Air: our planet's ailing atmosphere

Air: our planet’s ailing atmosphere

Hans Tammemagi

Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press 2009 | 256pp | ?13.99 (HB)

ISBN 9780195430073

Reviewed by Mike Pilling 


Hans Tammemagi is an environmental writer and columnist, and an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, Canada. His theme is atmospheric pollution and its impacts in a wide sense, covering not only climate change but also photochemical smog, acid rain and stratospheric ozone depletion. He effectively stresses the links between these areas and the interactions between local, regional and global pollution processes. He sets his material in its physical context, via a brief review of atmospheric composition, circulation and weather. Quite a lot of detail is given on the physical and chemical processes involved in the emission of primary pollutants and the atmospheric formation of secondary pollutants, stressing the major role played by both stationary and mobile combustion sources. 

The book has been extensively researched and quite a long list of references is given; he draws heavily on newspaper articles and websites, but he also includes a number of more technical reports, especially from Environment Canada. This isn’t a book to consult for detailed, accurate scientific information, but he covers this broad and complex field appropriately and effectively for his target general readership. The coverage is least good in the climate change chapter, I suspect by choice, since this has been extensively covered elsewhere.

The emphasis and the examples are strongly North American, which detracts a little, but the processes are the same the world over. He briefly discusses some technological solutions, concluding that they cannot provide the whole answer and behaviour change is essential. Perhaps the area of mitigation could have been covered more fully and the social and economic aspects are only briefly considered - there is no discussion of Stern, for example. But these are quibbles. The book is engagingly written and covers a lot of ground at an informative and general level.