Climate Change in Pictures

Climate Change: Picturing the Science, Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wolfe, W.W. Norton.

The title of “Climate Change” implies that photographs play a leading role in this ambitious new book, which sets out to explain: what scientists know about climate change; how they came to their conclusions; and what they don’t or can’t know about what their research portends. In fact, photography takes on a supporting role, punctuating the book’s wide-ranging series of essays on this complex and controversial topic.

Climate scientist/realclimate.org co-founder Gavin Schmidt and photographer Joshua Wolfe have chosen to divide their treatment into three parts: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Possible Cures. Within the boundaries of those three subheads, each individual chapter—contributed by a different scientist, journalists or scholar—addresses a limited aspect of the climate change challenge, including everything from “reconstructing past climate” to “extreme weather.”

Taken as a whole, “Climate Change” is an impressive, informative and surprisingly accessible work, leaps and bounds ahead of the half-baked analysis consumers have come to expect from the corporate media. The photographs are equally compelling, featuring to-be-expected images of retreating glaciers and “drunken forests,” but also the kind of pictures that humanize the issue. There are shots of scientists at work in far-flung places, individuals examining storm-savaged abodes, and my personal favorite—a Dutch couple standing in front of their floating home in Maasbommel, Netherlands. As if you couldn’t guess, not everyone expects the climate change story to have a happy ending.