Mike Hulme: Why We Disagree about Climate Change

by Howard Silverman

Mike Hulme is founding director of the UK's Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia. This talk was recorded at The University of Nottingham's Institute for Science and Society (mp3).

Climate change is telling the story of an idea and how that idea is changing the way in which our societies think, feel, interpret and act. And therefore climate change is extending itself well beyond simply the description of change in physical properties in our world. ...

I argue that in each of seven domains, ... disagreement is embedded in our discourse about climate change. In science we disagree because we have different ways of constituting what is valid knowledge. When it comes to economics, ... we disagree about what and why we value people and things both today and in the future.

Religion as well actually leads us to see disagreement in our discourse around climate change, because we have different ways of recognizing divine authority and the relationship between different types of revelations and the way in which our morality is constructed. When it comes to risk and our perception of risk, again this is very self evident, applying across a whole variety of risk issues, how we perceive the putative risks of climate change are understood extremely differently both within and between societies. The way in which climate change is communicated, ... the reframing of climate change opens divergence rather than convergence.

Sixthly, ... we have different ways of conceptualizing or defining or measuring human wellbeing. What is the ultimate objective of development around the world — what constitutes wellbeing? And then finally ... governance ... we have different ways in which the contract between the state and the citizen is understood.

From the concluding chapter of Hulme's new book, Why We Disagree about Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity:

The function of climate change I suggest, is not as a lower-case environmental phenomenon to be solved. Solving climate change should not be the focus of our efforts any more than we should be ‘solving’ the idea of human rights or liberal democracy. It really is not about stopping climate chaos. Instead, we need to see how we can use the idea of climate change – the matrix of ecological functions, power relationships, cultural discourses and materials flows that climate change reveals – to rethink how we take forward our political, social, economic and personal projects over the decades to come.

We should use climate change both as a magnifying glass and as a mirror. … Our engagement with climate change and the disagreements that it spawns should always be a form of enlightenment.

In March, Hulme's "What Really Happened at the Copenhagen Climate Change Meet" was published in SEED MAGAZINE.

A recent profile of Hulme, "Top British boffin: Time to ditch the climate consensus," appeared in The Register.

Tags: humanity, climate

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