National Academies Press: OpenBook

America's Climate Choices (2011)

Chapter:Front Matter

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2011. America's Climate Choices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12781.
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America’s Climate Choices

Committee on America’s Climate Choices

Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate

Division on Earth and Life Studies

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
                       OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS

Washington, D.C.

www.nap.edu

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2011. America's Climate Choices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12781.
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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS   •   500   Fifth   Street,   N.W.   •   Washington,   DC   20001

NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.

This study was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under contract number DG133R08CQ0062, Task Order # 4. Opinions, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authoring panel and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsoring agency.

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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2011. America's Climate Choices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12781.
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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.

The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering.

The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.

The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.

www.national-academies.org

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2011. America's Climate Choices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12781.
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COMMITTEE ON AMERICA’S CLIMATE CHOICES

ALBERT CARNESALE (Chair), University of California, Los Angeles

WILLIAM CHAMEIDES (Vice-Chair), Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

DONALD F. BOESCH, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Cambridge

MARILYN A. BROWN, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

JONATHAN CANNON, University of Virginia, Charlottesville

THOMAS DIETZ, Michigan State University, East Lansing

GEORGE C. EADS, Charles River Associates, Washington, D.C.

ROBERT W. FRI, Resources for the Future, Washington, D.C.

JAMES E. GERINGER, Environmental Systems Research Institute, Cheyenne, Wyoming

DENNIS L. HARTMANN, University of Washington, Seattle

CHARLES O. HOLLIDAY, JR., DuPont (Ret.), Nashville, Tennessee

KATHARINE L. JACOBS,* Arizona Water Institute, Tucson

THOMAS KARL,* NOAA, Asheville, North Carolina

DIANA M. LIVERMAN, University of Arizona, Tucson, and University of Oxford, UK

PAMELA A. MATSON, Stanford University, California

PETER H. RAVEN, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis

RICHARD SCHMALENSEE, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge

PHILIP R. SHARP, Resources for the Future, Washington, D.C.

PEGGY M. SHEPARD, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, New York, New York

ROBERT H. SOCOLOW, Princeton University, New Jersey

SUSAN SOLOMON, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, Colorado

BJORN STIGSON, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Geneva, Switzerland

THOMAS J. WILBANKS, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee

PETER ZANDAN, Public Strategies, Inc., Austin, Texas

_________________

Asterisks (*) denote members who resigned during the course of the study.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2011. America's Climate Choices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12781.
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NRC Staff:

IAN KRAUCUNAS, Study Director

LAURIE GELLER, Study Director (as of December 2010)

CHRIS ELFRING, Director, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate

PAUL STERN, Director, Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change

KATHERINE WELLER, Associate Program Officer

RITA GASKINS, Administrative Coordinator

AMANDA PURCELL, Senior Program Assistant

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2011. America's Climate Choices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12781.
×

Foreword:
America’s Climate Choices

Convened by the National Research Council in response to a request from Congress (P.L. 110-161), America’s Climate Choices is a suite of coordinated activities designed to study the serious and sweeping issues associated with global climate change, including the science and technology challenges involved, and provide advice on the most effective steps and most promising strategies that can be taken to respond. The study builds on an extensive foundation of previous and ongoing work, including current and past National Research Council reports, assessments from other national and international organizations, the current scientific literature, climate action plans by various entities, and other sources.

A Summit on America’s Climate Choices was convened on March 30–31, 2009, to help frame the study, provide an opportunity for high-level participation and input on key issues, and hear about relevant work carried out by others. Additional outside viewpoints and perspectives were obtained via public events and workshops, invited presentations at meetings, and comments and questions received through the study website http://americasclimatechoices.org.

The Panel on Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change was charged to describe, analyze, and assess strategies for reducing the net future human influence on climate, including both technology and policy options. The panel’s report focuses on actions to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions and other human drivers of climate change, such as changes in land use, but also considers the international dimensions of limiting the magnitude of climate change.

The Panel on Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change was charged to describe, analyze, and assess actions and strategies to reduce vulnerability, increase adaptive capacity, improve resilience, and promote successful adaptation to climate change in different regions, sectors, systems, and populations. The panel’s report draws on a wide range of sources and case studies to identify lessons learned from past experiences, promising current approaches, and potential new directions.

The Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change was charged to provide a concise overview of current understanding of past, present, and future climate change, including its causes and its impacts, then recommend steps to advance our current

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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2011. America's Climate Choices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12781.
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understanding, including new observations, research programs, next-generation models, and the physical and human assets needed to support these and other activities. The panel’s report focuses on the scientific advances needed both to improve our understanding of the intergrated human-climate system and to devise more effective responses to climate change.

The Panel on Informing Effective Decisions and Actions Related to Climate Change was charged to describe and assess different activities, products, strategies, and tools for informing decision makers about climate change and helping them plan and execute effective, integrated responses. The panel’s report describes the different types of climate change-related decisions and actions being taken at various levels and in different sectors and regions; and it develops a framework, tools, and practical advice for ensuring that the best available technical knowledge about climate change is used to inform these decisions and actions.

