Non-Fiction Reviews

Requiem for a Species
Why We Resist The Truth About Climate Change

(2010) Clive Hamilton, Earthscan, £14.99 , pbk, xiv + 286 pp, ISBN 978-1-849-71081-7


It has been well over one and half decades since Earthscan has been one of the first publishing point of calls for environmental scientists for academic texts: remember Earthscan sprang out of the press wing of the International Institute for Environment and Development that among other things gave us the A Low Energy Strategy for the UK. Nonetheless, what Earthscan has been doing is focussing on presenting the humanities' take on human ecology. Requiem for Species falls well into this camp especially as it is written by someone concerned with ethics. However, as increasingly matters firmly underpinned by science are on the political agenda, an arts perspective can be particularly valuable in helping get complex issues understood by those beyond science and the various very specialist overlapping disciplines associated with climate change science. Here Clive Hamilton's book is particularly useful and indeed scientists who have not been working on climate-related topics will find that it is both easy-to-digest and illuminating.

In it he summarises: the basic science of anthropogenic global warming; examines our addiction to economic growth; looks at consumerism; races through the various forms of climate denial; takes a philosophical look at how modern society disconnects us from nature (though as biologists we know that this is in no small part illusionary); all too briefly looks at possible solutions from renewable (flow as opposed to fund) energy resources, geoengineering and carbon capture; visits the 4°C world largely through the 2009 Oxford symposium '4° and beyond' (incidentally, some of the symposium's PowerPoints are on-line if you are good a Goggling); before looking forward beyond despair towards acting (wisely without specifying exactly how).

His recounting of the science is as spot on as can be given that each chapter really warrants a book of its own. But then this is the strength of this work: it would sit well both on the shelf of the proverbial New Scientist reader as it would a science researcher whose work is unconnected to either human ecology or climate change, in that both such readers may be seeking an overview as to the urgency of the need to address climate change concerns. The references enable further study down avenues of interest and there is a good index to facilitate dipping in to specific points.

Those working in the field of climate change science (be they life scientists, geologists, computer modellers and climatologists) will find nothing new and obviously much is missed (such as climate isotope excursion events or ecosystem function consequences), but then they can marvel at Hamilton's neat packaging of the fundamental climate issue. However, what does a little irritate me (and perhaps this is the publisher's fault) is that the question posed in the book's subtitle – why we resist the truth about climate change? – is not properly addressed and neither are the consequential science fallacies the so-called 'climate deniers' promulgate. Ignoring this publishing faux pas, we are nonetheless left with a very compelling summary of climate concern and why we (humans) should care, and here I highly commend this book.

Jonathan Cowie

A version of this review has appeared in the journal Biologist.

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