Monday, June 14, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Global Warming

Global Warming 
 Nonfiction Bummer!

As librarians know, children who enjoy nonfiction often identify their choices as "true" books.

Global Warming by Seymour Simon.  HarperCollins, 2010

Seymour Simon's books are beloved.  I can personally attest to the popularity of Lightning, Tornadoes, Sharks and Storms. The bindings of my library copies were loose and the page edges were softened from many turnings. The imprimatur of the Smithsonian Institution now gives his books additional authority.

Alas, I suspect this title has fallen victim to the Pluto Effect.  When Pluto lost its planet status, libraries had to scramble to update their space/planet collections. In the meantime, did the Pluto books get chucked-out?  It was still a dwarf planet. The information in the books was still accurate in many ways.  It was just the conclusion that Pluto was a planet that was the issue.  Was it enough to put up disclaimers until new material could be acquired?

Similarly, late in 2009, when data gathering problems and accusations of data loss, fabrication and manipulation at the  National Climatic Data Center  and  British University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit,  were revealed, seemingly de facto conclusions about the Earth's climate were called into question.  Even the vaunted IPCC had to apologize  for "misrepresenting" Himalayan glacier-melting data.  

The publishing cycle is long.  The folks at HarperCollins could not have foreseen Climategate.

Global warning
Simon addresses the issue of global warming by presenting the concept and outlining the possible causes.  He writes, "In 2007, a report by 2,500 scientists from 130 countries concluded that humans are responsible for much of the current warming."   

I checked the back for a 'works cited' or 'references' but the citation to this "2007 report" was not included.
Which report?
Who issued it?
I assume he is referring to the IPPC's 2007 report that won them a Nobel prize?  This book is an introduction to the subject.  Could he have not at least included the title of the report?
We teach kids to ALWAYS cite a direct reference. To not do that here is bad modeling.

Simon's writing style is always straight forward and engaging.   He explains the terminology well and presents a good overview of different sources of greenhouse gases and summarizes why scientists believe they are affecting the  climate.

Breathtaking photos of adorable polar bear families are featured inside the book and on the cover.  These animals have certainly become the poster child-animal for all global warming books.   They must have a deal with the WWF that no book on this subject can be published without their faces on the cover. 

The use of photographs is a Seymour Simon trademark.  In this title the photos are used to illustrate "concepts" of flooding, drought, air pollution etc. but slip towards reportage of Simon's speculations.

Simon repeats the much disputed claim that should the Antarctic ice cap melt, sea levels would rise 20 feet.  Although he qualifies it with " does not look as if the entire ice cap will melt any time soon..." the statement is illustrated with a photo of people, caught unaware, struggling through dangerous flood waters.  The photo, covering 2/3 of the page,  gives the impression that the flooding from rising sea levels could happen at any moment instead of over a millennia.

The rooftops of homes and red barns barely show above the flood waters  on page 18. The image is more reminiscent of  river flooding in Nashville or the Midwest than the coastal flooding it is supposed to be illustrating.  There are no captions so the reader has no idea where the photo was taken or what caused this flood.  If the goal is an emotional punch, the pictures work, but as photographic evidence of rising sea levels, I think not.

His juxtaposition of two photos of the Grinnell and Salamander Glaciers from 1957 and from 2004 is well done and depicts the retreat of the glaciers. The camera angle appears to be the same. 

He discusses  the threat to coral reefs caused by the El Niño weather pattern and even shares a frightening photo of a dead reef, bleached white.   Is the El Niño/El Niña pattern unnatural and the direct result of  global warming?   Did global warming cause the demise of this particular coral reef? This seems to be the implication.  Is this true?

Simon  admits the Earth's climate is "very complex, and many factors play important roles in determining how the climate changes." (p. 9)  He goes on to list some of the "natural variations" that could play a role.  Unfortunately, none of the "natural variations" are worthy of a photo apparently.  
A picture is worth, how many words?  
 Is it honest to show an industrial smokestack emitting--well, what is that exactly? Particulate? Or is it steam? (no captions) and NOT show the "natural" Mount Pinatubo eruption?

On page 27, Simon concedes, "Our planet may be going through a natural cycle of getting warmer" and acknowledges that there is a debate about what humans can do about it. Readers, without prior knowledge, will not gain any insight into the nature of the debate though.   The photos of cars, industry and city smog suggest the only explanation could be man-made global warming.  His earlier statement that "most scientists agree that something different is happening now."(p. 9) seems to imply the absence of debate which is  disingenuous as  large portions of the scientific community do  NOT agree that global warming is caused by humans. 

He lists the often-repeated things people can do to use less energy.  A photo of a wind turbine and a solar panel illustrate some alternative ways of energy production.   He does not share the environmental hazards posed by the fluorescent light bulbs he suggests nor the potential health risks from living near wind turbines.  The heavy burden on family budgets and nations' economies that higher energy costs will cause are also not addressed.

  • The climate needs to be studied. 
  • Data needs to be gathered. 
  • Scientists need to work, honestly to understand climate pattens and changes.  
  • Children benefit from an introduction to these issues but they deserve a balanced, not sensationalized presentation on  the subject.
    They want a "true" book.

    To sum up:
  1. Good on ya-s for including a good glossary and an index, along with a list of "Read More About It" websites, and for showcasing the case for man-made global warming.  The Seymour Simon book style photos are beautiful and high quality and sourced at the front of the book.

  2. Bummers for NO captions, NO list of of sources, and for photos with NO context, as well as questionable and manipulative photo choices and positioning. Bummers for dashing my hopes that the Smithsonian imprimatur would deliver an even-handed, kid friendly look at this issue. 
Simon's books have a long shelf life.  Hopefully, the next edition will  better documented and reflect new research.  I know page real estate is precious in a child's nonfiction but they should have squeezed in a list of sources for their speculations.  I hope they did more research than just watch one  movie.

That would be...inconvenient.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

I wasn't happy with this one either - thanks for all the details; it will help me look for something better!

And, just for the record, I did weed my pluto-specific books...but not everything that mentioned pluto as a planet.