Book review: Re-imagining climate change

reimagining climate changeOur responses to climate change have become routine and institutionalized, according to the editors of Re-Imagining Climate Change. We have certain ways of thinking about it, with firm boundaries around what solutions can be considered and which ones can’t. Mostly, we like the solutions that are technical and fit neatly within our existing economic system – Climate Inc, as the book refers to it. “The world becomes more tone-deaf when the language switches to, for instance, questions of social justice, the distortions of capitalism, moving beyond mitigation and adaptation, and critically assessing modernity.”

So this is a book that seeks to reframe the climate change debate in a series of different ways, looking for “hitherto neglected possibilities”. It aims to expand our sociological imagination, and offer some new and perhaps experimental perspectives. Like any experimental process, not everything will work, as the editors say right at the start.

Among the various things considered here are the idea of the anthropocene, a chapter looking at climate change through the lens of security, thoughts on Arabian eco-cities and climate engineering.

One of the more intriguing is a chapter from Richard Falk on “the temporal imagination”, which points out how politics is concerned with the spatial, with borders and regions, territory and jurisdiction. Climate change is a truly global issue and it “scrambles the dominant spatial metaphor”. We might find new approaches by looking at climate change across time instead, from past emissions to the rights of future generations. Or we might consider that rather than thinking of the future as more or less like the past, there are ‘kairos’ moments when things shift. Climate change could be such a moment, a breakthrough of some kind.

The essay I found most useful was Paul Wapner’s contribution on ‘climate suffering’. Climate Inc focuses on mitigation and adaptation, but has nothing much to say to the people who are already suffering the effects of a warming world. Since those most likely to suffer are the poor, many of whom have done almost nothing to cause climate change, this is a major injustice that is almost entirely disregarded. (As I mentioned before, the whole idea of climate justice gets one passing mention in the 32 pages of the COP21 document.)

Wapner’s suggestion in response is the idea of ‘radical resilience’. Normally resilience is about bouncing back from a climate shock, regaining equilibrium. If that just means a return to an unjust status quo, then resilience doesn’t get us far enough. Radical resilience goes further, using the shock to take a step forward, challenging injustice and the power structures that drive climate change in the first place. It’s a promising idea and one I will come back to.

I also enjoyed Manjana Milkoreit’s essay on ‘climate fiction’, and how fictional scenarios and storytelling can give us an emotional context for climate change. I’ve read a couple of bad attempts at climate-related fiction, but I’m a fan of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam series, which is discussed here in some detail.

Re-Imagining Climate Change is aimed at an academic audience rather than a general readership, but if you work in communicating or campaigning on climate change and are interested in new ways of formulating the problem, you may find it helpful. The chapters on justice are particularly worthwhile, and it highlights some blind spots and limits to current thinking that are well worth further discussion. I think the broad argument is absolutely right, that we have lacked imagination in tackling climate change – not innovative technologies, but bold ideas that reshape global power structures and create new synergies of social and environmental justice.

Just don’t expect carefully wrapped new policy ideas from this book though. “The reader is encouraged to relax her standards of ‘realistic’, ‘practical’, and ‘policy-relevant'”, we are warned at the beginning. Instead, these are “investigational forays” into imaginative thinking about climate change – and you will probably know from that whether or not you will fins this worthwhile.

14 Comments on “Book review: Re-imagining climate change”

  1. Dichasium March 14, 2016 at 2:39 pm #

    “bold ideas that reshape global power structures and create new synergies of social and environmental justice.” – I cannot see any other potential solution. The power structures have sought and gained power with lip-service, or next to nothing, or none whatsoever concern for the consequences to the world. The author’s ideas are wonderful but how to achieve it is perhaps out of this world’s ability. The power structures themselves need to rethink. While profit is the goal, they will not. (Little wonder that the COP21 document contains only one passing mention.

    I look forward to you coming back on this crucial link. No matter what nonsense is said about the consumer choosing what they want, the responsibility lies firmly at the feet of the power structures.

    • Jeremy Williams March 15, 2016 at 10:58 am #

      Sure, except all the power we’re talking about here is held and operated by people. People made them, people can change them. Not easy, but not impossible either.

      • Dichasium March 15, 2016 at 12:52 pm #

        Yes Jeremy, we can improve things here and there. There will always be more wanting more power and others trying to prevent the injustices this commonly brings. It would be great to actually raise the human conscience but I don’t see it happening. What do you think of more free trade AND much more justice within it? Does that sit comfortably with you?

        • mark April 8, 2016 at 12:31 pm #

          hi, i have a website set up to sell the book. Let me know what you think of the site and preview. The writing is taking a bit longer than i planned for. Probably should have attended writing class or school for that matter. cheers

          thelastrevolution.org please dont forward to anyone yet, thanks.

          • Dichasium April 8, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

            Hi Mark, I’m not sure if you are asking me (Dichasium), or, Jeremy. I did ask J. if he’d review it for us and he said he’d take a look. Obviously, you have now made you web-site and preview available to all on Jeremy’s site.

            I just read it and can say it has caught my interest – hopefully it may whet J’s too. Perhaps you’ll let him have the e-copy to review, if he’s still willing?

        • jennonpress April 9, 2016 at 10:57 pm #

          hi dichasium, i was asking you. i was in the middle of a rewrite, it should make more sense to you now if you read the shortened preview again. am having difficulty writing it as i speak. but is coming along. so much technical crap to get out of my head. always have to remember the audience has not the same background also. I’ll send you a full copy when i’m finished. also jeremy.

          thanks

          • Dichasium April 10, 2016 at 1:16 pm #

            Cheers jennonpress (/mark/Richard)! I’ll look forward to hearing more of the theory as I enjoy the area of psychology, and, it’s good to look for hope where one can. (BTW, there’s still lines printed over each other & out of sequence on the preview I get – I know you’ll sort it all). If Jeremy reviews it I’m sure he’ll do so with an open mind regardless of any personal views. Good luck! D.

        • mark April 10, 2016 at 7:39 pm #

          hi ? , its Mark. i think i worked the bugs out. not only does the page have to work across browsers, it also has to work across operating systems.

          cheers

  2. DevonChap March 15, 2016 at 8:42 am #

    It does seem that radicals across the non capitalist spectrum are relaxing their standards of realism and turning to what is in effect fantasy. I’be been seeing this turn away from the practical to ‘imagine!’ in lots of places from Laurie Penny to some comments here. The Corbynistas in Labour are one big manifestation of it. Personally I prefer my fantasy sci-do and my politics practical and rooted jn the real world.

    Green anti capitalist fantasy has a niche audience but it doesn’t change that most people will stick with Climate Inc or whatever mildly patronising name made up for the dim old general population.

    • Jeremy Williams March 15, 2016 at 11:08 am #

      I actually agree with a lot of that, though this book is about language and framing, not about fantasy scenarios.

      Your approach to climate change, if I remember correctly, is to assume that all things will be solved by more free trade. That’s a fantasy too, so don’t kid yourself that you occupy the intellectual high ground.

      • DevonChap March 15, 2016 at 1:58 pm #

        Now now, you get snippy if I simplify your views so hardly a good example to simplify mine.

        Your simplistic categorization isn’t even right, I don’t think free trade will solve climate change, a carbon tax plus human ingenuity will. Free-trade will solve global poverty. Simples.

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