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Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity Paperback – 30 Apr 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 427 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Reprint edition (30 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521727324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521727327
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.1 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 166,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Mike Hulme was born in London in 1960 and has lived in St.Andrews, Durham, Swansea, Khartoum, Salford, Harare and Norwich. He is a lifelong cricket fan and this inspired his twin interests in weather and statistics. These led him into a university academic career which has revolved around the study of climate and climate change. He is currently Professor of Climate and Culture at King's College London having moved from the University of East Anglia in 2013. In October 2000 he founded the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and become its foundation Director until 2007. His book Why We Disagree About Climate Change (2009) was chosen by The Economist magazine in 2009 as one of its science and technology books of the year. He is a frequent public speaker on climate change and appears regularly in the print and broadcast media. He is a member of the Church of England, an amateur historian and a keen genealogist; he has written a book about his experiences in discovering the joys of 'doing' family history.

Product Description


'This is a very rare book. A scientific book about climate change, that deals both with the science, and our own personal response to this science. It does all this supremely well, and should be compulsory reading for both sceptics and advocates. However, it does so much more, it is a book of great modesty and humanity. It uses climate change to ask questions more broadly about our own beliefs, assumptions and prejudices, and how we make individual and collective decisions.' Chris Mottershead, Distinguished Advisor, BP p.l.c.

'In this personal and deeply reflective book, a distinguished climate researcher shows why it may be both wrong and frustrating to keep asking what we can do for climate change. Tracing the many meanings of climate in culture, Hulme asks instead what climate change can do for us. Uncertainty and ambiguity emerge here as resources, because they force us to confront those things we really want - not safety in some distant, contested future but justice and self-understanding now. Without downplaying its seriousness, Hulme demotes climate change from ultimate threat to constant companion, whose murmurs unlock in us the instinct for justice and equality.' Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard University

'This book is a 'must read' for anyone interested in the relationship between science and society. As we know from other controversies over GM Crops and MMR, by the time science hits the headlines, and therefore the public consciousness, it's always about much more than the science. This book shines a fascinating light on this process by revealing how climate change has been transformed from a physical phenomenon, measurable and observable by scientists, into a social, cultural and political one … This book is so important because Mike Hulme cannot be dismissed as a skeptic yet he is calling for a radical change in the way we discuss climate change. Whether or not people agree with his conclusions - this book is a challenging, thought-provoking and radical way to kick start that discussion.' Fiona Fox, Director, Science Media Centre, London

'With empirical experience that includes seven years' leading the influential Tyndall Centre, Professor Hulme here argues that science alone is insufficient to face climate change. We also 'need to reveal the creative psychological, spiritual and ethical work that climate change can do and is doing for us'. It is the very 'intractability of climate change', its sociological status as a 'wicked' problematique, that requires us to reappraise the 'myths' or foundational belief systems in which the science unfolds. That returns Hulme to the bottom line question: 'What is the human project ultimately about?' and herein resides this book's distinctive importance.' Alastair McIntosh, University of Strathclyde and author of Hell and High Water: Climate Change, Hope and the Human Condition

'A much needed re-examination of the idea of climate change from a vantage point that takes its cultural coordinates as seriously as its physical properties. Through the twin lenses of scientific scrutiny and rhetorical analysis, Mike Hulme helps us to see just why we disagree about climate change and what we can do about it. With wisdom, wit and winsome writing, he shows us that debates about climate change turn out to be disputes about ourselves - our hopes, our fears, our aspirations, our identity. Hindsight, insight and foresight combine to make this book a rare treat.' David N. Livingstone, Queen's University, Belfast

'In a crowded and noisy world of climate change publications, this will stand tall. Mike Hulme speaks with the calm yet authoritative voice of the integrationist. He sees climate change as both a scientific and a moral issue, challenging our presumed right to be 'human' to our offspring and to the pulsating web of life that sustains habitability for all living beings. As a peculiar species we have the power do create intolerable conditions for the majority of our descendents. Yet we also have the scientific knowledge, the economic strength, and the political capacity to change direction and put a stop to avoidable calamity. This readable book provides us with the necessary argument and strategy to follow the latter course.' Tim O'Riordan, University of East Anglia

'Hulme articulates quite complex arguments in a remarkably clear and effective manner. He not only covers a lot of ground, but by avoiding an overly compartmentalized approach he achieves a great deal of connectivity throughout the book. For those who are regularly immersed in the social sciences literature on climate change, the content itself may not hold many surprises. But Hulme's approach makes these arguments accessible and meaningful for a wider audience, and this tome could also serve as a great teaching text … Hulme makes important contributions to continued understanding of environmental, cultural, political and physical - eminently interdisciplinary - aspects of climate change. As more citizens, students, scientists and policy players read it, [this book] is very likely to be an important and 'discernible influence' on the ways we think about and discuss global change, and how we plan to engage with it.' Nature Reports: Climate Change

'How global warming has been transformed from a physical phenomenon that is measurable and observable by scientists into a social, cultural and political one, by a professor of climate change at the (now controversial) University of East Anglia. In the crowded and noisy world of climate-change publications, this book will stand out.' The Economist

'Mr Hulme does not reach a fatalist or relativist conclusion that we cannot do or even know anything significant. On the contrary, he advises a practical, multi-level approach to the challenge, proceeding faster in certain geographical and industrial areas, which does not depend on a single beautiful blueprint being accepted by the entire world.' www.timesofmalta.com

