It is a conundrum of our times that while more complex information than ever before is literally at our fingertips, typical messaging still relies on simplistic delivery. This is E. Kirsten Peters' complaint, and one she tries to address in her new book, "The Whole Story of Climate Change."
As a geologist associated with Washington State University, and more widely known as the "Rock Doc" to listeners of Northwest Public Radio, Peters may seem an unlikely person to talk about climate science. But she points out that geologists have uncovered several millennia's worth of information about how climate conditions have changed, from ice age to tropical warmth and back again. This historical knowledge, Peters argues, should contribute to the way we think about the prognosis for climate change in the near future.
Peters begins this book by noting that it wasn't until relatively recently that science had distinct fields of study. In the 1800s, practitioners of science were usually naturalists, busy studying everything from fossils to chemical reactions to plant life and making connections betwixt the lot.
Across several chapters, Peters outlines the work of notables such as Agassiz, Lyell and others who paved the way toward an understanding of how rocks could be read as a record of prehistoric times - revealing fossils from tropical periods and tell-tale glacier tracks from longer, colder eras.
She also brings in the more recent work of geologists, including J Harlen Bretz, whose deductions about the catastrophic origins of the channeled scablands in eastern Washington challenged commonly held assumptions of gradual change and revolutionized the science of geology.
All of these stories illustrate the scientific manner of skepticism, inquiry, and challenge - and underscore the relationship between the geological record and climate change.
Peters also taps into the work of Serbian astrophysicist Milutin Milankovitch, who drew connections between Earth's orbital variations and climate change.
As for human impact on climate, Peters mentions the research of climate scientist William Ruddiman, who has researched the affect of thousands of years of human agricultural activity on global climate conditions; and also discusses the practice of cloud-seeding for agriculture as well as for more bellicose purposes during the Vietnam War.
But when it comes to greenhouse gases, Peters expresses concern that the current government-funded "big science" emphasis on same allows politics to get in the way of pure science and over-simplifies the investigation into climate change.
With her long-range view as a geologist, Peters is in some ways more phlegmatic about such change than her climate scientist colleagues. "Our goal," she says, "cannot be to hold climate static." Change is inevitable.
On the other hand, she worries about ice-core research that suggests some instances of past global climate change have occurred very fast, in a matter of a few years. The possibility that greenhouse gases may be the factor to "flip the switch" is, she confesses, what disturbs her sleep at night.
There are mixed messages in this provocative book - it will take some time to digest.
Barbara Lloyd McMichael writes a weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org