Debating Climate Change: A New Book

It is unusual to find myself agreeing with Nigel Farage.  But a comment he made a few months ago about the importance of teaching critical thinking at British universities puts him on my side.  “Ultimately it seems to me the job of a university is to teach critical thinking”, he said.  “To teach young people, here is a problem, here are two possible solutions, they are both valid and you make your own mind up”.

Whilst Farage has his own reasons for promoting this view of higher education pedagogy, the wider call for cultivating independent critical thinking and respectful social deliberation is also being powerfully made by deliberative democrats (within whose ranks I would not place Farage).

For example, John Dryzek and colleagues recently pointed out in Science the declining complexity of public arguments and “the growing mismatch between the simple solutions offered by political leaders and real complex problems”.  This is particularly the case with climate change, as I have argued before.  For deliberative democrats the answer is to find and provide more spaces in society for citizens to deliberate about complex issues.  “Deliberation entails civility and argumentative complexity”, says Dryzek.

This is where my next book seeks to make a contribution.  Contemporary Climate Change Debates: A Student Primer will be published by Routledge next winter (2019/20).  It is an edited collection of 15 debates in which pairs of authors from around the world take different positions to defend either a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ answer to the question posed.

In one sense it is a follow-on to my 2009 book Why We Disagree About Climate Change, except that rather than these debates being rehearsed through one voice, I have now enrolled over 30 very diverse scholars from 12 different countries.  Another difference is that the intended audience is very much undergraduate or Master’s students who may be studying climate change from across the full range of disciplines.

At a time when there is rising concern about the narrowness of students’ educational experiences and their lack of exposure to people and/or views with which they disagree, this new book is timely.   With growing evidence of on-line echo chambers and strong social sorting, feeding the rise of identity politics and populism in many societies, we owe students a learning experience of climate change which exposes and explains the reasons for answering the challenging questions posed by climate change in different ways.

The 15 questions debated in the book include the following:

  • Is climate change the most important challenge of our time?
  • Is the concept of ‘tipping point’ helpful for describing and communicating possible climate futures? 
  • Does climate change drive violence, conflict and human migration?
  • Are carbon markets the best way to address climate change? 
  • Is emphasising consensus in climate science helpful for policymaking? 
  • Is climate change a human rights violation? 
  • Does the ‘Chinese model’ of environmental governance demonstrate to the world how to govern the climate?

To answer these and other questions I have assembled a cast of scholars from around the world, which include Lilian Andonova, John Cook, Sarah Cornell, Michel Crucifix, Christiane Fröhlich, Aarti Gupta, Lei Liu, Jane Long, Catriona Mckinnon, Fredi Otto, Marjan Peeters, Tianbao Qin, Kenneth Shockley, Jennie Stephens and David Zhang, and many more.

Contemporary Climate Change Debates: A Student Primer is a textbook that will help students develop their own well-informed position on these questions without being told what to think.  As Richard Foley says in his wonderful little book The Geography of Insight, scholars and students alike “… should minimise the reliance on the opinions of others ‘floating in their brains’ and should instead to the extent possible arrive at conclusions there are able to defend on their own”.

Mike Hulme, June 2019