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on January 30, 2014
A Perfect Moral Storm is a supremely written volume and requires much from the reader. However, it is well worth the attention. In a tight discourse of nearly 500 pages, the author presents his perspective on the moral challenge posed by global warming. If the text alone were not enough, ample footnotes on nearly every page carry details of the author’s arguments. Whence the title? The author states that “… climate change constitutes a perfect moral storm that threatens our ability to behave ethically.”

Gardiner is able to see every argument from nearly every perspective, and the treatment is thorough on most items. The author goes past covering whether global warming is real or not (he firmly thinks it is) and focuses on what we are morally bound to do about it. He poses the moral problem as an intergenerational one and one that has to do with justice for the disadvantaged. Take, for instance, his statement that “… many of the victims of our bad behavior (the poor, future generations, and nature) lack the ability not only to resist, but even to make their concerns heard.”

The most clever chapter of the book may be Chapter 9 in which the author draws a long and solid analogy between the behavior of certain characters in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and that of principal geopolitical characters in the world climate forums. In both cases he demonstrates moral corruption, one at a very small scale and the other at global scale.

One of the themes he returns to often is that our current political systems are possibly incapable of dealing with the problem, if in fact they have not already shown it. The problems that local communities or even nation states have dealt with in the past are not global in extent, and the methods at their disposal are not developed or refined enough to deal with the current global moral challenge. He says “Perhaps existing institutions and theories must be radically reconceptualized to reflect new global and ecological realities…” With states failing, he even suggests that the burden falls back on individual citizens to take action, as in many other cases where the states could not seem to meet the challenge (think abolition, for instance).

The author makes a very cogent case for the fact that we (individuals and political entities) are failing to meet the climate crisis. He points out that this has been true for two decades now and that the outlook becomes grimmer with every year of inaction. His final sentence in the conclusion to Chapter 11 says that “… what we do now falls far short of any morally defensible goal.” Chapter 12, a discussion of the immediate future, begins with “We face a looming global environmental tragedy.” The work of Gardiner should be required reading for all who are working to mitigate global warming and especially all who are politically engaged with this problem at the world level.

Lastly, the author discourages waiting for solutions to come by “luck”. This approach is “morally impermissible, and a sign of deep corruption.” Some of the “luck” solutions may be a geoengineering breakthrough, a significant cost reduction in renewable energy sources, or some natural feedback mechanism that miraculously cancels global warming. Waiting for such a solution is not only reckless; but, were it to happen, we would escape from grappling with the moral challenge sitting before us now and therefore not progress as an intelligent species.
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on February 25, 2017
For me, where I'm at on learning about climate change and climate denial, anything less than a full 5 stars would be a bad faith report on this philosophy book. I recommend this book. It belongs on my Kindles because it clarifies the issues while giving us a warning on what to expect from the deniers.
I need to add my support for the "Exercise in mental masturbation" review. I agree and know that it's up to the rest of us to share intellectual styles in our own words for others.
Ed Evans
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on December 14, 2013
Excellent dissection of the actual climate change mitigation problem. It is tough to read through the endless hair-splitting detail, but the work is worth it in terms of the precision that Gardiner achieves. Every climate negotiator should read this book, examine his/her conscience and then act. Every citizen should read something a bit less daunting and then act. I thoroughly enjoyed the Austen dissection and my eyes opened wider and wider as the parallels with the climate negotiations became clear. I would only recommend the whole book to someone very interested in the issues.
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on April 26, 2013
This books makes some important points but fails in so many ways to communicate with an audience that will make a difference. When will intellectuals/academics learn to speak in ways that appeal to someone who isn't in the academy? The laborious point-by-point arguments, many of which are repetitive, are painful to read. This was surprising to me because the book received an excellent review in the journal Nature.
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on August 14, 2017
Dense, difficult but so compelling, should be read by all!
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on October 31, 2015
Revised edition could really use some IPCC data in a situation analysis section
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon July 16, 2011
This is a very thoughtful and systematic analysis of the moral aspects of climate change. Gardiner is a moral philospher and appropriately approaches climate change as an ethical challenge. This book is a serious and largely successful attempt to lay out the ethical dimensions of climate change, and in particular, why it is such a challenging problem. Gardiner argues well that a conjunction of 3 major and mutually reinforcing factors make addressing climate change particularly challenging, leading to what he calls a "perfect moral storm." One is that it is a truly global problem requiring an unprecendented degree of international cooperation in a world of nation-states with markedly different aims and an international system with only rudimentary institutions for the required endeavour. The second, and as he points out, somewhat related major problem is that this is an intergenerational problem. A lot of the book is devoted to working out the details of climate change as a particularly difficult intergenerational issue. Finally, and in perhaps the most novel section, Gardiner argues that climate change presents a "theoretical" challenge. The different types of theories we possess in political philosophy, moral philosophy, and policy analysis are poorly suited to addressing climate change. Individually, each of these three components is formidable, put together, the problem of developing an adequate response is beyond daunting.

