Environmental Science: A Self-Teaching Guide by Barbara Murck, Ph.D. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005 $19.95 Paper, 352 pages, ISBN 0471269883
Environmental Science is a well-written, comprehensive text for both academic and general consumption. Dr. Barbara Murck writes with the clarity of one who actually understands all the science she describes. With textbook costs rising, this paperback is one of the best buys in science education to come along in decades, at $19.95.
The author explains environmental science with almost complete objectivity, instead of the left-leaning, ax-grinding approach seen in so many books supported by environmental advocacy groups. She brings together the basic disciplines of biology, geology, chemistry, and physics to bear on the interdisciplinary fields of hydrology, climatology, oceanography, meteorology, and soil science.
The book is a wonderful primer for first-time students at either the high school or college level, and is an outstanding refresher for the professional environmental scientist, who may benefit by brushing up on weak areas in his knowledge base.
The illustrative support for each chapter is unique in its reliance on beautifully hand-drawn diagrams more detailed and understandable than the average computer drawing.
Handles Disparate Fields Well
Self-tests with separate answer pages follow each chapter, along with a list of key words one should have learned from it. Periodically, the author presents problems and philosophical conundrums, wisely pointing out that society does not yet have all the answers.
Having special expertise in ground water hydrology and nuclear physics, I was curious to see how well Murck handles those disparate fields. She wins my approval. For instance, take this simple paragraph explaining nuclear energy:
“Uranium-235 is a naturally occurring fissionable material that is mined and used as fuel in nuclear reactors. The fissioning of just 1 gram of U235 produces as much heat as the burning of 13.7 barrels of oil. The U235 is processed and concentrated into fuel pellets, which are packed into a bundle of hollow tubes called fuel rods. The fuel rods are loaded into the core of the reactor, where the fission process is induced. The heat generated by fission is carried away by water, which also moderates the chain reaction. The heated water makes steam, which turns the turbine, producing electricity. If the heat were not removed from the fuel bundle, it would get so hot that the reactor core would melt, releasing radioactive contents; this is called meltdown, and it happened at Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986. Current nuclear reactor technologies are designed to minimize or eliminate the possibility of a meltdown.”
At Times Politically Correct
Of course, no book is perfect. Robert Frost said when you come to a fork in a road, take the path less traveled; my only criticism of this book is that Murck never does this in relation to any scientific issues that are currently considered politically sensitive. She always takes the well-trod path of political correctness, even when her intelligent analysis indicates she may actually disagree.
Murck seems to be afraid to offend the liberal view of environmentalism. If, however, the reader takes her politically motivated conclusions on a variety of issues such as climate change, ozone, radon, etc., with a grain of salt, there is more good science to learn in this book than in any environmental science treatise I have read in many years.
Jay Lehr ([email protected]) is science director at The Heartland Institute.