Copenhagen reading list
October 3, 2009, 5:41 am
Filed under: Books, Published stuff

Roger Pielke Jr, Joe Romm, Ron Oxburgh and Rajendra Pachauri — Together at Last!

The excellent Anna Barnett of Nature Reports Climate Change (follow her on twitter; read her on Climate Feedback) has coerced various people into recommending books to read in preparation for Copenhagen. Here’s the whole sherbang; below extracts  (with mine in full, because it’s my blog and my copyright…)

Joe Romm recommends the forthcoming Al Gore book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis (Amazon US|UK)

Based on 30 of Gore’s ‘Solutions Summits’ as well as one-on-one discussions with leading experts across multiple disciplines, the book aims, in Gore’s words, “to gather in one place all of the most effective solutions that are available now”.

Tony Juniper goes for something that’s been around a little longer — Mark Lynas’s Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet (Amazon US|UK)

At 4 °C, a very different world would emerge, and it would not be conducive to the maintenance of secure economic and social conditions. Unfortunately, this is the expected outcome from modest emissions cuts, presuming they are actually delivered.

Ron Oxburgh, formerly of Shell, the UK government, and Cambridge Earth Sciences (where he lectured me in first year geology) goes for a geologist’s book which I wasn’t aware of, Bryan Lovell’s Challenged by Carbon: The Oil Industry and Climate Change (Amazon US|UK)

An eyewitness account of oil producers’ shifting views on global warming. Unlike many writers on climate, he presents today’s changes in their long-term geological context and shows how this impeded understanding of human influences. After all, the argument went, the climate has changed many times in the past, so what is different today? Lacing the story with personal anecdotes, Lovell describes a slow evolution in the industry from scepticism and hostility to a widespread if not universal recognition that although coal is the main culprit, burning oil is a major and growing contributor to climate change.

Roger Pielke Jr reaches back more than a decade for Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed by Yale anthropologist and political scientist James C. Scott (Amazon US|UK)

Scott recites a litany of failed attempts at centralized planning that should serve as warnings to Copenhagen … [and] warns that the “mechanical application of generic rules” — such as emissions targets in climate policy — “is an invitation to practical failure, social disillusionment, or most likely both”. He proposes that, instead of convoluted centralized plans to remake society, we recognize the need for practical wisdom embodied in conceptions of ‘muddling through’.

Oliver Tickell’s Kyoto2: How to Manage the Global Greenhouse (Amazon US|UK), recommended by Mark Lynas, argues that the whole basis of the Copenhagen negotiations has things the wrong way round

Are we really going to try to police the carbon burned by close to 7 billion individuals? A better option, Tickell suggests, is to regulate production by setting a global cap on the amount of carbon being drilled, dug and piped out of the ground. Don’t work with individuals or even governments: auction carbon production rights to companies instead. There are then only a few hundred agents, not a few billion, to worry about. And instead of fighting over who has to make emissions cuts, fight over which countries get the auction cash.

Andy Revkin quite rightly suggests we should all read Mike Hulme’s book, mentioned here before, Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity (Amazon US|UK)

The deep divisions among the variegated parties coming together in Copenhagen — deeply poor countries, fast-growing giants, established powers — are unlikely to be easily bridged in a single accord. Each faction has, in essence, a unique definition of the climate challenge: for the poorest, it’s about adaptation and equity; for the richest, it’s about energy technology and markets; for the forested, it’s about credit for carbon stores. Hulme’s argument bolsters predictions by long-time observers of climate diplomacy that a grand agreement is less achievable than a set of specific deals on particular issues.

The aforementioned Mike Hulme, for his part, urges us towards The Sustainability Mirage: Illusion and Reality in the Coming War on Climate Change by John Foster (Amazon US|UK)

This is a challenging book that explores some crucial social and psychological realities of climate change. Foster engages with the deepening tension that humans face, living in the overconsuming present while being aware of the unrepresented future. He honestly reveals some of the structural limitations of the sustainable-development paradigm and struggles with interpreting the value–action gap that all of us, to varying degrees, encounter in our behaviour. But you won’t hear too much about this during the Copenhagen conference. So read it.

Rajendra Pachauri, reasonably enough, I suppose, recommends the IPCC’s Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report (IPCC download) by, well, Rajendra K. Pachauri and & Andy Reisinger

A unique document that should top the reading list of anyone trying to understand the scale of the climate challenge.

And I, a little off piste, sing the praises of Stewart Brand‘s new Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto (Amazon US|UK)

This book is not going to help anyone get to grips with the intricacies of the UN climate negotiations, but if you want to lift your head from the trenches for an overview of the twenty-first century, it’s a great place to start. Brand has been championing clear long-term visions since he campaigned for NASA to photograph the Earth from space in the 1960s, later setting up such farsighted institutions as the Whole Earth Catalog, the Global Business Network and the Long Now Foundation.

His new book, though presented in small chunks that are enticing to skip in and out of, nevertheless builds up into a lucid big picture put together with experience, wisdom and optimism. Brand tackles touchy issues such as the importance of urbanization, the potential of genetic engineering and the practical case for nuclear power, fully aware that many of the environmentalist readers he hopes to reach will start out disagreeing with him. He refuses either to pander to their prejudices or to take delight in shocking them, preferring engagement, reason and a leavening of wit. He simply argues persuasively, on the basis of wide reading, for the positions he thinks will best allow humans to shore up nature so that nature in turn can help preserve humanity.

Interesting that no one recommended David McKay’s Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air (Amazon UK|US, discussed here before); I guess most of the panel went bigger picture than that, but it is still a vital read for people thinking about how what the politicians say might actually pay out in terms of nuclear on the ground , wind at sea, biomass in the hearth and so on.Feel free to nominate your own additions, either here or over at the Climate Feedback blog.

If I had a kindle, it would have all of them loaded up well before December 6th. If I have to take the damn things on the train, I’ll probably cull the list. But it does seem to me an excellent list from which to cull.

Update: I’m not paying any attention to the FTC mullarkey, other than hearing about it at third hand, but it probably behooves me in general to note that links to Amazon on this site generate a kickback to me if there’s a sale, and if I’ve remembered to muck around with the URL in the right way.

1 Comment so far
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Most impressive ! Lots of work ahead . Thank you for this .
Please also check out a new cartoon about the canary in the coal mine – at marytoons.com

Comment by Mary Susan MacDonald

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