Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed -- and What It Means for Our Future Hardcover – Mar 5 2014
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"Jamieson's ethical approach deserves serious consideration, especially since it manages to take our relationship with nature seriously while avoiding the debate about whether the value in nature is intrinsic or instrumental... wide-ranging and ambitious" --Journal of Applied Philosophy
"he has a gift for translating complexities into simple, often arresting terms, and is able to make even familiar material seem fresh...The result is a book that is uncommonly accessible to nonspecialists, and will resonate even among those working in the trenches of climate policy, for whom works of pure philosophy often seem somewhat beside the point...This is sound advice not only for economists but for anyone writing about climate change. Reason in a Dark Time succeeds so well because Jamieson, with very few exceptions, practices what he preaches." --Ethics and International Affairs
"A book that does justice to the full tragedy and weird comedy of climate change is Reason in a Dark Time, by the philosopher Dale Jamieson. Ordinarily, I avoid books on the subject, but a friend recommended it to me last summer, and I was intrigued by its subtitle, "Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed-And What It Means for Our Future"; by the word "failed" in particular, the past tense of it. I started reading and couldn't stop...I'd expected to be depressed by "Reason in a Dark Time" but I wasn't. Part of what's mesmerizing about climate change is its vastness across both space and time. Jamieson, by elucidating our past failures and casting doubt on whether we'll ever do any better, situates it within a humanely scaled context."
-- Jonathan Franzen in The New Yorker
"An invaluable contribution to the dialogue about how to minimize the inevitable social and environmental devastation that looms large in our future."
"This book is a must read by all who wish to bring reason to the challenges [of climate change] we are going to face very soon, whether we want to or not..." --Green Energy Times
"Jamieson provides a wide-ranging account, looking at the lack of political incentives to act and at the influence of organised climate denial...Jamieson concludes with some observations about things we can definitely do for the better right away (abandon coal), and with shrewd reflections on living with the knowledge that we flunked the climate test." --Times Higher Education
"A highly informative, wise, and thought-provoking discussion of some of the greatest problems that humanity faces, and of some possible solutions."
--Derek Parfit, All Souls College, Oxford
"Dale Jamieson is a philosopher and a realist. He was been working on climate change for a quarter of a century, alongside both scientists and policy makers. He argues that we are heading down a dangerous road and will likely have to face a much more difficult world. But he also argues that there is so much we can do individually and collectively to make a difference, and warns that the best must not be the enemy of the good. This is a very thoughtful and valuable book and should be read by all those who would wish to bring reason to a defining challenge of our century."
--Professor Lord Nicholas Stern
"No one but Dale Jamieson could write an eminently readable book about climate change that ranges over the full sweep of the problem from the historical to the ethical, the scientific to the political. By placing this vexing issue into the broader context of the human condition, Jamieson guides the reader's mood from pessimism to optimism, and finally realism about our prospects."
--Michael Oppenheimer, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Princeton University
"Part requiem for our failed hopes and part vision for our uncertain future, this remarkably far-ranging work by the philosopher who has thought longest and hardest about climate change could inspire fruitfully radical reassessment of our attitudes toward the most far-reaching challenge of our lifetimes. The climate is changing -- can we?"
--Henry Shue, Centre for International Studies, University of Oxford
"Although Jamieson characterizes the Enlightenment faith in reason as a "dream," and recognizes that it is in particularly short supply in climate change policy, he is very much a man of the Enlightenment himself - hence his title, with its emphasis on reason, even in dark times, and his stated goal, which is to make readers think. Reason in a Dark Time succeeds admirably in this task. Although much of the ground Jamieson explores is well trodden, he has a gift for translating complexities into simple, often arresting terms, and is able to make even familiar material seem fresh." -- Ethics and International Affairs
"Forget learning about the science of climate change; read this book to learn about society and perhaps do a little bit of soul-searching. Summing Up: Highly recommended. " --CHOICE
"Reason in a Dark Time by Dale Jamieson (Oxford): precisely because it's the first book to be fully honest about climate change, it's the one book on the subject that stands a chance of not depressing you. It may even change your life." -- Jonathan Franzen, The Guardian, recommended as "Best Holiday Reads 2015"
About the Author
Dale Jamieson teaches Environmental Studies, Philosophy, and Law at New York University, and was formerly affiliated with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He is the author of Ethics and the Environment: An Introduction, and Morality's Progress: Essays on Humans, Other Animals, and the Rest of Nature.
