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Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity Paperback – May 25, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0521727327 ISBN-10: 0521727324

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 427 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (May 25, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521727324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521727327
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


An Economist Book of the Year, 2009

A Nature Reports: Climate Change Must-read for Copenhagen

"This is a very rare book. A scientific book about climate change, that deals both with the science, and our own personal response to this science. It does all this supremely well, and should be compulsory reading for both sceptics and advocates. However, it does so much more, it is a book of great modesty and humanity. It uses climate change to ask questions more broadly about our own beliefs, assumptions and prejudices, and how we make individual and collective decisions." - Chris Mottershead, Distinguished Advisor, BP p.l.c

"In this personal and deeply reflective book, a distinguished climate researcher shows why it may be both wrong and frustrating to keep asking what we can do for climate change. Tracing the many meanings of climate in culture, Hulme asks instead what climate change can do for us. Uncertainty and ambiguity emerge here as resources, because they force us to confront those things we really want-not safety in some distant, contested future but justice and self-understanding now. Without downplaying its seriousness, Hulme demotes climate change from ultimate threat to constant companion, whose murmurs unlock in us the instinct for justice and equality." - Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard University

"This book is a 'must read' for anyone interested in the relationship between science and society. As we know from other controversies over GM Crops and MMR, by the time science hits the headlines, and therefore the public consciousness, it's always about much more than the science. This book shines a fascinating light on this process by revealing how climate change has been transformed from a physical phenomenon, measurable and observable by scientists, into a social, cultural and political one.

Everyone must surely recognize Hulme's description of the way climate change has become a kind of Christmas tree onto which we all hang our personal favourite bauble and Hulme highlights the way the issue has been appropriated by so many different groups to promote their own causes. Believers in turning the clock forwards and using more advanced technology, and those who argue we should turn the clock back and live more simply can equally claim that climate change supports their case.

Over the past few years Hulme has bravely spoken out against what some have described as 'climate porn', the tendency of some sections of the scientific community and the media to present climate change in ever more catastrophic and apocalyptic terms. This book elaborates on Hulme's hostility to the language of 'imminent peril' and calls for a different discourse.

This book is so important because Mike Hulme cannot be dismissed as a skeptic yet he is calling for a radical change in the way we discuss climate change. Whether or not people agree with his conclusions - this book is a challenging, thought-provoking and radical way to kick start that discussion." - Fiona Fox, Director, Science Media Centre, London

"With empirical experience that includes seven years' leading the influential Tyndall Centre, Professor Hulme here argues that science alone is insufficient to face climate change. We also 'need to reveal the creative psychological, spiritual and ethical work that climate change can do and is doing for us.' It is the very 'intractability of climate change', its sociological status as a 'wicked' problematique, that requires us to reappraise the 'myths' or foundational belief systems in which the science unfolds. That returns Hulme to the bottom line question: 'What is the human project ultimately about?' and herein resides this book's distinctive importance." - Alastair McIntosh, author of Hell and High Water: Climate Change, Hope and the Human Condition, and Visiting Professor of Human Ecology at the Department of Geography and Sociology, University of Strathclyde

"A much needed re-examination of the idea of climate change from a vantage point that takes its cultural coordinates as seriously as its physical properties. Through the twin lenses of scientific scrutiny and rhetorical analysis, Mike Hulme helps us to see just why we disagree about climate change and what we can do about it. With wisdom, wit and winsome writing, he shows us that debates about climate change turn out to be disputes about ourselves - our hopes, our fears, our aspirations, our identity. Hindsight, insight and foresight combine to make this book a rare treat." - David N. Livingstone, Professor of Historical Geography, Queen's University, Belfast

"In a crowded and noisy world of climate change publications, this will stand tall. Mike Hulme speaks with the calm yet authoritative voice of the integrationist. He sees climate change as both a scientific and a moral issue, challenging our presumed right to be 'human' to our offspring and to the pulsating web of life that sustains habitability for all living beings. As a peculiar species we have the power do create intolerable conditions for the majority of our descendents. Yet we also have the scientific knowledge, the economic strength, and the political capacity to change direction and put a stop to avoidable calamity. This readable book provides us with the necessary argument and strategy to follow the latter course." - Tim O'Riordan, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

