Apr 10 2017

Negotiating for Water Resources: Bridging Transboundary River Basins

Reviewed by Yasmin Zaerpoor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 A three-level analysis across three transboundary river basins concludes that, contrary to the realist perspective, powerful riparians are no less likely to cooperate when they are the upstream country.

Negociating for water_SendInBlue

 

by Andrea Haefner Negotiating for Water Resources: Bridging Transboundary River Basins, Earthscan, 2016, 212 pp

Negotiating for Water Resources contributes to a long and ongoing debate about the drivers of transboundary water cooperation and conflict. Andrea Haefner asks, “To what extent do power symmetries prevent or inhibit cooperation between riparian states over water resources?” More specifically, she challenges the assumption that an upstream country is less likely to cooperate when it is the basin hegemon, arguing that issue linkage and institutions matter as much as, if not more than, differences in riparians’ material power.

The book begins with a concise review of hydropolitical (i.e., study of interstate transboundary water cooperation and conflict) and international relations literature to define hegemony in a river basin (chapter 2). The next three chapters are detailed analyses of three levels of interactions––regional networks, river basin organizations and project-specific decisions––across three river basins (Mekong, Danube and La Plata).

While impressive, the three-level, three-basin case-study approach is, perhaps, overly ambitious. In an effort to prove the point that regional networks, river basin organizations, and issue linkage affect transboundary water outcomes, the three case study chapters go into great detail about the specifics of each river basin to the detriment of argument development.

For example, the book’s overall argument that cooperation is possible even in basins in which there are asymmetric power relations is irrefutable. However, as Zeitoun and his colleagues at the London School of Economics argue, not all “cooperation’ is created equal and, in some cases, cooperation may exist because of (not despite) asymmetric power relations. At times, the book seems to hint at this, but never explicitly addresses it. For example, in the case of the Danube, Haefner writes that it is possible that the river basin organization “will face challenges when the previously less dominant states become more advanced and will demand to influence the agenda” (110) but later concludes that cooperation is working well in the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River. This, along with descriptions of China (the basin hegemon) remaining unaccountable to the Mekong River Commission and of Brazil and Argentina (the more powerful riparians) preventing the transformation of the La Plata River basin organization into an international organization with legal authority (a proposal favored by the ‘weaker’ riparians) (132), could easily be developed into a deeper discussion of how cooperation among riparians should be evaluated.

Throughout the case studies, the book hints at really interesting findings (e.g., these three river basin organizations were not effective in addressing conflicts that would arise, suggesting that they were not designed with effective conflict resolution mechanisms in mind), but does not give them sufficient attention. This is, at times, frustrating because the author provides rich comparative analyses of three relatively under-studied river basins, but buries the insights in descriptions of the context.

The final chapter provides a summary of the findings––many of which are valuable contributions to the existing literature on transboundary water management. The most salient findings are related to the characteristics of river basin organizations (e.g., level of riparian inclusion, institutional design, funding and opportunity for public participation) that make them more (or less) effective. Overall, this book is a concise primer on three major river basins in the world, an effective demonstration of a case study approach and an excellent resource for anyone interested in hydropolitics.


Jan 11 2017

Consensus and Global Environmental Governance: Deliberative Democracy in Nature’s Regime

Reviewed by Yasmin Zaerpoor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 An engaging argument for pursuing ecologically sustainable and democratically legitimate earth systems governance through democratic deliberation.

 Consensus and Global Environmental Governance

 

by Walter F. Baber and Robert V. Bartlett Consensus and Global Environmental Governance: Deliberative Democracy in Nature’s Regime, MIT Press, 2015, 272 pp

Consensus and Global Environmental Governance: Deliberative Democracy in Nature’s Regime is part of the MIT Press Earth System Governance book series. The series identifies normative discourses about global environmental governance. Following Deliberative Environmental Politics (2005) and Global Democracy and Sustainable Jurisprudence (2009), Baber and Bartlett’s third book examines the application of deliberative democratic theory to the practice of environmental politics. In Global Democracy and Sustainable Jurisprudence the authors argued that the democratic deficit and inefficacy of international environmental law can be addressed through a system of juristic democracy. In this system, environmental law backed by nation-states would be replaced by global common law derived from the rulings of numerous global citizen juries on hypothetical legal cases. Consensus and Global Environmental Governance highlights the practical difficulties and implications of using a deliberative approach to consensus-building.

