I'm an intelligent and well-educated guy, but all of my schooling has been in economics, statistics, and public policy. I'm interested in reading a thorough explanation/defense of the scientific understanding of anthropogenic climate change that is intended for somebody who doesn't know anything about meteorology or climate science. However, I'm also looking for something fairly academically/scientifically rigorous. Something on the level of "An Inconvenient Truth" is probably just going to annoy me more than anything.

  • $\begingroup$ I've assumed that you're interested in the physical science basis, rather than mitigation or adaptation. Please do edit your question to let us know which you are interested in. $\endgroup$
    – 410 gone
    Oct 24, 2014 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I apologize. I'm mostly interested in an explanation and defense of the causes and mechanisms underlying anthropogenic climate change. I'm not so much interested in mitigation/adaptation. $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2014 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think anybody seriously doubts the causes and mechanisms. The basic mechanism of the enhanced greenhouse effect were set out first by Guy Calendar and later by Gilbert Plass over sixty years ago. There are those who question the amount of warming we will see, but that is more a matter of fine detail than mechanism. $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2014 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ I found "The discovery of global warming" by Spencer Weart a pretty good read, but that was 8 years ago or so, and I'm not sure I can recommend it for this on the strength of memory at the moment. $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Feb 19, 2015 at 4:33

5 Answers 5


The definitive place to start is the Summary for Policy Makers at the start of the IPCC AR5 Working Group 1 on the physical science basis of climate change.

This also acts as a suitable introduction to the massive rest of the physical basis report, and will, together with the contents table for the full report, enable a reader to quickly find the sections of interest that cover greater detail. And to burrow deeper again, if there are specific sections that you'd like to know more about, the thing to do is to follow through and read the references from those sections.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ A lot of the criticism of the mainstream position on AGW is (being charitable) deeply misguided, and based on a misrepresentation of the science. The IPCC reports are an invaluable resource in checking to see if the claim relates to something that actually does represent the mainstream scientific position. $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2014 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ For more of a mitigation/adaptation flavor in the USA you could see the National Climate Assessment at nca2014.globalchange.gov/downloads $\endgroup$
    – f.thorpe
    Oct 25, 2014 at 4:02

An excellent book that concisely summarizes the IPCC physical results (without much of the policy summary editorializing) is Global Warming, Understanding the Forecast by David Archer, 2nd ed 2011. There will presumably be an updated edition soon to cover the latest IPCC release.


You have an economics and statistics background - is it anywhere near mathematical economics resp. mathematical statistics? If so, you could spend hours over at The Science of Doom: Roadmap. I would consider that thorough on the rigorous part. (As an economist, you know the difference between the laws at work, as opposed to the econometrics that attempt at measuring precisely how much.)

You will find books - table-of-contents and sample pages - at The Science of Doom: Find Stuff Out and Book Reviews.


Prof. Raymond Pierrehumbert's book the Principles of Planetary Climate is a pretty good primer on the physics that drives climate. I'm not too sure that the mainstream scientific view on anthropogenic climate change needs any more defense than say the mainstream scientific position on relativity, or any other scientific topic. @EnergyNumbers suggestion of the IPCC AR5 WG1 report is spot on, however you probably want to start with something rather more basic before finding out what the mainstream scientific position actually says.

I'd also recommend "A Climate Modelling Primer" by Kendal McGuffie and Ann Henderson-Sellers for an introduction to the basics of climate modelling.


A couple of other resources, aimed at educating the general public include:

NASA's page Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet, go through the evidence, causes and effects, details the 'vital signs' of the planetary system and includes statements from various other organisations about the issue.

The USGS have the webpage Distinguishing Natural Climate Variability from Anthropogenic Climate Change, that, as the title suggests looks at how natural and anthropogenic forcings on the climate can be distinguished. Essentially, demonstrating the scientific basis for determining what is natural climate variation and what is anthropogenic forcing.


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