A second, fully revised edition of The Politics of Climate Change after just two and a half years is good going. But then, Anthony Giddens is a co-founder of Polity Press, the book's publisher, and the first edition appears to have done well for them. And the book does indeed seem to have been revised throughout, referring not just superficially to 2010 data and to current events of the early months of 2011 such as the Wikileaks revelation of American diplomatic e-mail communications and the acquisition by China of Canadian shale-gas interests.
Before turning to politics, the book provides an overview of the Climate Change situation, relating it closely to world energy sources and supplies. Giddens' view is that it would be a fundamental mistake to consider the politics of the two areas of interest separately. Energy supplies are integrally related to geopolitics. Peak oil, the point at which the flow of oil begins to decline, cannot be far off. If nations revert to burning coal, that will be seriously detrimental for the greenhouse gas, global warming and Climate Change situation. Worse yet if we seek to augment oil supplies from tar sands. Policy decisions on future energy supplies must be made in tandem with, must be part and parcel of, policy decisions relating to Climate Change.
Giddens is wary of terms incorporating the words 'green' or 'sustainable development', and is downright scornful of 'saving the planet'. There is the possibility that in the longer term the earth may experience a runaway greenhouse situation (as per Venus), where water vapour from the oceans is permanently lost to space; and according to James Hansen, of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a prominent Climate Change activist, that scenario will become a "dead certainty" if we burn the tar sands. Nevertheless, Giddens insists, the earth itself will survive; our need is to preserve, and if possible enhance, a decent way of life for human beings. He is keen to move and keep that objective within the sphere of mainstream politics, and not allow it to become or remain the preserve of readily ignored special interest groups.
Whilst promoting and further developing renewable forms of energy derived from sunlight, wind and water, and biomass energy that does not compete with food supplies, he sees no alternative in the short to medium term to reversing the present downward trend in energy derived from nuclear fission. And of course there is still much to be done in terms of reduction of consumption and wastage of energy.
Certain countries have been particularly tardy in addressing Climate Change problems; the United States being one of them, Russia a perhaps even more recalcitrant case, and China essentially non-cooperative until quite recently, but now showing signs of change. The politics of the issue are especially relevant both to why these and other countries have been slow in their responses, and to the global movement - particularly through the United Nations' annual Climate Summits - to galvanise all into concerted and effective action. As the outcome of Summit after Summit is initially hailed as a serious disappointment (the latest being Durban, December 2011), it is heartening to note Giddens' summary of a progression of real achievement (even in Copenhagen in 2009), often apparent only after some months of quiet diplomatic follow-up.
But, whilst progress is being made, for Giddens we are still doing too little, and in some respects already too late. He has coined this 'Paradox': "Since the dangers posed by global warming aren't tangible, immediate or visible in the course of day to day life, many will sit on their hands and do nothing of a concrete nature about them. Yet waiting until such dangers become visible and acute - in the shape of catastrophes that are irrefutably the result of climate change - before being stirred to serious action will be too late. For we know of no way of getting the greenhouse gases out again once they are there and most will be in the atmosphere for centuries."