Baber and Bartlett present convincing arguments regarding the merits of a more democratic process of global environmental policymaking in the first half of the book (Ch. 1–5). Chief among these are that a more democratic process would (i) ensure public support and stronger political will (something that has been missing from past negotiated climate agreements), (ii) lead to a much-needed shift in values and (iii) ensure more environmentally just outcomes. They point to several conditions that must be met for rules to be effective (Ch. 1) and advocate for deliberative techniques (such as juristic deliberation) to ensure “ecologically sustainable and democratically legitimate environmental governance” (Ch. 2). International law and negotiations, they argue, have been ineffective due to poor implementation and regulation marked by a democratic deficit (Ch. 3).

Baber and Bartlett anchor themselves squarely on the side of deliberative democracy in the broader academic debate. They address common criticisms: deliberation may (i) push conflict aside rather than resolve it; (ii) exacerbate existing inequalities and lead to unfair outcomes; (iii) discriminate against political perspectives held by minorities; (iv) be overly technical in nature, thereby inadvertently excluding historically disadvantaged groups; and (v) fail to affect policymaking, thereby further disenfranchising politically marginalized groups (Ch. 4). Like other deliberative democracy advocates, they respond to these complaints by emphasizing the importance of the design and implementation of the process of deliberation and by countering with a critique of the alternative (i.e., aggregative democracy).

The obvious challenge of a deliberative approach to international policymaking is that it becomes unwieldy. Baber and Bartlett propose a system of juristic deliberation in which citizen juries from around the world would be convened to adjudicate hypothetical environmental disputes. When transnational consensus is reached on a specific issue, the results of the deliberation would then be made available to “international tribunals for citation as a general principle of law in support of their resolution of specific environmental disputes” (p. 168). In this way, they argue, we would gain more insight into shared global values and identify similar approaches to disputes across cultures. In theory, this should enable policymakers to develop a new system of environmental policies built on normative consensus.

The authors use research on trial juries to support their call for citizen juries (Ch. 6), continue to develop their vision of juristic democracy in the second half of the book (Ch. 7–9) and conclude with a defense against charges that consensus may not be possible or desirable (Ch. 10). The book includes an example case (Appendix B) of a hypothetical water-warming dispute between three countries (Arroya, Panterra and Meerland). Baber and Bartlett describe the results of testing this case with twelve citizen panels from the United States, Germany, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom (Appendix A).

Their overarching argument is that democratic deliberation can be used at every step of global environmental governance and policymaking to build and identify normative, political and social consensus. Juristic deliberation can be used to spot “widely supported normative principles and general propositions of law” (i.e., normative consensus), whereas classic deliberative techniques (e.g., deliberative polling, consensus conferences, planning cells, etc.) can only be used to engage the public in choosing among alternative policy paradigms (i.e., identify political consensus). In the final step, policies are implemented through stakeholder partnerships to help ensure social consensus.

Although Baber and Bartlett argue persuasively that deliberative democracy has the potential to increase the political legitimacy of environmental governance and lead to more ecologically sustainable policies, the real challenge lies in convincing nation-states that the costs (including the political costs) associated with such deep engagement with the public will be offset in the long run.


Oct 8 2016

Water and the Law: Towards Sustainability. The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Series

Reviewed by Andrea Beck, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 An edited collection examining the interlinkages between law and sustainable water management

Water and the law

 

Edited by Michael Kidd, Loretta Feris, Tumai Murombo and Alejandro Iza Water and the Law: Towards Sustainability. The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Series, Edward Elgar, 2014, 416 pp.

Water resources are increasingly threatened in many parts of the world due to mismanagement, overuse and climate change. To help address the global water crisis, Water and the Law explores the multifaceted connections between legal instruments and sustainable water management. The fifteen chapters of this edited volume are partly the result of a colloquium held in South Africa in 2011 by the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law. They are framed around two central questions: How can law contribute to the sustainability of water itself? And how can legal regulation of water contribute to the sustainability of human life and biodiversity?

To analyze these questions, the book proceeds in three parts. The first focuses on international and transboundary water law. It discusses the evolution of transboundary water cooperation within the international system of state sovereignty, and reviews a number of global and regional instruments for the governance of surface water and groundwater, such as the UN Watercourses Convention, the UNECE Water Convention, the SADC Revised Protocol on Shared Watercourses, and the International Law Commission’s draft articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers. The book’s emphasis lies in the second part, which focuses on domestic water governance and integrated water resources management in various national jurisdictions, including Australia, Brazil, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and South Africa. Two final chapters in the third part examine the right of access to water, highlighting issues such as the heterogeneity of the right in developed versus developing countries, water pricing and social justice, and indigenous struggles for water rights.

