2011-09-07 23:00:50Clive Hamilton's "Requiem for a Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change,"
Tom Smerling


Somebody just brought Hamilton's book to my attention.    Has anybody read it?   Know anything about Clive Hamilton?     Does the book add any new insights, or useful language/suggestions?     It is it grounded in research and references, or is it  (as they say in the trade) simply a "thumb sucker?"     Normally, I would just order the book and find out, but my climate communication bookcase is starting to sag....

2011-09-08 14:11:44Haven't read it yet
John Cook


Sounds like a powerful book though, would like to read it if I get time. If its any help, Clive Hamilton has criticised Haydn and my book 'Climate Change Denial' for being too up-beat. Apparently, if you're not doom and gloom and on the verge of opening your wrists in despair, then you're just too perky for Clive's liking :-)

2011-09-08 23:58:26gloom and doom
Tom Smerling


To illustrate the difference between a prophesy and community organizing, my wife uses this biblical reference:

"The Prophets predicted doom, and they were usually right.    Moses organized his people, and got them out of Egypt."

The world needs more organizers (aka leaders), not more prophets.    It's not that the prophets are wrong; they are just not helpful.

2011-09-09 09:15:07
George Morrison

I thought that "Requiem for a Species" was one of the better researched books on the topic by a non-scientist. He worked very hard to get the science right, and it is well-referenced.

As I recall, the science is interwoven throughout the book, but most of it is in the opening chapters when he sets out a rather stark reality.

It's clear that he was profoundly affected by what he saw and heard at the "4 degrees & Beyond" conference in Oxford, September 2009. *(where he was also a minor presenter). In particular the work by Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows (which is quite disturbing in its implications for what the emission reduction pathways for 2C, 3C, 4C really imply.) And he was also influenced by the conclusions of the 2009 report from the German WGBU "Solving the Climate Dilemma: The Budget Approach".

But the bulk of the book really explores what the subtitle refers to: "Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change". And, as I recall, he dives into the psychology a great deal. The paper he presented at Oxford was about various pyschological adaptation strategies. He covers the same territory in the book. Denial is, of course, one of those strategies, but more interesting are what he refers to "maladaptive coping strategies". This is when people essentially accept the science behind climate change, but find the myriad emotional implications so disturbing that they find various ways to blunt that reality in such a way that it prevents them from taking appropriate action.

Hamilton actually doesn't think people get to "adaptive coping strategies" until they've dealt with emotional consequences: "Adaptive coping strategies are akin to later phases of mourning and involve acceptance of, rather than resistance to, some of the pain and distress that follows recognition of the facts of climate science and their meaning".

There are a lot of other good insights in the book. But I found it quite difficult to read because it does tend to make you confront your own forms of denial, etc. The other thing that makes it tough to read is that there are no happy chapters at the end about the wonderful century of clean energy and healthier living, etc. He does talk about solutions, but I think he stays consistent - he thinks we have to come to grips with how dire the situtation is in order to act, but there's no escaping the fact that things are quite dire.

All that said, I did enjoy the book, enough so that I bought some extra copies. I had thought I would pass it on to some people. But then I think I decided I didn't want to get blamed for any suicides, so I kept some! ;) So, if anyone wants a copy (as in I can pass one along), signal it in this thread. (By the way, my experience was that the book bummed me out for a bit, but then those psychological tricks kicked in and I forgot all about it! Wheee!)

Here is a video presentation by Hamilton to the RSA in Australia in March 2010 as he was completing the book. It focuses on the science. (pdf of the talk.) And here is video of him presenting to the RSA in London after the book was published, which is shorter on the science and more on the psychology.

2011-09-09 11:11:30Moses the organiser
John Cook


Tom, I love that saying - think it might be a useful approach when talking to Christian groups.

I love how in the Old Testament, there are the minor prophets and the major prophets. I liken it to Hollywood celebrities - the A-listers and B-listers. 

2011-09-10 12:31:58Thanks for the synopsis...and Moses
Tom Smerling


Rustneversleeps (gotta love that handle!) -- thanks for taking the time for a thoughtful and detail summary & evaluation.  Much appreciated.

John - Glad you like the Moses quote.    It has "stuck" with me for years.   And hope you get to meet my wife, Reena, someday.    She's far wiser than I!

2011-09-10 19:28:02


We need the prophets to warn, and the organiziers to respond. But we also need a certain degree of technological optimism, to keep hope alive. The situation doesn't look good, but the final scenes haven't been written yet: It is still conceivable that some form of CO2 sequestation can be developed.

2011-09-11 19:31:54Paul Gilding
Glenn Tamblyn


Another 'interesting' read is Paul Gilding's recent 'The Great Disruption' It is both bleak and uplifting. Uplifting in the sense that we will loose a few billion people but still make it through - is that uplifting?

He doesn't focus just on climate change but a range of Limits To Growth issues. His basic point is that it is too late to change what is now inevitable. We are at a 'footprint' of needing 1.4 Earths to support ourselves, economic growth in the BRIC's - Brazil, Russia, India, China will push that ratio higher. That the current financial crises (take your pick) are just symptoms a bigger problem. That we won't recognise that we have hit a wall untill our attempts at economic stimulus etc have proved limited again, and again, and again. That it will be at least another decade before we really grasp that the end of growth is upon us. In his scenarios, AGW is simply the 'Force Multiplier' of the threats, at least for the next few decades.

His optimistic take is that when we finally, really get it, the scale of our response will be amazing. Not some bright wonderful future, but rather that we will rise to the scale of the challenge because that is what we do. It might be 1 minute to midnight, but we will ACT. One of his chapters has an encouraging title - 'When the dam of Denial breaks'.

Perhaps what we are trying to do here is contrribute to changing the date when the dambusters achieve their mission.