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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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"An invaluable contribution to the dialogue about how to minimize the inevitable social and environmental devastation that looms large in our future."
-- Booklist

"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

"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

"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

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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 12 reviews
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Comprehensive overview April 2 2014
By Jenny B - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dale Jamieson coherently covers a lot of ground in this book and has many good footnotes. He explains the history of climate change politics and economic shortcomings well, but his consideration of the causes and of climate change philosophy differentiate it from others in the climate policy field.

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.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Enlightenment ideals for a new age Sept. 13 2014
By Ideophile - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jamieson points a critical eye toward where we find ourselves with respect to climate change, how we got here, and what we can do going forward. The basis of his thinking can be boiled down to this: human ethics, morality, and institutions were never designed to handle problems such as climate change where cause and effect are distributed across space, time, and actors. For example, it's really hard to think ethically when the impacts of decisions made today may be a thousand years in the future; it's really hard to feel morally culpable for turning up the thermostat even though collectively this may result in the suffering and/or death of uncountable people; and it sounds a bit off when our best economic models claim that European explorers got a raw deal when they bought Manhattan for $24. Human beings were built to react to cause and effect when and where they see it - so one of the key problems with climate change is that it's so hard to see the when and the where (let alone the who).

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).
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
It's time to wake up July 8 2014
By Rahasya Poe - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle against Climate Change Failed—And What It Means for Our Future
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
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
It does an admirable job of explaining how we have ... Oct. 30 2014
By Daniel B. Smith - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It does an admirable job of explaining how we have been led astray by the radical commercialists who pass for conservatives these days.
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A great read for non-specialists April 13 2014
By Marc Bekoff - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a great book for non-specialists as well as those whose research centers on climate change - it's easy to read and very well referenced - a most welcomed addition to the growing literature on what's really happening to our one and only precious planet ...