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on 29 April 2009
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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 September 2011
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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on 3 January 2010
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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on 30 October 2009
This is a really important book about climate change and therefore about all of our futures, whether we are actively seeking to embed the implications of climate change into our work and lives - or not.

I was initially put off by the title - assuming it would be a well-argued put-down of various 'climate change deniers' by one of the world's leading climatologists (though the 1-star reviewers here could probably do with one of those, and perhaps with actually reading this book too!). I didn't need to read another one of those.

But then I read a short article by Mike Hulme and realised it was so much more. This book is a drains-up analysis of why science, economics, politics, religious and secular systems of ethics, the media are each inadequate for providing 'the answers' many seek to the questions about what we should be doing as a society - or even as a species - in response to the potentially dramatic climatic changes we have unintentionally unleashed on our futures.

Hulme draws skillfully on a wide range of academic disciplines and lays out his compelling narrative with care and clarity, leading the reader through the logic of his analysis with ease.

If you've never asked yourself WHY climate change matters - or if you have but then didn't challenge your own answer for its failure to be anything other than your own answer - you'll be stimulated and, potentially, liberated and empowered by this book.
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on 17 May 2009
Mike Hulme deals with the complex area of why people disagree about climate change in an interesting easy to read way. He doesn't offer any solutions but certainly made me think. The last chapter was the most challenging. I will certainly try to take more of a personal responsibility for the world I live in from now on.
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on 20 April 2010
This book is a must read regardless of your side on this debate, and highly recommended for healthy skeptics and those with a genuine interest in the climate change controversy and its related policies. Not surprisingly the book was included in The Economist list of Best Books of 2009.

Mike Hulme is a renowned climate scientist with a 30 year experience in the field who works at the University of East Anglia, and even was Director at the now famous CRU (though he was not involve in the Climategate scandal). Considering his honest view on this subject and his openness in the discussion of such contentious issue, in order to avoid any misunderstandings, right at the beginning of the book Mr. Hulme makes explicit his position regarding climate change: he believes the risks posed by climate change are tangible and serious, and require human intervention and management, and also that the global climate is influenced by an array of human activities. However, he does not believe that the way the UN FCCC and the Kyoto protocol are neither the only nor the most appropriate way to attack this problem. Also he "feels uncomfortable that climate change is widely reported through the language of catastrophe and imminent peril, as `the greatest problem facing humanity', which seeks to trump all others."

Mr. Hulme presents quite an innovative and insightful approach to the climate change discussion, by looking at it as a social phenomenon, as an "idea" interpreted differently by different cultures and by our different sets of believes, values, and concerns, and therefore, what it means to different people in different places. He explores the different dimensions of this "idea" in several political, economical, cultural and ethical contexts, and by identifying the different meanings of climate change he argues we can better understand why we disagree about climate change. Some of these meanings include climate change as a justification to fight globalization, as a desire to return to simpler times, while for others is a great opportunity to develop to technologies that will solve the problem, the desire of pride and control. He summarizes these views to what he calls four myths: Eden, Apocalypses, Babel, and Jubilee. Simply brilliant! He also looks at climate change as a wicked problem, and presents a very insightful analysis of the possibilities of elegant and clumsy solutions.

Despite the strong sociological and philosophical discourse, Mr. Hulme makes a very strong case for his view of the problem, and his main argument has been confirmed by two recent events, Climategate and the failure of the Copenhagen meeting. On a second thought, I think this book is also recommended for hard-die global warming advocates, so they can begin to understand why they movement is beginning to erode, and it is not because the science is a hoax, as the deniers camp has declared recently in light of Climategate.

PS: Some critics have said that Hulme's ideas are naive, or that he went loony. Well, if you are in doubt, read the the Hartwell Paper published in May 2010 by the London School of Economics (available for free in pdf format in the web, just google). In this publication Hulme and another 13 academics and energy advocates argued that the Kyoto Protocol has failed to produce any discernable real world reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases in fifteen years, and therefore, after the Copenhagen fiasco, Kyoto has crashed. They argued that this failure opens an opportunity to set climate policy free from Kyoto and they propose a controversial and piecemeal approach to decarbonization of the global economy which will be more pluralistic and much more effective than the policies based on Kyoto. Do not miss it.
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on 30 July 2009
Mike Hulme has wonderfully collated the wide and various reasons why we disagree on climate change into one book with as much an impartial standpoint as is possible. It has opened my eyes and made me realise that not all of us see the world as I do.
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on 3 October 2015
I saw Mike Holme give a presentation of his book sponsored by the British Council in Goa, India. The title is self-justifying. The local minister of the environment disagreed about carbon credits. Climate Change is one of the hottest topics. The monsoon is becoming increasingly erratic. I think Mike mentioned that this is in fact due to the sea cooling. Of course India is literally dead against capping its emissions and blames as usual the West's imperialism for its own total lack of controls. I lived 2 years in Srinagar summer capital of Indian Occupied Kashmir. The pollution from the traffic, the army trucks, buses, cars and rickshaws hangs over the city, which has a population of around 800,000 (8 lakhs), in a thick smog causing endless respiratory problems.
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on 16 July 2010
In general I thought this book was a well balanced and thoughtful take on the problem that academics sometimes call the "science-policy interface" in the field of climate change. The author is a climate scientist turned social scientist concerned with how climate change is communicated to the public, and in this respect an analysis of disagreement in the political sphere is both timely and important. Readers must be aware however that the book is published by Cambridge University Press and it is written in an in-between sort of style, neither a traditional research monograph, nor a popular science text. It would primarily be of interest to students of political science, environmental management or human geography, and I think that those without an academic or professional interest in the matter may be turned off by both writing style and depth of analysis. For those looking for a more introductory text (albeit on a slightly different topic) may consider James Garvey's "The Ethics of Climate Change: Right and Wrong in a Warming World".
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on 30 December 2009
One learns early in the text that book was "conceived" in Church House in London. If you do not know what or where is Church House then maybe this book is not for you; this is one of the first details the author thinks you must know.

The author is Professor of Climate Change at the University of East Anglia. He does not appear to have much respect for science and the theme of the book seems to be that the climate goes much beyond a scientific debate.

I found the book rather difficult to digest. It contains ten chapters ranging from "The Social Meanings of Climate", through "The Performance of Science" to "The Way We Govern" and "Beyond Climate Change". Fortunately, each chapter end with a pedagogical summary of what you should have learnt. I must admit that often I skipped to the summary after getting lost in the murky prose.

I did not learn much about climate change from the book; however I was rather interested in what I learned about the author and his climate change colleagues. It may or may not be relevant that the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, of which the author is a senior member, is embroiled in a scandal of climate data manipulation. My own conclusion, as a practising physical scientist, is that the author does not have much experience of experimental data. If the rest of the staff in environmental science at East Anglia have similar views it may explain their recent problems.
So in the end I gleaned some enlightenment from the book, not about the climate change science but more about climate change actors.
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