'… scholarly, candid and intensely thought-provoking … I urge you all to buy, read, digest and ponder this valuable book. It will be a long time before it will be rivalled for its breadth and depth of coverage of this vitally important subject.' Peter Rogers, International Journal of Meteorology

'The book highlights several topical issues. Through its selection of clever interdisciplinary themes combined with a thought-provoking further-reading list at the end of each chapter, [it] will provide new knowledge to anyone who reads it - students, educators, politicians, policymakers, activists.' Vigya Sharma, Australian Journal of International Affairs

'This book by Mike Hulme simply is vital for anyone interested in the global climate change debate and for those that seek challenging arguments in understanding the role of individual and social behaviour when confronted with perceived or real global risk issues. I can wholeheartedly recommend it and am convinced that most readers will thoroughly enjoy and benefit from this work.' Environmental Earth Sciences

'The totemic position of climate change and cognate environmental issues within the public and media consciousness makes it an ideal exemplar through which to explore scientific debates, which Hulme achieves in this book. … one of the greatest strengths of the volume is Hulme's ability to clearly and effectively communicate what are often complex interactions and abstruse concepts. … this book will grow in value and appreciation as time goes on.' The Geographical Journal

'… he has written an excellent analysis of the terrain and does a great service by drawing together the essence of a very large multi-disciplinary literature. Anecdotes are freely employed to illustrate arguments and these provide a useful aid to comprehension.' Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa

Book Description

Mike Hulme provides a unique insider's account of climate change and the diverse ways in which it is understood. He uses different standpoints from science, economics, faith, psychology, communication, sociology, politics and development to explain why we disagree about this important phenomenon.

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By F Henwood TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 22 Sept. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The negative reviewers of this book are drearily predictable in their attempts to pigeonhole the author as a `leftie', as a proponent of a climate change `religion' etc. None of these hats will fit. They also miss the point the author is trying to make, which is glaring obvious if you read the title: WHY we disagree about climate change.

The roots of this disagreement (to greatly simplify a complex argument) can be described thus:

1. The science is established but this alone cannot tell us how to live or what policy response is the correct one to make.

2. Different conclusions can be drawn from the same evidence. We understand scientific knowledge differently.

3. We differ over priorities: for instance do future generations, yet to be born, have a say over how we shape policy now?

To accept the reality of climate change does not mean that one is therefore committed to accept the proposals of the likes of Earth First. Others may draw different conclusions: growth and innovation are the correct responses. Make people richer so they can afford to clean up after themselves. The science as it stands does not automatically point to one correct policy response.

Hulme adjudicates fairly between different interpretations and conclusions drawn from climate change, and succeeds in showing that the debate need not be a zero-sum game between deniers and believers. Hulme himself has spoken out against climate catastrophism (in an article for the BBC News website in 2006) writing that:

`To state that climate change will be "catastrophic" hides a cascade of value-laden assumptions which do not emerge from empirical or theoretical science.
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76 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 29 April 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book because of my increasing unease about some of the contradictory and apocalyptic comments that were being made about climate change. Although I don't doubt the fact that the world is warming, and that humans are to a greater or lesser degree responsible, I am irritated and concerned about simplistic reporting of and commenting upon climate change issues by the media, politicians and various pressure groups. An example of this is the Guardian's '100 months to save the world' series of articles. I understand the premises behind this, (both the scientific basis, and the desire to force actions), but I find my own response is to oscillate between becoming completely fatalistic, and rejecting the whole argument, as the world (with or without us) clearly will still be there in 101 months. This book helped me to articulate to myself the reasons for this reaction.

From my lay-person's understanding of science, I know that there must be a lot of uncertainty about future predictions, and that we lack the tools to forecast in what specific (and to a degree localised) ways climate change will be catastrophic (or not), although we can anticipate many of the things that might happen. This book is about the disagreements about what might happen, and how these are played out through various cultural manifestations, which shape the way we think and act.

A lot of the disagreements have as their basis the relationship between science and wider society, and the fact that the choice of responses to climate change is inevitably political, and in some cases, ethical. With such complexity, there is a need for more, rather than less, critical thought. Blind allegiance to 'green' or 'eco' causes, without being ready to learn and debate will not get us there.

This is a well-researched, fairly academic book, rather than a straight polemical read. This is to its credit, although it can make the underlying ideas hard to put across.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Clare Topping on 3 Jan. 2010
Format: Paperback
This is an interesting book which may lead both climate sceptics and those already convinced of the man-made effect on climate change to think about the topic.

The book is starts with a chapter about the role climate has historically had in various cultures, and then examines the science, including the history of measurement, of climate change. The book then examines a number of areas which can lead to different people reaching different conclusions about climate change including perception of risk and relative economic values.

For the most part the book does not state anything that is not common sense; different people have different priorities and different values in life and therefore the changing climate means different things to different people. However, the book is well written and includes some useful reference material.

The final chapters however point out why we cannot get any government-led action on climate change, examines whether this is the way forward anyway and then points out ways to get a positive outcome from climate change. These were somewhat unexpected and made me re-evaluate my thoughts about climate change.

If, like me you would like to do something positive about climate change and want to engage others then you may get something out of this book. If you are climate change agnostic then, again, this book may be useful, but if you are a climate change sceptic wanting to find ways to help get your message across then this is not the book for you. As the author points out at the beginning, he is convinced that the climate is changing and we are responsible for most of it.
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