The Committee on America’s Climate Choices was responsible for providing overall direction, coordination, and integration of the America’s Climate Choices suite of activities and ensuring that these activities provide well-supported, action-oriented, and useful advice to the nation. The Committee was also charged with writing a final report—this document—that builds on the four panel reports and other sources to answer the following four overarching questions:

  • What short-term actions can be taken to respond effectively to climate change?
  • What promising long-term strategies, investments, and opportunities could be pursued to respond to climate change?
  • What are the major scientific and technological advances needed to better understand and respond to climate change?
  • What are the major impediments (e.g., practical, institutional, economic, ethical, intergenerational) to responding effectively to climate change, and what can be done to overcome these impediments?

Collectively, the America’s Climate Choices suite of activities involved more than 90 volunteers from a range of communities including academia, various levels of government, business and industry, other nongovernmental organizations, and the international community. Study participants were charged to write consensus reports that provide broad, action-oriented, and authoritative analyses to inform and guide responses to climate change across the nation. Responsibility for the final content of each report rests solely with the authoring group and the National Research Council. However, the development of each report included input from and interactions with members of all five study groups; the membership of each group is listed in Appendix A.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2011. America's Climate Choices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12781.
×

Preface

How should the United States respond to the challenges posed by climate change? This is the fundamental question addressed by America’s Climate Choices—a suite of activities requested by the U.S. Congress and conducted by the U.S. National Research Council. Book shelves and the internet are replete with studies of climate change: Why conduct another one? First among the reasons to do so is that the body of scientific knowledge about climate change is growing rapidly and, as it does, so too does our understanding of the nature and severity of potential consequences. Second, unlike most previous studies, this study looks across the full range of response options and the interactions among them. Third, this work goes beyond analysis of the problem and, in accordance with its Statement of Task, provides “action-oriented advice on what can be done to respond most effectively to climate change…” Toward that end, the committee membership was not limited to physical and social scientists but also included people with expertise and experience in public policy, government, and the private sector.

Numerous substantive and procedural questions arose in the course of the commit-tee’s work—for instance, regarding the primary audience to which the final report would be directed. The Statement of Task calls upon the committee to “advise the nation,” which indicates an extremely broad audience. Ultimately, the committee chose to view as its audience decision makers at all levels who will influence America’s response to climate change. Hence this report’s focus on formulating decisions to be made and on strategies for making them. Although this study is focused on America’s climate choices and is accordingly directed to American decision makers, the commit-tee’s analyses and advice were formulated with full consideration of the international context within which U.S. responses to climate change must be selected and implemented. Another consideration was the analytical framework to use in identifying America’s climate choices. Although no single option was selected a priori, the panels and the committee all concluded that iterative risk management is the most useful framework for dealing with the many complexities and uncertainties that are inherent to climate change.

A final example of an issue that required resolution by the committee stems from the assigned task to “provide targeted, action-oriented advice.” Some natural and social scientists believe their appropriate role is to provide the best available scientific information, to formulate options for decision makers, and to describe the relative

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2011. America's Climate Choices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12781.
×

advantages and disadvantages of each of the options. In the views of these individuals, recommending a particular option would carry them beyond objectivity and into advocacy. Others consider it appropriate to inform decision makers of their considered judgments, properly labeled as such. This issue was not resolved in the abstract; rather, the members of the committee sought to achieve consensus on a case-by-case basis. We do recommend specific courses of action where there is substantial evidence supporting the need for such actions, but this advice is fairly general in nature, in a deliberate effort to avoid being “policy prescriptive.” Recommendations that deal with government function, such as responsibilities to be assigned to specific federal agencies, were deemed to be beyond the scope of the committee.

Since the time that the Committee began its work, the economic and political context in which climate change decisions are being made has changed a great deal, both domestically and internationally. Within the United States, Congress has considered several substantive proposals for federal legislation related to climate change, but none has become law. The committee did not attempt to analyze these specific proposals or to weigh in with views on other specific political developments taking place during the course of the study.

We hope that the efforts of the panels and this committee will prove useful to the nation as it confronts the complex challenges of climate change in the near term and in the decades ahead. We wish to thank numerous people who provided valuable input to this study, including the following people who were invited guest speakers at the committee’s meetings: Anthony Janetos, Joint Global Change Research Institute; Steven Seidel, Harvard University; Jonathan Pershing, U.S. Department of State; Anand Patwardhan, Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay; Richard Suttmeier, University of Oregon; Nicole DeWandre, European Commission; Rik Leemans, Wageningen University; Yvo de Boer, UNFCCC; Franklin Moore, USAID; Ian Noble, World Bank; Scott Barrett, Columbia University; Michael Grubb, U.K. Carbon Trust; Glenn Prickett, Conservation Inter national; Stephen Gardiner, University of Washington; Steven Vanderheiden, University of Colorado; Manuel Pastor, University of Southern California; and Michel Gelobter, Cooler, Inc. Special thanks to Gary Yohe (Wesleyan University; member of the ACC Panel on Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change) for substantial contributions to the committee’s discussions about the concept of risk management. Numerous additional people provided input through participation in the America’s Climate Choices Summit and the Geoengineering workshop (see Appendix D for Summit agenda.).

