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Just published – my review of Clive Hamilton’s ‘Requiem for a Species’

The current issue of Alternatives Journal includes my review of Clive Hamilton’s ‘Requiem for a Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change‘. The article is reprinted here below.

Beyond Stupid
Reviewed by Mark Brooks
Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist
the Truth About Climate Change
Clive Hamilton, London, UK: Earthscan,
2010, 240 pages.

I have a friend I’ll call Dave. An educated,
rational and intelligent man, Dave can
be counted on for thoughtful, reasoned
arguments, except on one issue: climate
change. He has read the overwhelming
evidence, but Dave remains certain that
climate change is a myth. His proof?
He has none that hasn’t been dismissed
repeatedly by climate scientists. Still,
Dave remains steadfast and I could never
understand why. Clive Hamilton may
have given me the answer.


The Australian National University
public ethics professor’s book Requiem
for a Species is an excoriating account of
how hubris and greed, distractions and
obsessions have contributed to a pervasive
refusal to accept the truth about our
climate crisis. A riveting book, it is quite
simply the best explanation I have read
of humanity’s colossal failure to act in
the face of an imminent threat to life on
Earth.

Many books present grim climate facts
while still holding out (or onto) hope.
Hamilton is decidedly more pessimistic.
“Even with a very optimistic assessment
of the likelihood of the world taking the
necessary action,” he writes, “catastrophic
climate change is now virtually certain.”

How did it come to this? This is where
Requiem sets itself apart. First, Hamilton
takes aim at some usual suspects. He
says that our “fetishization” of economic
growth has become “a religious urge.”
Even in the face of ruinous decline in the
conditions of life on Earth, we “quibble
over a decline in the economic growth
rate of 0.2 per cent rather than 0.1 per
cent.”

But there are also formidable psychological
explanations for why we reject the
truth. Due in large part to sophisticated
marketing campaigns, Hamilton asserts,
our modern identities are now intrinsically connected to our consumption
habits. Attempting to persuade people
like Dave to reduce what they consume
becomes a challenge to “who we are.”

The human psyche is simply not well
adapted to cope with long-term, existential
threats such as climate change. By believing that scientists are exaggerating
the risks or that there may still be
time to find a solution, Hamilton says
we are instinctively clinging to false
hope in order to shield ourselves from
a truth many of us find too difficult
to bear. Meanwhile, right-wing media,
think-tanks and corporate interests
feed our rationalizations by attacking
the science and plying the public with
misinformation.

Dispiriting stuff. So what are we to
do? The first step, says Hamilton, is to
dispense with false hope. The latest science
indicates that at least two degrees
of warming is now unavoidable by 2100,
and a barely-imaginable four degrees
seems much more likely. “Hoping that a
major disruption to the Earth’s climate
can be avoided,” the author says, “is a
delusion.”

Next is to take action. It may be too
late to prevent climate change, but large
investments in efficiency and renewable
energy can still achieve drastic emission
reductions. Indeed, Hamilton believes
humanity faces a transformative opportunity
to “change not only how we live
but how we conceive of ourselves.”
Seizing this opportunity, however, will
require a new and radical mass movement
to “build a countervailing power
to the elites and corporations.”

Despair. Accept. Act. With these simple
instructions, Requiem may well prove to
be a seminal work in the fight for climate
justice. Hamilton lucidly explains how
the idea of climate change has come to
be regarded as a profound threat because
it represents a challenge to the way we see
the world and our place in it. In other
words, we’re all damned scared of what
the future has in store – myself and Dave
included.

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