"Hulme articulates quite complex arguments in a remarkably clear and effective manner. He not only covers a lot of ground, but by avoiding an overly compartmentalized approach he achieves a great deal of connectivity throughout the book. For those who are regularly immersed in the social sciences literature on climate change, the content itself may not hold many surprises. But Hulme's approach makes these arguments accessible and meaningful for a wider audience, and this tome could also serve as a great teaching text. Through the book, Hulme makes important contributions to continued understanding of environmental, cultural, political and physical - eminently interdisciplinary - aspects of climate change. As more citizens, students, scientists and policy players read it, Why We Disagree About Climate Change is very likely to be an important and 'discernible influence' on the ways we think about and discuss global change, and how we plan to engage with it." - Nature Reports: Climate Change

"In the crowded and noisy world of climate-change publications, this book will stand out." - The Economist

"This book is particularly useful in identifying the linkages between different perspectives on climate change, value systems, and beliefs about the way things should and do work.... This is not a book that advocates or even facilitates a course of action to mitigate the consequences of climate change. Rather, it encourages reflection, not only about the complexity of the issue but also about how we want to respond to the challenge that climate change poses to our social as well as ecological systems." - PsycCRITIQUES

"A distinctive and courageous book." - The Times Higher Education Supplement

"A climatologist who has devoted some serious time to studying history and social studies of science, Hulme aims to offer a broader perspective on the debates that arise once the initial question of the reality of human-caused global warming has been settled. His book is valuable for its diagnosis of the many different levels at which disagreement can arise and the variety of political stances and value judgments that can incline people to divergent conclusions about what is likely to happen and what might be done." - Science Magazine

Book Description

Mike Hulme provides a unique insider's account of climate change and the diverse ways in which it is understood. He uses different standpoints from science, economics, faith, psychology, communication, sociology, politics and development to explain why we disagree about this important phenomenon.

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Customer Reviews

Academic, but a must read!
His observations about the disagreements that arise in regard to climate change do a great service in revealing the complexity of this issue.
Steven Schwarze
Very interesting especially due to the monochordial point of view of most of the press.
Osvaldo Caninas

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 47 people found the following review helpful By David Ribar on January 13, 2010
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Too much social discourse is directed at magnifying disagreement and disparaging the motives and intellect of others (for more evidence on this point read the disagreeable review by Joseph Bast). In this fine book, Mike Hulme takes the position that reasonable people can and do disagree; he then sets off to examine the disagreements and the reasons.

Hulme explores numerous areas of disagreement and organizes his chapters around specific areas. He begins with three mostly (though not entirely) science-oriented sources of disagreement, which involve our conceptualization of climates and climate change, the development of scientific thought regarding climate change, and what science can and cannot tell us. From there, he moves onto disagreements regarding economics, religion, fears, communication strategies, development, and government action. The book ends with a provocative chapter about rethinking climate change.

My own nerdy biases initially drew me into the first chapters, especially the history of scientific thought regarding climate change. Hulme points out that scientific acceptance of the notion that climates change is relatively recent, dating only to the 19th century. Widespread scientific acceptance of the theory of anthropogenic climate change on human time scales is newer still. Although components of the theory, such as the greenhouse effect, were developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it wasn't until the last quarter of the century that broad elements of the scientific began to broadly accept anthropogenic global warming.

However, accepting the likelihood of anthropogenic global warming is only a scientific preliminary.
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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 related policymaking. 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 involved 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.
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40 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Steven Schwarze on October 28, 2009
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I'm afraid the one-star reviews are missing the point of Hulme's book. His observations about the disagreements that arise in regard to climate change do a great service in revealing the complexity of this issue. Each of his chapters shows how the *idea* of climate change has become embedded in disputes that are inherent to the human condition--what we value, how we perceive risk, how we should govern--so that disagreement about how to address climate change is likely to persist. For Hulme, the upshot is not that climate change is *merely* a political issue, but that it will never be solved once and for all precisely because it is so embedded in these enduring disputes.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By P. K. Foster on January 12, 2012
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This book analyses very thoroughly the multi-dimensional nature of climate issues. Because international agreement is required, the extent to which it is dependent on political and economic issues is well summarised by Hulme. It is a key aspect in this often vitriolic field, that Hulme writes as an insider to the system, and one who is concerned about anthropogenic global warming.
It is an excellent analysis of the whole field.
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This is a very fine book, the product of immersion in the issues professionally for many years. It is more inventive and insightful than many its counterparts which have heated up this and related topics. It is determined to constructive without bring Polyannaish. It is probably as good as you'll get today.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Eleanor K. Sommer on December 31, 2012
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Beautifully written. Hulme gets to the heart of the controversy in an effort to explain why a certain percentage of people are unwilling to accept climate change as a reality. Also using this book for my thesis. Hulme is a gentle philosopher while making his points clear.
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