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David Cromwell and Mark Levene (eds), 'Surviving Climate Change: The struggle to avert global catastrophe'

Pluto, 2007; ISBN 9780745325675; 295pp pbk; £15.99 – but see below

Man-made climate change is scientific fact, but consensus about its social meaning is still a way off. Why are we doing so little about it? Can resource use be uncoupled from quality of life? Is humanity's desire to consume really stronger than its desire to survive?

This activist-academic initiative is welcome, though parts of it are idealistic, polemical and woolly. The editors propose unspecified radical change in response to global warming and do not try to engage with liberal sceptics who believe a suitably incentivised capitalism could be the best path to a zero-carbon world.

Many chapters refer to emission Contraction and Convergence (C&C) between North and South, the most equitable method to share a global CO2 cap, and an invaluable idea in upcoming climate conferences in Poland or Copenhagen. Aubrey Mayer, C&C's originator, warns that oceans may lose the ability to absorb CO2, meaning the UK target of a 60% cut by 2050 needs to happen before 2030. Dave Webb contextualises the “Pentagon report” (2003), a model of climate change factors in conflicts before 2030, while Steve Wright looks at the next generation of “non-lethal area denial” weapons like taser mines and directed microwaves, with an eye on the 150-1000 million climate refugees expected by 2050, but also relevant to activists.

Much of the rest of the book is about obstacles to change, with discernible commonalities. George Marshall's chapter shows that development and human rights NGOs have failed to raise voices on the issue, like many businesses, because of failure to appreciate its urgency and impact on them.

The best chapter, by Susan and David Ballard, gives five necessary and mutually reinforcing conditions for effective local action: Awareness, Agency, Association, Action and reflection and Architecture (replicating and embedding the strategy). I hoped to discover campaigning “pressure points” alongside the glossary and web links, but instead the most valuable lesson is an organisational process to spread action into every sphere. Activists should catalyse but avoid alienating people. Like a “war effort”, action must come every day from engineers, planners, academics, local government, business, NGOs, everyone. Except economists.

Surviving Climate Change is available to PN readers at a special price of £12, a 25% discount, by going to http://www.plutobooks.com and quoting the code PLUSCC08.

Topics: Climate Change