Climate and Human Change
Disaster or Opportunity

Jonathan Cowie (1998) xiv + 368 pp, Parthenon Books / Taylor & Francis,
ISBN 1-85070-971-8

An overview for policy-makers and members of the public with a high school-level understanding of science. It is fully referenced and so is of use as an introductory text to human-induced global warming issues for first and second year university students seeking understanding beyond their discipline


Human resource consumption is increasing and with it greenhouse gas emissions. 'Business-as-Usual' in the 21dst century will see both a growth in the global population and also in greenhouse gas emissions.   Assuming greenhouse concerns are meaningful then according to standard scenarios for the future there are some things that we can do.   Yet perceptions and the economic system impede these solutions.   However, the book's conclusions are that irrespective of whether or not greenhouse concerns are meaningful or whether or not we can completely address greenhouse concerns, adopting greenhouse measures will not be futile. Greenhouse measures confer other benefits in a World addicted to finite fossil fuel. Those who can get by without using fossil fuels will find it easier when cheap oil and gas becomes scarce. Those less reliant on fossil fuels will not be dependent on imports from politically disagreeable nations. In short, irrespective of various uncertainties and possible 'disasters', there are economic 'opportunities' to be had by adopting greenhouse policies.

2007 Note: In 2006, nearly a decade after Climate Change: Disaster or Opportunity? was published, the UK Treasury commissioned Sir Nicholas Stern to look at the economics of climate change. His report also concluded (among other things) that there were economic benefits to adopting greenhouse policies especially in a finite World where cheap oil and gas is becoming scarce and that to delay action would incur an economic cost.



Part 1: The global commons and economics.

1. The global problem

2. Environmental policy, economics and the global commons.

Part 2: Climatic and human change

3. History of the global climate

4. Climate change and global warming

5. Greenhouse fundamentals

6. Business-as-Usual

7. Alternatives

8. Efficiency plugging leaks

9. Reforestation The garden versus the greenhouse

10. Energy policy

Part 3: Economics and greenhouse perceptions

11. Freeing the green market

12. Perceptions and responses

13. Future climatic and human change


Acclaim for Climate and Human Change

"This is a thought-provoking graduate-level textbook on global problems of environmental policy and economics, global warming, reforestation, and the greenhouse effect. It goes beyond the traditional climate and biology discussions associated with the climate change debate by including broader, interdisciplinary issues concerning, for example, alternatives to business as usual policies, economics and the green market, and future climatic and human change. Part I deals with the global commons, policy, and economics. Part II covers climatic and human change, including global warming, the greenhouse effect, reforestation, and energy policy. Part III discusses economic and greenhouse perceptions, freeing the green market, and the what the future holds. Includes bibliographic references and index."

The Guardian


"The author of this new book on climate change and response has a strong commitment to both the public understanding of science and its appreciation. He seeks to explain in the simplest possible terms the many complex strand in the argument and evidence for climate change, emphasising the numerous specialist perspectives contributing to the evidence...
On one hand, it would be easy to criticise this book as containing too many arguments that are perhaps peripheral to the main concern. In contrast, its strength could equally be claimed to be in the demonstration that the argument itself depends on a wide range of disparate evidences, each providing new facets of the complexity of the ecological systems on which our fragile economic and social systems depend. Written perhaps particularly for policy makers who have no formal training in science, students, teachers as well as the general public, will find its breadth and very readable style both illuminating and refreshing. Certainly they will be introduced to questions which they may not have previously considered as being connected with the wider issues of climate change and the necessary response of the human species to that change.

International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology


"This book demonstrates the sheer complexity of many environmental issues both scientifically and politically. It will provide invaluable material for a host of tutorials and essays, and I hope, discussions in pubs, clubs and Parliament."

Journal of Biological Education


"The strengths of the book are its great breadth coupled with its depth of treatment in may areas, together with its light, readable, affable style. It is unique in covering topics that range from climatology and ecology right through to sociology and economics and in doing so with confidence and authority. It is also good to find that it does not, like so many texts, provide a simple set of answers to all questions, but presents the arguments on the basis of current opinion is established. If there is one area of science where tablets of stone are entirely inapplicable it is this one."

Dr P D Moore, Chairman of Human Environmental Sciences, King's College, London.


"The author has managed to produce a text which is very easy to read and which contains very little by way of political rhetoric or green banner waving. This is a well-argued and well-balanced hand-holding guide through the climatic social and economic dimensions of climatic change."

International Journal of Climatology


"A novel approach which deals not only with conventional economic response but also people's perceptions of global warming... The value of this text lies in the multi-disciplinary approach. Few texts approach it and even fewer acknowledge the power of perception over reality. For this reason alone it is a useful addition to the literature."

Teaching Ecology Group News - British Ecological Society