Politics of climate change

Tony Giddens’ new book on climate change is attracting some interesting crits. Giddens is a good specimen of that rare species in the UK, the public intellectual. He’s steered a nicely judged path between devoting his life to the promulgation of a single idea, like Richard Dawkins, and offering views on so many things you are bound to wonder how he can possibly know what he is talking about – the, ahem, higher journalism route.

Andrew Gamble’s review of The Politics of Climate Change in Times Higher Education suggests that the author identifies “Giddens’ paradox” – that since the dangers of global warming are not immediate of obvious, they are ignored: but by the time they are obvious enough to induce action it will be too late. Hard to believe that this deserves to be called after Giddens, as it seems one of the  most common, and unfortunately correct, observations about the topic. It is why, I suspect, the normally optimistic James Martin said flatly in Oxford the other week, “we are going to muck up the climate”. Have to read the book to see if Giddens really does claim this is a key novel insight.

Further evidence about why we will proceed to wreck the climate comes from Will Hutton’s commentary on the book in The Observer. Hutton, who prides himself on economic and political realism from a vaguely progressive perspective (but only as progressive as consistent with continued capital accumulation, old boy) has one of those commentaries which reveal more about the commentator than the book he jumps off from.

He takes Giddens’ analysis of the politics as an occasion for bashing greens of all shades for their “mystic, utopian view of nature” and “attachment to meaningless notions such as sustainable development”.  This by way of defending the need for a third runway at Heathrow airport, and decrying arguments which attempt to combat the “so-what” factor on climate change with “scary tales from a far-distant future”. Hmm…  wonder how distant counts as far distant for Hutton?

To be fair, he does suggest that a third runway should go along with plans from government which compensate for growth in air traffic with radically lower carbon emissions elsewhere. Ah, but cabinet minister Geoff Hoon is already on to that. According to the Guardian, he suggested last week that “a 5% switch to electric cars would offset the extra emissions from a new third runway at Heathrow”. OK, he’s the transport secretary, not the energy secretary, but if that is what he really said it is depressingly incomplete. Here’s hoping when the official announcement this piece was previewing – about some kind of economy-boosting subsidy for buying a shiny new electric car – is made it contains  some hint about where all that carbon free electricity is actually going to come from, this side of the far distant future. Otherwise, Hoon’s little gesture toward joined up thinking sounds either ignorant or deliberately misleading. I’m not (yet) disillusioned enough to entertain the idea that it might be both at once…

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