As stated in the book’s introduction, some of the chapters are reprints of previously published material. Lengthy reiterations of legal documents in several chapters could also be shortened for the benefit of originality and analytical focus. Furthermore, the book’s overall purpose could be even more ambitious, going beyond raising “most of the important questions” and providing “food for thought and further investigation” (p. 9). Nevertheless, the book displays much strength, including the attention devoted to climate change, and the illustration of complex concepts and regimes by means of case studies (for example, from the Nile and the Murray-Darling basins). Taken together, this edited collection thus provides an important resource for better understanding and harnessing the potential of law in achieving sustainable water resources management.


Oct 8 2016

Ecopolitical Homelessness: Defining Place in an Unsettled World

Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma

We are all experiencing a kind of homelessness in relation to the places where we live.

ecopolitical-homelessness-defining-place-in-an-unsettled-world-by-gerard-kuperus-1317232704

By Gerard Kuperus Ecopolitical Homelessness: Defining Place in an Unsettled World, Routledge, 2016, 188pp.

With increasing mobility and the growing homogeneity of living spaces, the idea that ‘home is where the heart is’ may be losing its meaning. With the same corporations not only invading but in many cases constituting the public space in which we live, traditional notions of ‘home’ are being suppressed. We now seem to favor a false home that makes us think we know who we are. In fact, it is more likely that we are utterly lost. The universal marketplaces, automated teller machines and coffee shop chains provide a false sense of home and a fanciful identity. Conversely, we are experiencing a kind of ‘homelessness’ that does not reflect who we are in relation to the places we live. At a philosophical level, we face a crisis: core values of community are eroding and, as a result, we have nothing to hold on to. Instead, we hang on to what celebrities are wearing, the cars our neighbors drive and the brand of mobile phone our friends carry. We have lost our sense of our unique selves.

Drawing on Nietzsche’s philosophy to diagnose this unique form of ‘homelessness,’ Gerard Kuperus argues that a lack of any real grounding in the places where we live is unsustainable and dangerous. Development has turned a majority of humans into nomads, desperately trying to solidify and commercialize the places around them. This nomadism focuses on transformation of the places that we move to and from, but not on transformation of ourselves. This is the crisis of our times: we create homes by immunizing ‘ourselves’ against ‘the other,’ both human and environmental.

Gerard Kuperus, a professor of environment philosophy at the University of San Francisco, proposes an eco-politics that calls for a very different interaction between humans and nature. At the interface, he argues, humans and nonhumans need to coexist by reacting more carefully to each other. Within this interface we must recover a sense of home rooted in homelessness. Esoteric as this may sound, his proposition is distinctly practical. Drawing on the work of Heidegger, Deleuze and Guattari, Kuperus argues for a fundamental shift in human–ecosystem relationships. We are losing ecosystems at an alarming rate; restoration efforts do not match the pace of loss. Perhaps the shift Kuperus advocates means that we ought to restore or recreate forests in which people are able to live. Only by blurring the boundaries of what we call ‘home’ can we integrate the ‘other’ into it.

Loaded with philosophical insights, Kuperus offers a wake-up call. He urges us to think differently about ourselves, our relationship to other people and our connections to the places around us. His book encourages us to let go of prevailing notions of household and rethink our interactions with strangers. The challenge, he suggests, is to find ourselves in the wild and the wild in ourselves. After all, as Nietzsche observed, man is but a bridge and not an end.


Oct 8 2016

Governing Transboundary Waters: Canada, the United States, and Indigenous Communities

Reviewed by Andrea Beck, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 A call for rescaling transboundary water governance to acknowledge and enhance the power of Indigenous peoples 

Governing Transboundary Waters

By Emma S. Norman  Governing Transboundary Waters: Canada, the United States, and Indigenous Communities. Routledge, 2015, 220 pp.