A lot of the descritption and analysis of each component is very good. The global problem analysis, for example, contains a nice summary of the history and failures of major climate change negotiations over the past 2 decades. The intergenerational problem analysis is a very thorough discussion of this issue from several angles and probably the strongest piece of sustained reasoning in this book. The theoretical analysis section makes a number of very cogent points. Moral philosophers, for example, haven't devoted much effort to intergenerational issues and political philosophy has been more concerned with ideal theory. In one of the best sections of the book, there is a sustained critique of the major policy analysis tool, economic cost-benefit analysis, which comes under a very effective attack, much of it pioneered by talented economists like John Broome and Martin Weitzmann. If you're looking for a nice discussion of the difficult topic of discount rates, this is the place to go.

An important point made by Gardiner is that difficulties of these combined 3 problems leads fairly easily to a form of moral corruption in which it is easy to avoid dealing with the major issues. Gardiner has good discussion of how not dealing with all aspects of the problem can lead to self-deluding pseudo-solutions and general avoidance of confronting the really knotty issues. Gardiner has a good discussion of geo-engineering a potential example of such self-deluding corruption that could divert attention from the crucial problems.

There are also some defects to this book. A minor defect is Gardiner's discussion of the drawbacks of alternative ways of looking at climate change as a moral problem. Gardiner expends a significant number of pages on analysis of game theoretic models like the prisoner's dilemma and also on Hardin's famous tragedy of the commons. A lot of this discussion is quite shrewd and the focus is understandable given that Gardiner is a professional moral philosopher. These are issues, I think, of considerable interest to him and his professional colleagues. In a book which is apparently written for a wide audience, I'm not sure how much they add.

While I endorse Gardiner's efforts to center discussions of climate change as a moral problem and I think his moral analyses are perceptive, I'm not sure he has characterized the background accurately. He complains that most prior discussions of climate change have focused on scientific and economic issues. I don't think this is correct in several senses. First, the discussion of scientific issues, at least as discussed in front of the American public and before policy makers, has not really been a scientific discussion in any conventional sense but rather an immoral effort to discredit scientific findings and corresponding defenses of the science. More important, while his efforts to bring the global and intergenerational ethical problems to the forefront are laudable, I don't think its fair to say that these aspects have actually been neglected. The great majority of people who've thought about this problem objectively have reached these conclusions pretty quickly and they are, in fact, the implicit basis for the (so far largely ineffective) efforts to do something about climate change. Gardiner implicitly acknowledges this fact in his discussion of the UN Framework agreements.

