Thursday, May 03, 2012

Hulme, The (Disappointing) Finale

Why We Disagree About Climate ChangeI've finally finished Mike Hulme's book Why We Disagree About Climate Change, and I have to admit I was disappointed with the ending.

First, I have to say that it's a very good book and I learned a lot from reading it and thinking about his many points. I recommend it to anyone -- though be aware that it leans more towards a scholarly presentation than popular writing.

After nine chapters discussing the question in his title -- with chapters such as "The Social Meaning of Climate," "The Endowment of Value," "The Things We Fear," "The Challenges of Development," "The Way We Govern" -- he took the last chapter to sum up and make suggestions. Perhaps I wasn't expecting (drum roll) and the answer is!, but what came felt like a letdown -- essentially that we should use the climate change problem for the purposes of peace, love, and understanding:
"The function of climate change I suggest, then, is  not as a lower-case environmental phenomenon to be solved. Solving climate change should not be the focus of our efforts any more than we should be 'solving' the idea of human rights or liberal democracy. It really is not about stopping climate chaos. Instead, we need to see how we can use the idea of climate change -- the matrix of ecological functions, power relationships, cultural discourses and material flows that climate change reveals -- to rethink how we take forward our political, social, economic and personal projects over the decades to come....

"As a resource of the imagination, the idea of climate change can be deployed around our geographical, social and virtual worlds in creative ways. The idea of climate change can stimulate new thinking about technology. It can inspire new artistic creations in visual, written and dramatised media. It can invigorate effects to protect our citizens from the hazard of climate. The idea of climate change can provoke new ethical and theological thinking about our relationship with the future. It can around new interest in how science and culture interrelate. It can galvanize new social movements to explore new ways of living in urban and rural settings. And the idea of climate change can touch each of us as we reflect on the goals and values that matter to us. These are all creative applications of the idea of climate change, but they are applications that do not demand agreement. Indeed, they may be hindered by agreement. They thrive in conditions of pluralism and hope, rather than in conditions of universalism and fear...."

-- Mike Hulme, Why We Disagree About Climate Change, pp 362-363
This is all too theological for me, in the broader sense of the word. It not only directly undercuts the many warnings scientists and others are giving about the decades ahead, but pushes all the buttons of why many are dubious of the issue and untrusting of the warnings.

And these things are going to happen anyway, if the changes ahead are anything like what are expected.

It dilutes everything. And this kind of thinking already seems to be happening: the IPCC 5AR Zero Order Drafts that were leaked a few months ago already seem to be going far beyond science. For example, the 13th Chapter of Working Group 2, "Livelihoods and Poverty," has subsections on "Inequality and Marginalization," "Indigenous People," and "Gender," among others.

Gender! What is that doing in a document assessing science?

"Research and empirical work on gender and climate change provides further evidence that specific configurations of uneven social relations of power, social and cultural norms that determine division of labor, inequality in economic and political positions, and discriminatory institutional practices all shape unequal access to 1 and control over household and community decision-making processes, and hence result in gender-differentiated impacts of climate change... Adger et al. 2007 (AR4, Ch 17) note higher vulnerability of women than men to weather-related disasters, including higher numbers of death and disproportionate amount of burden in recovery and rehabilitation, due to broader patterns of structural gender inequality. However, more cent work suggests that mortality during natural calamities is tied to socially constructed vulnerabilities such as discrimination, lower caste and lower class, and social conditioning and expected gender roles, rather than being a woman per se (Arora-Jonsson 2011). More concerted efforts are emerging to understand the underlying reasons for gendered impacts and the role social differentiation plays in assessing and potentially remedying the very processes and conditions that perpetuate gender and other inequalities and those that reduce harm through enhanced adaptive capacities (Tschakert and Machado 2012; Tuana et al. 2013)."
It's not the these aren't important issues, but we're being told climate change requires immediate action to, essentially, rebuild the infrastructure of civilization. We can't possibly solve all of humanity's endless number of problems while reconnecting the pipes, and to try would be to dilute the effort until it dissolves into nothing.

I'm sure we're going to see much more of this kind of thing in the run-up to the Rio+20 conference next month. That seems to me to be a big mistake, one that gives me fewer reasons to worry about the problem and its solutions, not more.


Anonymous said...

"Gender! What is that doing in a document assessing science? "

The more women who are working, the less kids they'll have and the less resources used.

Paul S said...

I sense a bit of argument from incredulity here. On the face of it, gender may not be particularly important in Western socities any longer but it can be a very charged issue in some countries.

If climate change might have a significant effect on population gender ratios I think policy makers would want to know about it. It's not all about preventing something happening, but also planning with the aid of foresight.

John said...

I suffered through the first 2 seasons and then gave up on it.