WSU News

Climate change: focus on adapting vs. eliminating


PULLMAN, Wash. – New York publisher Prometheus Books has released “The Whole Story of Climate: What Science Reveals About the Nature of Endless Change” by Washington State University faculty member E. Kirsten Peters. 

The book challenges the idea we must spend all our effort in attempts to somehow eliminate climate change. Instead, Peters argues, since natural climate change is inevitable, our limited resources may well be better spent on adaptation strategies. 

Peters, who has a bachelor’s degree in geology from Princeton and a Ph.D in geology from Harvard, is the author of “The Rock Doc,” a nationally syndicated newspaper column. She also is a grant writer in WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences. Her new book is a narrative focused on natural climate change and the geological and other evidence for it.

Tireless guides

“It’s told as the story of how scientists discovered everything from the Ice Age to patterns of drought and wetter times in the ancient American Southwest,” Peters said. “I should note that in bringing out this book I really owe a lot to the librarians at the Owen Science and Engineering Library here at WSU. I had to learn about the history of science to write the book, and the librarians were my tireless and cheerful guides to good sources.”

Natural cycles not the enemy

Peters accepts the idea that the world has been warming since about 1850 and that human activities are at least part of the reason for that trend. But there is also abundant physical evidence of natural climate cycles that are played out over different time-scales, both on a regional and global basis.

“If we view climate change as our enemy, we will always be defeated. For climate will always change,” Peters said. “From my point of view, we therefore need to invest a good portion of our time and money into strategies to adjust to inevitable climate changes.”

Fires around the world

Peters’ book closes with a discussion of one source of carbon dioxide we might most usefully address. Unwanted coal fires are burning around the world, a bit like forest fires but under-the-radar as far as news coverage is concerned.

There are underground and surface coal fires burning in the U.S., and a considerable number of fires in the developing world in such places as China and India. Geologists believe that if all the coal fires burning around the world were extinguished, we could approximately offset the carbon dioxide produced each year by cars in the U.S.

“And addressing coal fires doesn’t have the negative effects on the economy that most ideas about taxing or capping carbon seem to carry,” Peters said.

Valuable addition to discussion

WSU emeritus history faculty member Prof. Jerry Gough helped edit the manuscript that ultimately became the book.

“The Whole Story of Climate is a valuable addition to the climate change discussion,” Gough said. “I recommend the book to both those interested in the climate debate and those more generally interested in the history of science.”

Peters has written seven previous books ranging from geology textbooks to murder mysteries.

“Prometheus is a publishing house known for its independent views, and I feel fortunate it’s bringing out my book,” said Peters.