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Clive Hamilton, 'Requiem for a Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change'

Earthscan, 2010; 240 pp, £14.99

Speaking at a public meeting in May 2008, Green Party leader and MP to be, Caroline Lucas noted that the language of fear and disaster surrounding climate change is both “deeply scary and deeply unhelpful.” According to Lucas “trying to terrify people into action” simply doesn’t work.

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics at the Australian National University, doesn’t seem to have got the memo because Requiem for a Species is a deeply terrifying read.

According to Hamilton “catastrophic climate change is now virtually certain”. We will limit global warming to four degrees “if we’re lucky”. Kevin Anderson, the Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, concurs.

In the face of these profoundly upsetting predictions, Hamilton notes there is one certainty: “the transition to some new stage of stability will be long and brutal, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable.”

So why haven’t we acted to stop this calamitous threat to civilisation? Primary blame must go to the enormous political power of the fossil fuel lobby, says Hamilton, along with the growth fetish inherent in neo-liberal economics. However, the book is perhaps at its best when discussing the very human “psychological dispositions” that have led to inaction. Citing numerous studies and statistics, Hamilton maps “our strange obsessions, our penchant for avoiding the facts, and, especially our hubris.”

Turning to solutions, he quickly dismisses carbon capture as untested and unhelpful, and is critical of nuclear power and geo-engineering. Instead he maintains we already have the technological means to drastically reduce emissions, beginning immediately and at reasonable cost. That is, large scale investment in diverse and localised renewable energy and energy efficiency.

With the next 10-15 years being the most important period for action to minimise global warming, Hamilton urges “the mobilisation of a mass movement to build a countervailing power to the elites and corporations that have captured Government”.

More interestingly for radical climate activists, and like NASA’s James Hansen, he argues that the urgency of the issue means large scale civil disobedience is not only necessary, but the morally correct response to the crisis.

Refreshing in its candour, clearly-written and well-sourced, Requiem for a Species is a landmark polemic. So while it is undoubtedly an important book for activists, it is clear humanity’s future depends on those who are currently not involved in climate activism, reading and acting on the facts and arguments contained within.

Spread the word.

Topics: Climate Change