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Title: Why we disagree about climate change
Author(s): Mike Hulme
Date of Publication: 2009 Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Pages:xxxix + 392 ISBN: 978 0 521 72732 7
Price: Format:Paperback
Target Readership Educator







Content: 1 – The social meanings of climate; 2 - The discovery of climate change; 3 - The performance of science; 4 -The endowment of value; 5 - The things we believe; 6 - The things we fear; 7 - The communication of risk; 8 - The challenges of development; 9- The way we govern; 10 - Beyond climate change.

Review: Of the numerous books published about global warming there are few that stray from the well-worn path about science and adaptation. Those that do can often bring something different to the study and if, as in this case, the author is a leading climate scientist then there is definitely something worth reading about. Part science, part personal reflection and part social/political science analysis, Hulme puts forward an interesting case suggesting, that after all these years, our inactivity may be due to something other than the technical difficulties of the case.

Chapters one and two focus of the broad picture that is developed in the rest of the text. We start with an exploration of the meaning of climate and how different societies have envisioned it through the ages from the fear of early sailors to a desire to 'conquer' nature through to our modern understanding. This is followed by a study of climate science over the last 150 years which goes from the 'natural' systems with climate as a long term trend to our more nuanced understanding of the impact that people can have. At this stage we have a basic overview of the climate issue and an idea of how people affect it. The next obvious question would be to ask why people had done nothing about it. There have been a range of explanations put forward but these focus on the public's "inability" to see the science. What Hulme argues is that the issue is not that simple: that people have complex reasons for agreeing, or not, with climate change. The first reason people disagree is that the notion of science is seen differently by scientist and non-scientist. Science proceeds through refutation of ideas and so if this is all the public sees they interpret it as there being no agreement i.e. global warming isn't happening. Chapter four takes another argument - that of economics. It is perfectly possible to "solve" global problems but the finance is finite and so there has to be prioritisation (which is what economics studies anyway. So, people disagree because they would rather spend money on famine relief now than global warming impacts later on. Chapter five takes another stance - religion. We disagree because we believe different things. If we believe god will help then we are less likely to seek a personal way to deal with the issue. Next there's psychology and the production of risk. Seen as an increasingly important element, fear and risk are key issues today. Those more risk-averse might chose a different path over those less concerned. You only have to listen to the morning talk-back radio shows to see chapter seven's communication focus is going to produce global warming. Messages (and motives) differ and so its not surprising that our views are shaped by the media. Chapter 8 looks at the argument via issues of development. Given x amount of money what is the most effective use it can be put to. Some would value the present over the future and the local over the global whilst there is a spectrum of alternative opinions . This is the focus taken by Lomborg and others- we can do real good now by tackling world poverty etc. or we can wait until later and tackle climate change. Simplistic maybe, but it does highlight the source of disagreement. With the Copenhagen climate conference just round the corner, it's clear that governance is going to be an issue - who pays, who does the work and who gets (any) compensation? Finally, the author offers a way forward - a suggestion we approach the topic from a more holistic perspective noting clearly how and why we disagree and seeking to find a way around the problem.

This is a very unusual book. It deals with a current topic but in a totally different way. It seeks not to gather converts to global warming but to explain why we don't get people.As such it is a very useful guide to discussing public opinions and how/why they vary given common data. More a text for the educator or those wanting to see why discourse is difficult, it offers fundamental insight into the process.





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