Published today: Contemporary Climate Change Debates

Contemporary Climate Change Debates: A Student Primer is published today—Thursday 12 December–and your pre-ordered copies will be on their way to you.  Routledge are presently offering a special publication price when ordered through them of £27.99 for paperback and £17.50 for an e-book.

A few months ago I posted my Preface to the book which explains my thinking about the book’s purpose and design, about its pedagogic value and about the layout of the questions and selection of contributing authors.  One of my motivating reasons was a serious concern about the quality of the public discussion about what sort of a problem climate change is and what types of policy, and wider social, cultural and technological, changes might be warranted.

Value-laden disagreements about climate change are unlikely to be resolved through more scientific knowledge.  Even less, will they be resolved through more assertive (or even speculative) scientific predictions about the climatic future.  This line of reasoning—a science-first approach to climate change–mistakes value disputes for knowledge disputes. 

Failing to recognise that to resolve value disputes requires one to engage in dialogue and debate rather than in simple name-calling leads some public commentators on climate change down a dead-end.  They seek to discredit and dismiss people who advance credible arguments about climate policies which happen to contradict their own preferences.

Using polarising labels to denigrate one’s opponent without considering in detail the reasons for their views, is a tactic used to ‘win an argument’ without in fact winning the argument.  Calling out your opponent as a climate ‘denier’ or ‘contrarian’—or indeed as a climate ‘alarmist’ or ‘zealot’–does nothing to encourage constructive dialog.  

This was nicely illustrated back in September when Misha Ketchell, the Editor and Executive Director of The Conversation (Australia), excommunicated climate sceptics from the conversation

Once upon a time, we might have viewed climate sceptics as merely frustrating. We relied on other commenters and authors to rebut sceptics and deniers, which often lead to endless back and forth.  But it’s 2019, and now we know better. Climate change deniers, and those shamelessly peddling pseudoscience and misinformation, are perpetuating ideas that will ultimately destroy the planet. As a publisher, giving them a voice on our site contributes to a stalled public discourse.”

Rather than the excommunication of unwelcome views from the public sphere, what is needed is a clear articulation of the different values that are at stake in selecting between different climate policies.  And then to engage in political processes to explore and reach decisions about what to do.  Hiding behind the slogan ‘listen to the science’ is no short-cut to this challenging and often messy task. 

And this is the reason for my new student textbook.  It will help students develop their own well-informed position on 15 wide-ranging questions raised by climate change without being told what to think.  Arguments about climate change policy and responsibility are approached primarily as value disputes that cannot be satisfactorily resolved simply by providing more scientific knowledge and asserting its truth more loudly or engaging in more vocal science communication. 

The 15 debates illustrate that climate change raises many complex and interlocking moral, ethical and political questions about the future, the answers to which lie beyond the reach of science.  Examining these questions, and understanding why and how different scholars analyse and answer them in different ways, is a crucial learning experience for any student of climate change whether at high school, college or university. 

To quote philosopher Richard Foley, 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, Cambridge 12 December 2019