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I especially liked Jamieson's description of the role of science in US society. He notes the gulf in perspective between scientists and public policy makers caused by the requirements for "success" in their fields. An amusing anecdote about the Supreme Court case for the EPA's regulation of CO2 was also apt; Jamieson explains that Justice Scalia mixed up the words 'troposphere' and 'stratosphere'. After being corrected by a scientist, he replied, "Whatever. I'm not a scientist," to laughter among the "sympathetic" audience of lawyers and journalists (62). Jamieson considers how the audience would have taken a similar quip if it had been about a basis of economics or politics, such as "Supply and Demand. Whatever, I'm not an economist." He asserts that US society generally doesn't prioritize scientific bases, and our ignorance "can lead people to both overestimate what science can do and feel betrayed when it fails to live up to these pretensions" (63).
Two parts of the book stood out to me as having room for improvement. In his explanation of climate change philosophy and values, he focuses exclusively on human impacts for future generations and for people in developing countries. His being an environmental philosopher, I thought it was interesting that he never mentions philosophical ideas related to ecological and non-human impacts in the present and future. This significantly narrows his focus to human society, as may have been his preference. Jamieson also refers several times in the book to the "biggest problem" in addressing climate change: a psychological component. While he explains other factors in some depth, he addresses this in only two pages. Mentioning some of the research in environmental and climate change psychology and communication (Robert Gifford, Kari Norgaard, Susan Moser) could have significantly contributed to this section.
Jamieson concludes that we will continue to address climate change in a piecemeal and messy fashion. Overall, I think he does a great job in explaining many aspects of climate change with thought and depth.
As far as presentation goes, the bulk of his book reflects on how we got here. Jamieson takes us through the early days of climate science, the recognition of climate change as a problem, and the institution of climate diplomacy. He discusses how climate diplomacy failed due to the disconnects between politics and science, the disconnects between public good and corporate good, etc. He also discusses the limitations of economics when applied to climate change, especially when it comes to valuing present and future lives. The takeaway is that since diplomacy and economics have failed to solve the climate change problem in the past we shouldn't expect them to be the solution going forward.
The next subjects he takes up are ethics and morality. As with diplomacy and economics, he discusses where human ethics and morality fall short when it comes to climate change. He surveys a variety of recent attempts at establishing a new ethics for climate change, but identifies a range of challenges that each must address before any of them can be considered coherent.
The last part of the book looks forward. Unfortunately, this is the shortest (and in my opinion the weakest) part of the book. The chapter titled "Living with Climate Change" is by far the shortest chapter in the book. Jamieson's reflections on measuring meaning in terms of activity (vs. results) and cultivating a respect for nature seem less convincing than any of his earlier arguments (even for someone like me who would emphasize the same). The final chapter provides a Confucian-like "rectification of names", a discussion on how future policy discussions may play out in terms of those names, and also introduces Jamieson's seven principles for the way forward. Readers with an activist bent may find this chapter useful in that it points out how people in climate change discussions often talk past each other by using the same names to mean different things as well as how the conversation will likely turn toward emphasizing "adaptation" and "geoengineering" now when in fact "abatement" and "mitigation" remain critical elements of any solution. His seven principles for the way forward, however, are similar in brevity to his earlier discussions of meaning and respect for nature - so while my previous education allows me to agree with each of his principles, they're not quite the arguments you might use to sway a fence sitter (let alone a staunch denier).
All in all, a great discussion on how we got to where we find ourselves with respect to climate change. The latter part of book that deals with the way forward, while a little weak, can itself be taken as outlining a way forward for further reading (as opposed to being a final word on the subject).
By Dale Jamieson
ISBN: 978-0-19933-766-8 (Oxford University Press, 2014)
It's fairly easy to see that we have a serious climate problem on our planet. But what's not so easy to see is why we are not responding to this appropriately. Global climate change will undoubtedly affect the way we live and where we live. … And if we live. Yet our political systems are totally inadequate to take appropriate steps and to be truthful with us about this situation. This book goes deep into the psychological reasons this is so and why we still need to make a significant response to this problem. If you've ever wondered what you can do as an individual or why you should even try, this book is a must-read for you.
Rahasya Poe, Lotus Guide
I also came away with another surprising insight... anthropogenic CC is not completely bad. Only bad for some species and in particular humans. The planetary ecosystem will roll along and morph into something new like it has done several times in the past, but human dominance of the planet will likely come to a rather abrupt halt. If you might desire to have a really better / unpolitical understanding of possible responses to CC, take a look at the National Academies Press books - Climate Change and Climate Intervention. When you have read these you will then understand that there will not be a future 'magical' techno fixes. The geo physical and chemical laws governing CO2 are not going to change and no magic will ever be possible. Only real answer is getting off fossil fuel, but the complexity and scope of that is so large, it will be much too late by the time any significant progress is made! If you live in the USA, and look at this.. check your electric bill and challenge yourself to get by on 7 to 10 KwHrs, per house per day! If everyone just did this it would be a giant stride forward! JAS July 9, 2015
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