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Can Science Fix Climate Change?: A Case Against Climate Engineering (New Human Frontiers) Paperback – 25 Jun 2014
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Mike Hulme eloquently and rationally outlines the arguments against proposals to use stratospheric aerosols to cool the planet and questions the ethics of even researching them. Regardless of whether one agrees with his conclusions, there is no doubt that he definitively makes the case that must be answered by proponents.
Steve Rayner, Oxford University
In this slim volume, Mike Hulme takes aim at the proposal to fix the climate problem with a single engineering solution. He calls for a science that is more attentive to human ends, that serves humanity rather than seeking to rule it. This plea for humility from a world expert on climate change deserves close reading by anyone concerned with the fate of the planet.
Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard University
Few people talk as intelligently and compassionately about climate change as Mike Hulme. He is a rare voice of sanity and humility in an increasingly rancorous and megalomaniac debate.
Fred Pearce, science writer and journalist
About the Author
Mike Hulme is Professor of Climate and Culture in the Department of Geography at King s College London. His 2009 Why We Disagree about Climate Change won The Economist s Book of the Year Award . He has contributed to public debates in the UK and US, writing for The Guardian and the Wall Street Journal. From 2000 to 2007 he was the Founding Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
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In this book Mike Hulme provides the expert view. he writes well and exactly to the point. He reviews the problem of climate change (which he accepts whilst noticing the current pause in the global temperature chart) and then looks at the various technological suggestions being considered which might mitigate or alleviate the problem. He describes well the enormous problems each suggested solution faces- even if the engineering could catch up with the physics involving.
His basic answer is that there isn't a technical answer to climate change through geo-engineering. He describes well the four problems such remedies face-
undesirable- they might sort out a global problem- by creating unacceptable local anomalies
ungovernable- no plausible mechanism for regulating the processes- whose jurisdiction would they come under?
unreliable- too big a risk of unintended consequences
He actually sees the ideas of trying a technological fix for climate problems as hubristic. As he says on page 111,
"But to deliberately change the condition of the planet's atmosphere in pursuit of the "public good", in order to compensate for induced planetary heating, is an entirely different form of experimentation. it suggests a supreme confidence in human knowledge and ingenuity-a confidence approaching arrogance."
He's not even sure we have framed the problem around trying to prevent a 2c rise correctly- we may well be looking at the problem through the wrong lens and defining it in the wrong way. He spends a good chapter on "reframing the (climate) problem,
"Failure to understand and treat climate change as a wicked problem has led to the search for global solutions that possess elements that are inadequate, inappropriate or obstructive. Adopting two degrees of global warming as the singular overarching goal of international climate policy is to misread the nature of the problem. It assumes that climate change is a tame problem rather than a wicked one."
Plans A and B both underestimate the wickedness of climate change and overestimate the abilities of political, economic, psychological and scientific knowledge to control the changing climate."
Earlier in the book he's been rather sceptical as to whether we can even measure a representative temperature of the earth, and then how accurately we can measure it and changes in it.
This is a sane book about managing climatic problems. it pleads for local pragmatism- mending a flood defence here, building more securely and sensibly in another.
This is a short, punchy, very well written book, that illuminates the problem with climate change, and reframes our view of the problem and what will mitigate it. I recommend it to all of us who are interested in the "climate change" debate. It brings us back to a saner view of the problem, and sense about what we can do about it.
Its conclusion is, "Let us attend to the difficult pursuit of liberty, justice and human security on the ground and not delude ourselves that utopias can be engineered in the sky."
Specifically he is critical of the red lines that have been drawn for climate change such as the 2 degrees target, because it is meaningless as global temperatures are very different to local climate events. His arguments against the global level solutionism are strong as there is no science to back it up. We would be experimenting irrevocably with our planet and that is an immense risk.
In the final chapter he suggests an alternative in climate pragmatism, This means trying to solve each of the effects of climate change, for example making us better prepared for extreme weather events, and supporting population growth.
The book is a very readable and well argued critique but the last chapter is rather rambling, repetitive and vague. Although it is already quite a short read it could have been 20 pages shorter. Hence I only gave it four stars.
In this brief, yet eloquently argued volume, Hulme strongly cautions against rushing into planetary-scale experiments that we neither fully understood, nor necessarily need. Hulme brings numerous concepts from the social sciences to bear on his argument, from governmentality to the precautionary principle and the risk society. A particularly interesting one is the discourse of the emergency whereby the idea of a planetary emergency (exemplified by the notion of tipping points and the call to limit temperature increases to no more than two degrees Celsius) operates as a fundamental rationale for geoengineering, changing the scope of justifiable actions and legitimate actors. However, Hulme strongly disputes this notion and brings up many salient and quite practical points in opposition, such as by whom should it be decided and at what cost?
Hulme is particularly concerned about SAI (as opposed to for example, ocean fertilisation or carbon capture and storage) because it is most likely to be implemented based on cost relative to (potential) effectiveness, it has received legitimacy from well-regarded scientists and is actively debated in policy circles, and, most importantly, that despite the illusion of control over the Earth given by the idea of a ‘global temperature’, the significant environmental, social, ethical and political risks of SAI have been hugely under-analysed and debated. As the quintessential ‘wicked’ problem, Hulme contends that climate change is not the type of problem best addressed by technological end-of-pipe solutions and that SAI as a techo-fix is “undesirable, ungovernable and unreliable” (p.xii).
In addition to the overall logic of the argument, one of the main things that makes Can science fix climate change? worthy of a read is that it is about more than geoengineering, but can also be seen as a contribution to the vast and fascinating literature about nature—how it can be defined, whether we consider ourselves as human beings part of, or separate from the environment around us, and what our role should be in stewarding or mastering the Earth (or somewhere in-between). This book doesn’t say anything particularly new for readers already deeply engaged in ethical debates about science and technology, but is interesting for non-specialists, particularly in the way that it applies some quite abstract philosophical concepts to a concrete example.
(This is a condensed version of a review originally posted on LSE Review of Books)