Gardiner clearly wrote this book in the hope that by grounding climate change as a moral issue, he could have a positive impact on policy formation. His efforts do him credit but he also exhibits some naivete. In the beginning of the book, he writes, "If climate change is a perfect moral storm, it is concerns about what we are doing to the poor, future generations, and nature that justify most of what needs to be done. I am optimistic that most of us have such concerns, and take them seriously." Well - facta non verba. The lametable record of inaction and actual obstruction on climate change issues are reasonable evidence that we don't take these concerns seriously. A shrewd comment by the late Don Fehrenbacher about antebellum American attitudes to slavery applies here, "slavery was an interest and anti-slavery was a sentiment." As Gardiner himself writes, climate change constitutes a stringent "Global Test" of our political, social, and economic institutions. Its a test we're failing badly.
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on August 24, 2011
If there is a more important book on Amazon I don't know of it. Gardiner explains why we are doing so little about a potential climate change catastrophe, when 1% of global GDP could fix it (`so little we would hardly notice it'). The book, even by academic standards is rigorous, meticulous and exceedingly fair-minded but he suggests useful `skips' for the less technically minded. You don't need to be a moral philosopher to understand it.
He very swiftly summarises the scientific consensus - CO2 emissions are up 30% since 1990 and still rising, and we need a cut of 50% to 80% by 2050.
Until very recently average global temperatures have been constant, plus or minus half a degree, for 10,000 years. Depending in part on future emissions, global temperatures will rise this century by between 1.1 C and 6.4 C. There was a 5 C increase between the ice age and now. We are in danger of creating a different planet.
He uses the metaphor of a Perfect Moral Storm to explain why we seem paralysed in the headlights of this possible catastrophe. He argues there are three mutually reinforcing `moral storms'.
The Intergenerational Storm - in the face of conflicts of interest, we usually debate and compromise. But future generations can't talk. They are either not born yet, or are too young to defend themselves against our self-interest. No institution or individual represents future generations in climate talks for example, and governments have short time scales of a few decades at most. So each generation passes the problem on, in a more severe form, and with less time to deal with it.
The Global Storm - we aren't good at global governance, or at enforcing the few agreements we do make. The rich countries have released the CO2, but the poor countries will suffer most from a failure to deal with it.
The Theoretical Storm - We are not good at understanding scientific predictions, nor with risks and uncertainty. The decision making tool Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) often suggests we adapt to warming rather than try to stop it and using technological fixes. But CBA is useless for long term issues: experts differ by factors of 1000, and can conjure up constants for their equations to support whatever case they want to make. Technical fixes advocated by Bjorn Lomborg and others are often `shadow solutions' that do not survive Gardiner's withering analysis.
The combined effect of these three storms leads us into self-deception, moral corruption, and inaction. But if we understand these storms, and face up to their moral challenge, we can better avoid catastophic climate change. This is a stunning and vital book.
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on August 7, 2011
This is the best book on climate philosophy out there -- and I believe I have looked at almost all of them.

The author raises important issues worth considering. But it's poorly written and edited (which is strange, since it's published by Oxford).

I'm also skeptical whether the author understands climate change when he says things like how he's hopeful that dealing with the problem will not be costly in terms of our current lifestyles, (p.10-11) and many other comments. For example, the author says that the impacts of methane hydrates would not arise for several centuries, if not millennia, and thus, he says, climate changes do not significantly impact current generations. (at 198). This is just wrong -- and is very significant; at least 100 GtC (billion tons) of methane could be released before 2100, probably much earlier. (see NSIDC or search on [..]. Seeing as this book's published in 2011, this author and others really really need to start recognizing that the IPCC (2007) is not the best source of climate science -- beyond worst case scenarios are being realized for sea level, glaciers, polar ice melt, drought, methane, and emissions -- and the resulting analysis is going to be deficient if it does not reflect this latest science. Also, I'm disappointed there was not more analysis concerning religion and culture. But overall, although it is disappointing, it is worth reading.

Note: I had this review at 4 stars b/c of the criticisms that I state -- but the insight here really is 5-star quality. It's a must-read for climate "hawks", and, I'd say, pretty much everyone considering how critically important this issue is.
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on May 5, 2012
In the Preface the author announces that the book deals with eight propositions. But only seven are stated. Proposition 2 is missing. Also, the heading formatting in the Preface is inconsistent.
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