The Climate Demon: Past, Present, and Future of Climate Prediction

 Cambridge University Press

Winner of the 2023 Louis J. Battan Author's Award of the American Meteorological Society: "a thoughtful and approachable guide to the history, philosophy, and process of climate modeling – which informs an important discussion of science's role in policymaking."

The Climate Demon (book cover with butterfly image)

Climate predictions – and the computer models behind them – play a key role in shaping public opinion and our response to the climate crisis. The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics recognized this by honoring climate scientist Suki Manabe for his pioneering contributions to the physical modelling of Earth's climate. The Climate Demon provides an "under the hood" look at the models built by Manabe and other scientists that are used to predict the future of our climate. 

Written by an experienced climate scientist, but aimed at the general reader, the book uses simple language to describe the scientific and philosophical foundations of climate models. It explains how to interpret and use the predictions they provide, and argues that we need to trust the models despite their uncertainties. The book cautions that deterministic thinking can mislead us when assessing the risks of climate change, and that we should take climate predictions seriously, but not literally.

Where to buy:

You can preview the book on Google Books and purchase the e-book version on Google Play or the Kindle version on Amazon. 

If you are in the UK/Europe, you can order a printed copy from Blackwells (UK), Amazon (UK), and other book stores; In the US, you can order it from Amazon (US) and other bookstores. You can also order it from the  Cambridge University Press Bookshop.


“A wide-ranging guided tour of the modern science of climate prediction, told by a leading expert without jargon or mathematics, and illuminated by history, philosophy, technology, and even literature.”

RICHARD C.J. SOMERVILLE, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego

“I thoroughly recommend this book if you want to understand the science behind these all-important [climate] models.”

TIM PALMER, University of Oxford

“If you wish to correctly interpret climate modeling results, read The Climate Demon. Saravanan’s brilliant and humorous book helps both scientists and the general public objectively understand strengths and limitations of climate predictions.”

SAMUEL SHEN, San Diego State University

“… a first rate, well-researched summary and analysis of how predictions in climate science work ... a must read for natural and social scientists from all walks of life, as well as policymakers and managers.”

GERALD R. NORTH, Texas A&M University

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Book Structure

The first part of the book (The Past) features the stories of computing pioneer John von Neumann at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, who helped make the first digital weather forecast, meteorologist Ed Lorenz, who discovered the Butterfly Effect, scientist and women’s rights pioneer Eunice Foote, who connected carbon dioxide with heating, climate scientist (and 2021 Nobel Laureate) Suki Manabe, who used computers to model the Greenhouse Effect, planetary scientist Jim Hansen, who raised public awareness of the problem of global warming, and atmospheric chemist Susan Solomon, who deciphered the mysteries of the Ozone Hole. (Punxsutawney Phil, the prognosticating groundhog, makes a cameo appearance.)

The second part (The Present) discusses the current challenges faced by climate prediction, such as the inexorable increase in model complexity, “tuning” of models to compensate for errors, and the need for model diversity. The distinction between well-known unknowns and poorly known unknowns, and the pitfalls of translating climate predictions for the general public, are also discussed.

The third part (The Future) describes trends in climate prediction driven by recent scientific developments such as geoengineering, the demise of Moore’s Law of ever faster chips, and the advent of machine learning. The book concludes with a discussion of philosophical and practical issues in assessing the impacts and risks of climate change.

A central theme of the book is that climate models are metaphors of reality – their predictions should be taken seriously, but not literally. There is deep uncertainty regarding predictions of extreme climate change scenarios, but this uncertainty is by no means a reason for inaction. If anything, the uncertainty adds urgency to the need to rapidly eliminate carbon emissions. The predictions we have now are confident enough for us to justify strong action, but uncertain enough for us not to panic over doomsday scenarios.

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