Monday, February 22, 2010

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

On the Idea of Climate Change

Mike Hulme's Why We Disagree About Climate Change is by far the most thorough, engaging and thought-provoking survey of the contests around the global climate that I've read, a welcome antidote to the post-Copenhagen blahs. Hulme is a Professor of Climate Change at the University of East Anglia (home of the notorious "climategate" emails) and an advisor to the EU on climate change policy. But the book is something like a deconstruction of the concept of "climate change," turning repeatedly on the question, "So why DO we disagree" about this vexed topic. In brief: because we study, imagine, value, fear, believe, govern and understand differently.

Hulme takes pains to declare that he's not a climate skeptic--he thinks the dangers are all too real--so it's surprising to see him embrace a constructionist position in the end, one that calls for re-embedding the idea of climate into our "mythic" meaning-making narratives. In particular, he disputes the construction of climate change as a "problem" calling for a "solution:"

If we continue to talk about climate change as an environmental problem to be solved, if we continue to understand the climate system as something to be mastered and controlled, then we have missed the main lessons of climate change. If climate means to us only the measurable and physical dimensions of our life on Earth then we will always be at war with climate. Our climates will forever be offering us something different from what we want.
Rather than placing ourselves in a 'fight against climate change' we need a more constructive and imaginative engagement with the idea of climate change. (360-1)

Whatever we do, Hulme suggests, ACC (anthropogenic climate change) is not going to just go away: there is no end in sight. Let's make it an opportunity to think more deeply, creatively, wisely about life on earth.