Essential contributions to this project were made by knowledgeable, skilled, and accommodating members of the National Research Council staff, and we are deeply

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2011. America's Climate Choices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12781.
×

grateful to them. Ian Kraucunas and Laurie Geller were invaluable in organizing and marshalling the effort and in their substantive engagement. We benefitted immensely from the active participation of other members of the staff, especially the important contributions from Chris Elfring, Paul Stern, and Marlene Kaplan, and the outstanding administrative support from Rita Gaskins and Amanda Purcell. Our gratitude extends also to the members of the ACC panels and to the many others who shared with us the knowledge, perspectives, and wisdom essential to the success of America’s Climate Choices.

Albert Carnesale (Chair) and William Chameides (Vice Chair)
Committee on America’s Climate Choices

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2011. America's Climate Choices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12781.
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Acknowledgments

This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the NRC’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their participation in their review of this report:

IAN BURTON, Meteorological Service of Canada, Downsview, Ontario

KEN CALDEIRA, Carnegie Institution, Stanford, California

MARTIN J. CHAVEZ, ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability, Washington, D.C.

WILLIAM C. CLARK, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

ROBERT E. DICKINSON, University of Texas, Austin

KIRSTIN DOW, University of South Carolina, Columbia

DAVID GOLDSTON, Natural Resources Defense Council, Washington, D.C.

GEORGE M. HORNBERGER, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

CHARLES KOLSTAD, University of California, Santa Barbara

M. GRANGER MORGAN, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

RICHARD H. MOSS, University of Maryland, College Park

LAWRENCE T. PAPAY, PQR, LLC, La Jolla, California

SUSAN F. TIERNEY, Analysis Group, Boston, Massachusetts

Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Robert Frosch (Harvard University) and Susan Hansen (Clark University), appointed by the Division on Earth and Life Studies and the Report Review Committee, who were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.

Institutional oversight for this project was provided by:

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2011. America's Climate Choices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12781.
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BOARD ON ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCES AND CLIMATE

ANTONIO J. BUSALACCHI, JR. (Chair), University of Maryland, College Park

RICHARD CARBONE, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

KIRSTIN DOW, University of South Carolina, Columbia

GREG S. FORBES, The Weather Channel, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia

ISAAC HELD, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Princeton, New Jersey

ARTHUR LEE, Chevron Corporation, San Ramon, California

RAYMOND T. PIERREHUMBERT, University of Chicago, Illinois

KIMBERLY PRATHER, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California

KIRK R. SMITH, University of California, Berkeley

JOHN T. SNOW, University of Oklahoma, Norman

XUBIN ZENG, University of Arizona, Tucson

Ex Officio Members

GERALD A. MEEHL, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

NRC Staff

CHRIS ELFRING, Director

EDWARD DUNLEA, Senior Program Officer

LAURIE GELLER, Senior Program Officer

MAGGIE WALSER, Program Officer

KATIE WELLER, Associate Program Officer

RITA GASKINS, Administrative Coordinator

LAUREN M. BROWN, Research Associate

ROB GREENWAY, Program Associate

SHELLY FREELAND, Senior Program Assistant

RICARDO PAYNE, Senior Program Assistant

AMANDA PURCELL, Senior Program Assistant

ELIZABETH FINKELMAN, Program Assistant

SHUBHA BANSKOTA, Financial Associate

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Climate change is occurring. It is very likely caused by the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities, and poses significant risks for a range of human and natural systems. And these emissions continue to increase, which will result in further change and greater risks.

America's Climate Choices makes the case that the environmental, economic, and humanitarian risks posed by climate change indicate a pressing need for substantial action now to limit the magnitude of climate change and to prepare for adapting to its impacts. Although there is some uncertainty about future risk, acting now will reduce the risks posed by climate change and the pressure to make larger, more rapid, and potentially more expensive reductions later. Most actions taken to reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts are common sense investments that will offer protection against natural climate variations and extreme events. In addition, crucial investment decisions made now about equipment and infrastructure can "lock in" commitments to greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come. Finally, while it may be possible to scale back or reverse many responses to climate change, it is difficult or impossible to "undo" climate change, once manifested.

Current efforts of local, state, and private-sector actors are important, but not likely to yield progress comparable to what could be achieved with the addition of strong federal policies that establish coherent national goals and incentives, and that promote strong U.S. engagement in international-level response efforts. The inherent complexities and uncertainties of climate change are best met by applying an iterative risk management framework and making efforts to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions; prepare for adapting to impacts; invest in scientific research, technology development, and information systems; and facilitate engagement between scientific and technical experts and the many types of stakeholders making America's climate choices.

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