Mike Hulme


On his book Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity

Cover Interview of October 08, 2009

In a nutshell

Why We Disagree About Climate Change is about the idea of climate change—where it came from, what it means to different people in different places and why we disagree about it.  The book develops a different way of approaching the idea of climate change and of working creatively with it.

I deliberately present climate change as an idea to be debated as much as a physical phenomenon that can be observed, quantified and measured.  This latter framing is how climate change is mostly understood by scientists and how science has presented climate change to society over recent decades.  But as society has been increasingly confronted with the observable realities of climate change, and heard of the dangers that scientists claim lie ahead, climate change has moved from being predominantly a physical phenomenon to being simultaneously a social phenomenon.

Far from simply being a change in physical climates—a change in the sequences of weather experienced in given places—climate change has become an idea that now travels well beyond its origins in the natural sciences.  It meets new cultures on its travels and encounters the worlds of politics, economics, popular culture, commerce and religion—often through the interposing role of the media.  As it does so climate change takes on new meanings and serves new purposes.

In Why We Disagree About Climate Change I examine these mutations.  I do so using the concepts, tools and languages of the sciences, social sciences and humanities and the discourses and practices of economics, politics and religion.  Depending on who one is and where one stands the idea of climate change carries quite different meanings and seems to imply quite different courses of action.

These differences of perspective are rooted much more deeply than (merely) in contrasting interpretations of the scientific narrative of climate change.  Our discordant conversations about climate change reveal at a deeper level all that makes for diversity, creativity and conflict within the human story—our different attitudes to risk, technology and well-being; our different ethical, ideological and political beliefs; our different interpretations of the past and our competing visions of the future.  If we are to understand climate change and if we are to use climate change constructively in our politics, we must first hear and understand these discordant voices, these multifarious human beliefs, values, attitudes, aspirations and behaviours.