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Chancing our arm

by
February 2010, no. 318

The Politics of Climate Change by Anthony Giddens

Polity Press (Wiley), $32.95 pb, 256 pp

Chancing our arm

by
February 2010, no. 318

Few academics, policy analysts or politicians can see any humour in climate change. It is as if the doomsday prediction that our civilisation will one day self-destruct as a consequence of global warming has already, perversely, closed down the possibilities for lighter, more creative responses to one of the most urgent issues of our time. To acknowledge a humorous side to catastrophe is not, however, to deny the reality of global dangers. For humour, as Sigmund Freud underscored, is crafty, clever, streetwise, and implacable. How many climate change sceptics does it take to change a lightbulb? None – it’s too early to say if the light bulb needs changing.

Anthony Giddens is, on balance, extravagantly optimistic about humanity’s prospects for reversing climate change. Not that bringing optimism to the debate on climate change is how Giddens would exactly see it. His book pulls no punches; he begins by declaring that at present ‘we have no politics of climate change’. Climate change for Giddens suggests that the world urgently needs political innovations, beyond the confines of orthodox politics and ones capable of addressing the global risks of greenhouse gas emissions. ‘We must create,’ writes Giddens, ‘a positive model of a low-carbon future.’

Blending the dangers of global warming with possibilities for new low-carbon technologies and utopian strands of cosmopolitan politics, Giddens emerges at various points in The Politics of Climate Change as a full-blooded optimist. Certainly, he isn’t one to shy away from humour or irony in order to find better motivations for women and men to confront climate change in their daily lives. His vision is one emphasising ‘climate change positives’. As he says, Martin Luther King didn’t stir people to action by proclaiming ‘I have a nightmare!’

All political tracts on climate change are timely, but some are more timely than others. Whilst political analyses of climate change have taken different forms, the large bulk have emphasised that globally catastrophic processes are at work. From one angle, this is hardly surprising. As global temperatures in the twenty-first century are expected by the international scientific community to rise by four to seven degrees celsius, rather than the previously predicted two to three, it is increasingly evident to many that we are fast approaching the end of the world as we know it.

Anthony Elliott reviews 'The Politics of Climate Change' by Anthony Giddens

The Politics of Climate Change

by Anthony Giddens

Polity Press (Wiley), $32.95 pb, 256 pp

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