Governing Transboundary Waters starts from a fundamental problem in water governance: the recognition that political-administrative and hydrological boundaries do not always overlap. In this sense, the book addresses a familiar question: how are we to govern water resources that span political borders when our institutions and frameworks are bound within fixed jurisdictions and nation-state frameworks? What makes this book stand out in this debate is its commitment to questioning and expanding notions of territoriality and sovereignty. Rather than limiting her analysis to municipal, regional, federal or nation-state jurisdictions, Norman brings a “third”––and often ignored––“sovereign” into the picture. That is, Indigenous peoples. Focusing on the Canada–US borderland, she applies a postcolonial perspective grounded in political ecology to unmask the power dynamics at work in transboundary water governance.

The first part of the book examines the rescaling of transboundary water governance mechanisms in response to demands for more ecological protection and public participation. In the North American context, first and foremost among these mechanisms is the International Joint Commission (IJC), an organization rooted in principles of national sovereignty. Through its International Watersheds Initiative (IWI), the IJC has tried to embrace greater participation by nonstate actors and Indigenous peoples. Despite these efforts, the IJC remains firmly in the hands of nation-states, and consequently, the IWI seems to reinforce, rather than transcend, established borders.

The second part provides a contrasting, and more hopeful, perspective. Based on five “parables of change,” Norman shows how Indigenous peoples along the Canada–US border have engaged in innovative, counterhegemonic strategies to reclaim and enhance environmental protection and water governance in their communities. As the examples of the Coast Salish Gathering or the Great Lakes “water walkers” demonstrate, these initiatives have not only promoted more effective governance, but also contributed to the strengthening of Indigenous self-determination, decolonialization, cultural revitalization and empowerment.

In closing, Norman calls for “creating governance mechanisms commensurate to a scale that makes sense both ecologically and culturally.” She also presents a set of principles that would characterize “a good upstream neighbor.” Compared to the foregoing analysis, the simplicity of these principles is surprising, making them seem somewhat out of place at the end of this theoretically elaborate volume. Overall, however, Norman’s work brings us one big step closer to “refram[ing] the dominant narrative related to transboundary water governance.”


Jun 13 2016

GLOBAL ECOLOGIES AND THE ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES

Reviewer: Tarique Niazi, Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities examines how postcolonial theory and critical theory have a bearing on environmental and social realities.

 Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities

Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Jill Didur and Anthony Carrigan (eds.) Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities: Postcolonial Approaches, Routledge, 2015

How environmental and social realities are presented and represented is the question that is critically engaged by the field of environmental humanities. Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities is a testament to the scholarly sophistication that defines this discipline. The editors, Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Jill Didur and Anthony Carrigan, are the leading lights of environmental humanities. They bring critical approaches, especially postcolonial theory and critical theory, to bear upon a range of topics that are of concern to a planet divided between the privileged and the underprivileged. Postcolonial theory bears kinship with subaltern studies, while critical theory is inspired by Marxian thought and the Frankfurt School. Both theories bind texts to context to demonstrate their inextricability and ‘relations of definition’.

Texts matter in shaping human perception of the environment, its defilement and despoliation, ‘natural’ disasters, commodification of nature, the Anthropocene and climate change. As such, the volume’s real strength rests in situating contemporary environmental concerns in colonial (imperial) and postcolonial contexts to understand their historical constitution. The collection deploys a number of innovative methods to address the past, present and future state of ‘global ecologies’. All this enriches the ecocriticism presented in Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities to determine the ways in which the environmental predicament is interpreted and mitigated.

Divided into five sections, the volume argues that a critical study of narrative is vital to human understanding of the environment. The first section focuses on colonial and nationalist framings of ecology while conducting postcolonial readings into ‘particular environments’ (provincializing the environment). The second section is devoted to the study of disasters and resilience in different cultural contexts. How ‘natural disasters’ come to be defined is where postcolonial theory and environmental humanities shine best. The third section centers on political ecology, environmental justice and ‘environmentalism of the poor’ in African, Indian and Latin American contexts. Contributions in the fourth section delve into the ways in which ‘world ecology’ was constructed over time. In particular, it examines how ‘globatarian’ approaches to ecological manipulation caused a drift to neoliberal globalization, and asks how the capitalist world system can be considered in terms of ‘world-ecology’ The last section accounts for human transformation of the environment in the Anthropocene.

The real challenge for environmental humanities is to reconcile its postmodernist, postcolonial, critical knack for deconstructing ‘grand narratives’ with the organic unity of global ecology.

 Global Ecologies is destined to become a classic text in environmental humanities.


