
112 pp., illus. col.
ISBN: 0-520-25023-0.

Reviewed by Stefaan Van Ryssen
Hogeschool Gent


Visualising climate change is an ambitious undertaking. Numerous interlocking processes are involved and causes and effects are often engaged in dynamic feedback loops. For practically every aspect, an animated simulation might do the trick very well, as data are constantly changing and static representations are sometimes difficult to read. Anyway, Kirstin Dow and Thomas Downing chose to compile a state-of-the art atlas instead, and with success. Doubtlessly, they will have to revise this volume every two years or so, or even sooner, as more research is done and better models are developed every other day. But even if this book will age quickly, it has more merits than shortcomings.

The atlas is organised in seven logically ordered chapters, from the earliest signs like glacial retreat and polar changes to expected consequences and possible policies. Each chapter offers a number of thoroughly commented maps, images and graphics to illustrate the relevant topics. Sometimes, like on the topic of ‘cultural losses’, an interesting and wide-ranging selection is made, without any pretence of exhaustivity. Most topics are dealt with in a single spread, with some text, a map and some statistic data. References and detailed data are given in annexes, so as not to overload the page. But the data are as recent as one might expect for a book of this kind and the science is rigorous as well as intelligibly explained.

On certain topics, the authors have chosen to stick to facts rather than take sides with one or the other party. For example, on the page on International Action where the Kyoto countries are shown, the caption reads ‘Most countries have acknowledged the problem of climate change by signing the Convention on Climate Change’ (p. 71). And the comment adds: ‘The USA and Australia have signed the Convention but not the [Kyoto] Protocol, creating uncertainty around the next steps.’ (p.70) Surely this is a very diplomatic statement. Moreover, there is neither mention of the dissent within the named countries nor a hint of a political analysis as to why they haven’t signed the Protocol.

Educators, activists and everyone concerned with the subject (not to mention anyone who simply likes maps) may want to acquire this book and add the numerous references to websites and other resources to their list of bookmarks.



Updated 1st June 2007

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