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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A cool-headed book on a hot topic, but too much fence sitting., 22 Sept. 2011
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This review is from: Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity (Paperback)
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.'

This book is a welcome attempt to transcend now-tired polemics between the deniers and the catastrophists. The latter do seem however to get a lot more attention from the media. This does not mean there is a conspiracy. It's just that the press loves bad news and scare stories and we, the public, are all too willing to lap these stories up!

If of course you think that the very idea of climate change is bunk then you will not like this book. You may well still hold firm to your conviction that the whole idea is fiction peddled by various interests. But you cannot accuse Hulme of being part of any agenda. Indeed the drawback of the author's fair-mindedness is a tendency to sit on the fence, and occasionally give space to some wishy-washy ways of looking at the issue (the contributions of religious and post-modern thinkers fit this description).

His overall conclusion seems to be that Kyoto as a top-down response to climate change will not work. The largest greenhouse gas emitters are not part of the treaty (China, India and the USA). The treaty has weak compliance mechanisms and signatories can ignore their obligations with impunity.

He concludes that we are going to have to learn to live with climate change. This seems a coded optimistic assessment - to believe we can live with something does not mean that we need to fear it.

However, Hulme does not spell out the implications of this conclusion in any great detail. This is somewhat frustrating. A stronger positive statement to end the book would have been welcome.

This makes the book read like a compendium of other persons' interpretation of climate change. The author ends up sitting on the fence, seemingly wishing to avoid controversy. This is not because he is shy of taking on the doom merchants. Elsewhere in print he has. But in this book he does not. For me this diminished the book considerably.

Overall, if you are a climate layperson tired of stale polemics and are looking for a book that opens up alternative perspectives on how climate change could be understood, then this book is a good place to start. For this reason, I would have given it four stars. But the fence-sitting dilutes the book, making it a rather inspid reading experience. So, reluctantly, I will have to give it three stars.
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