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J. Alcamo & J.E. Olesen (eds.), Life in Europe Under Climate Change (West Sussex & Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012)



Professors Joseph Alcamo and Jørgen E. Olesen collaborate to offer a single voice on the climate change phenomenon, which is scientifically revised in order to bridge the gap between laypersons wondering what all the fuss is about and climate scientists who create the fuss.

The main purpose of Life in Europe Under Climate Change is to establish climate science in a ‘less complicated’ way in order to encourage awareness of the risks of future climate change in Europe. Climate science is made available in a less sophisticated way so that European citizens, policymakers and other civil actors know what to expect and how best to deal with these changes.

The book is grounded in factual data, an extensive literature review, and recommendations that have been accumulated by Professors Alcamo and Olesen while working with other climate scientists to produce the ‘Europe’ chapter of the Fourth Assessment Report on climate impacts for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Professor Alcamo is based at the University of Kassel, Germany, as well as being Chief Scientist at the United Nations Environmental Programme in Nairobi, Kenya. Professor Olesen is based at the Aarhus University in Tjele, Denmark.


Structure and argument:

Life in Europe Under Climate Change comprises a foreword, a preface, an introduction, several chapters on various social and environmental fields of climate change, a conclusion, and an extensive list of recommendations. The foreword is an endorsement of the book by Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action, who says it does well to emphasise the danger of not taking climate change seriously enough, and goes on to sum: ‘the earlier we act, the less this process of adaptation will cost.’ Hedegaard also endorses the book as a guide to what will happen if the EU does not continue along its path of intense carbon emissions mitigation.

The preface by the authors, on the contrary, appeals epistemologically rather than politically. Indeed there is an ethical dimension when understanding climate change, but the authors are mostly aware that the public nowadays seek to comprehend the key facts themselves, which is why the book goes to some effort to provide answers without boggling the minds of its readers. Ten chapters help with delivering the simple message: firstly they focus on the different types of effects climate change has on society and the environment, next the authors summarise the effects, and finally they recommend ways to deal with them.

Overall, the book is as interesting as it is engaging. Its attempt to bring climate science to a wider audience is successful in the sense that less sophisticated climate science talk is employed so that more useful information can be practically applied. The complicated graphics and illustrated tables of data are not relegated to an appendix but are neatly contained in boxes beside the main text for more talented buffs; catchy examples of practical ways of seeing and dealing with climate change are foregrounded; and an extensive review of scientific literature is drawn upon to provide a balanced and convincing argument.



What catches the reader’s attention initially is not the title of the book, Life in Europe Under Climate Change; instead the book’s cover tells a striking tale of its own, which portrays a blunt image of a catastrophe: flooding streets and helpless bystanders. Since the title similarly sounds ominous the overall impression of the book is indeed catchy, but creatively draws on the fears of its potential reader. Is this bluntness really the intention of the authors? If so, the book could have been designed differently in order to seem less intimidating and a little more tactful.

Furthermore, despite the possible advantages of a focus on Europe, the book only offers some scope for applying the findings for non-Europeans because many examples used in the text (e.g. rivers Po, Rhine, Loire, Danube, etc.) are local. Those wishing to access the type of information noted in the book for another region must look elsewhere. This is admittedly no proper reason to criticise the book, as the authors are very clear about who their audience should be, but this is a notable limitation.

Due to the  temporal nature of climate change, social awareness and policymaking, the results of efforts like Life in Europe Under Climate Change are yet to be seen in the years to come. However, the book is an example of tailoring science to meet the needs of practical common understanding, which can then be transferred to policymaking. Thus, despite not knowing the extent to which Professors Alcamo and Olesen have assisted in European efforts to combat future climate change, the authors seem to succeed in popularising climate change adaptation to meet the demands of a new generation of environmentally concerned consumers.