Jun 13 2016

THE FRAGMENTATION OF GLOBAL CLIMATE GOVERNANCE

Reviewed by Jania Chilima, School of Environment and Sustainability & Global Institute for Water Security, University of Saskatchewan

The Fragmentation of Global Climate Governance is an in-depth discussion of regime interactions in global climate governance.

The Fragmentation of Global Climate Governance

Harro van Asselt, The Fragmentation of Global Climate Governance: Consequences and Management of Regime Interactions, Edward Elgar, 2014

One cannot but be overwhelmed by how many global regimes for climate change exist especially as we emerge from the COP21 (2015 Paris Climate Conference) negotiations, and also wonder how they can all function in the same policy domain. Harro van Asselt, in The Fragmentation of Global Climate Governance, draws attention to the complexity arising from the multitude of levels of global governance laws and policies (as regimes). He points out how their evolution, happening mostly in isolation, necessitates further exploration of their fragmentation in order to understand how to manage the consequences and interactions of such regimes for the sake of governing climate change effectively.  He defines fragmentation broadly as “the increased specialization and diversification in international institutions, including the overlap of substantive rules and jurisdictions” (p. 35). This definition guides the two objectives of the book: (1) To provide insight into the consequences of fragmentation of global climate governance and the subsequent interactions between different regimes related to climate change; and (2) To examine strategies for dealing with regime interactions in global climate governance, with emphasis on analysing the advantages and drawbacks of the different ways of managing interactions in terms of effectiveness and feasibility of the management strategies.

The Fragmentation of Global Climate Governance is divided into four parts and ten chapters. However, the impetus of this text is set around the author’s analytical framework that is introduced in chapters 3–5. The remaining chapters demonstrate this framework as a methodological tool for analysis and the lessons learned from its application. The basis of the analytical framework is the need for integration of more legal techniques to enhance the analysis of interactions through what the author terms the ‘legal approach’, and also merging this approach with the much more studied ‘policy approach’ (institutionalist view), which focuses on how the regimes affect each other’s development and performance through understanding regime coordination and cooperation.

Van Asselt argues that the analytic framework expands on the study object – ‘what tends to interact’ in an innovative way. He notes that other scholars have largely set their work along discipline-specific boundaries rather than focusing on tools of analysis. Through binary approaches of law and policy arise new advances in understanding fragmentation, its consequences and how to manage them.

This analytical framework accomplishes the analysis of the three extensive cases found in chapters 6–8. The cases reveal the shortcomings and opportunities in regime interactions. Granted, the in-depth analysis of the cases is a major success of the application of the framework. However, the arrangements of the many typologies, hierarchies and categorizations which form the basis of the author’s analytical framework makes understanding difficult at times. There tends to be meagre explanations in some parts and extensive discussions in other parts, leading to an unevenness in arguments. For example, the discussions under the political approach receive little attention in some cases compared to the legal approach. Additionally, what could have been helpful to the reader, given the extensive concepts and nomenclature introduced, is a schematic representation of all these terms, highlighting how they link and form parts of the analytical framework prior to introducing the three cases. This would have reinforced the concepts and mentally prepared the reader to engage deeply with the cases. Nevertheless, this book is ideal for global environmental governance scholars who wish to delve deep into the subject  to understand the ways in which one can study the interaction of regimes. Lessons learned in analysing climate change as a policy domain are without a doubt transferable to other global environmental governance policy domains, such as transboundary water resources and pollution control.

 


Jun 13 2016

THE LAST DROP

Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma

The Last Drop is a wake-up call to liberate water from the predominant notion that ‘whoever controls water controls society’.

The Last Drop

Mike Gonzalez and Marianella Yanes, The Last Drop, Pluto Press, 2016

Focusing on the trade and politics of water, the professor-journalist duo of Mike Gonzalez and Marianella Yanes laments the growing insanity of identifying bottled water as a social drink – consumed by elegant people in elegant bars. It is no surprise that some nine billion bottles of water are sold annually across the world. The massive expansion of the private water industry, including the bottled water industry, is an outcome of the commitment of neoliberalism to the privatization of all public goods and services.

Though outwardly it may seem to be the only way to address the issue of access and quality, the reality however is that big corporations with turnover exceeding US$40 billion annually have contributed literally nothing to the resolution of the water problem. This isn’t surprising when one learns that 34 per cent of water and sewerage privatizations have failed across the world, with as many as 180 cities having re-municipalized their water operations.

