Book review: Negotiating climate change: Radical democracy & the illusion of consensus

6th October 2014

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Georgina Taylor

Negotiating climate change: Radical democracy & the illusion of consensus

Amanda Machin / Zed Books / Paperback / £18.99 / ISBN: 978–1–78032–397–8

Amanda Machin’s short and fascinating book builds on recent debates highlighting the ways that people understand what we mean by climate change – depending on their education, faith and values, and where they live and what they do.

The core of the book is a rebuttal of four types of response to climate change: the technology optimists – whose ‘magical’ solutions may be counterproductive by encouraging self-interested behaviour; those who clamour for a change in our individual ethical values – but cannot explain how harmonious decisions will be achieved; those who desire a green community – but do not explain how to decide what counts as the common good; and the deliberative democrats who seek new forms of decision making – but do not see that better-informed citizens may disagree on action.

Machin’s conclusion is that we should encourage the environment to be seen as a place for disagreement. From the unavoidable clashes of opinion brought by climate change will come more decisive solutions; it is by acknowledging the need for debate that decisions will have more legitimacy and impact, even if there is no guarantee that these will always be palatable to the green advocate.

This is a book about political science and does not pretend to scan the range of potential policy solutions to climate change. Nor indeed does it say how one should think about positioning the power of scientific evidence in a way that could be credible or convincing to different audiences; and that, while somewhat frustrating, is perhaps the point: you have to think about it and argue about it.

Mike Peirce is deputy director at the University of Cambridge’s programme for sustainability leadership.


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