Citing actual cases of predatory privatization, from Mexico to India and from Laos to Bolivia, the authors contend that capitalism is anything but blind to ecology. It transforms nature into commodities, homogenizing it into products that can be traded for profit. Calling for a new world water order, the book seeks collective engagement of all small movements in a big picture change in favor of water peace, as opposed to the widely publicized prediction of possible ‘water wars’. Simply put, the struggle over water is not only about water, but also about land and more extensively about democracy and rights.

Examining corporate control over water and the ensuing struggle for water resources worldwide, Gonzalez and Yanes join the activists in calling for action to save water from overt and covert privatization. The Last Drop is a grim reminder and a wake-up call to liberate water from the predominant notion that ‘whoever controls water controls society’. Exposing the complex arguments surrounding water, the book makes a technical and scientific case for pushing back market fundamentalism in favor of equity and social justice.


Oct 12 2015

ARCTIC MARINE GOVERNANCE: OPPORTUNITIES FOR TRANSATLANTIC COOPERATION

Reviewed by Kelly Heber Dunning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

An excellent primer for those interested in or teaching on Arctic governance

cover_artic_marine_governanceArctic Marine Governance: Opportunities for Transatlantic Cooperation, edited by Elizabeth Tedsen and Sandra Cavalieri, R. Andreas Kraemer, Springer, 2013

This book opens with a clear and thorough explanation of European Union and American policies concerning the Arctic. In addition, it provides a supplemental overview of the way these countries approach ocean planning and management in general. Within this discussion, I was interested to see that the authors addressed recent regional policy developments, such as the enactment of regional ocean planning by the Obama administration. Additionally, the authors discuss multilateral institutional arrangements for Arctic management in a way that solidly grounds the sections that follow.

After its opening, the book shifts its attention to the most relevant environmental processes—both natural and man-made—that warrant changes in the way the Arctic is managed. These include the albedo effect, increased CO2 from melting permafrost, and expansion of various industrial activities. Again, the authors provide a clear map of the relevant institutional and governance arrangements, offering an excellent primer for anyone new to the issues of Arctic governance or for those teaching classes on the subject. The first two chapters deliver a succinct overview of the relevance of human and ecological. The third chapter offers a helpful explanation of governance, a nebulous topic. The remainder of the book “zooms in” on important challenges, especially those to be faced by indigenous communities in a changing Arctic. These include ways in which crisis management may be necessary along with resilience thinking and efforts to build adaptive capacity, particularly as these relate to the needs of indigenous groups.

The next section of the book focuses on economic issues, potential impacts of environmental change, and impending shifts in policy or regulation. The chapter on fisheries is excellent and will be appreciated by fisheries management professionals concerned about trans-boundary disputes caused by mobile and valuable stocks. Overall, the book is a thorough and well-edited account of contemporary policy and management issues in the Arctic. It covers environmental as well as socio-economic variables and can be used for teaching purposes as a single text or in sections.


Oct 12 2015

HOW CLIMATE CHANGE COMES TO MATTER: THE COMMUNAL FACTS OF LIFE

Reviewed by Jessica Gordon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

An engaging title demonstrating that climate change action will require more than increased public understanding and access to information

climate change matter

How Climate Change Comes to Matter: The Communal Life of Facts, by Candis Callison, Duke University Press, 2014

Many of us have wondered what it will take for Americans to finally address climate change, given the overwhelming scientific evidence already in hand.  How Climate Change Comes to Matter: The Communal Life of Facts sheds light on this question by analyzing the discourses and practices of five communities engaging the public on climate change: Arctic indigenous representatives of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, corporate social responsibility activists associated with Ceres, American evangelical Christians, science journalists, and science and science policy experts. The contrast across these communities creates a compelling account and dispels any notion that climate change is simply a scientific question. Using an ethnographic approach, the cases demonstrate how climate change has become intertwined with belief systems, practices, expertise and indigenous knowledge as ideas move across and within these groups and climate change gains in salience.

Callison argues that action on climate change ultimately requires “a negotiation with ethics, morality, and meaning-making both in collective and individual terms.” Thus, the common plea that we need to increase public understanding and access to information will never be sufficient enough to support real change. The differences among the five cases make this abundantly clear and leads Callison to call for collective public engagement across diverse groups.

At times, the book feels a bit too much like a dissertation, but it is engaging nonetheless.  While focused on climate change, it offers useful advice for those interested in other environmental issues as it delves into broad questions about the role of science, scientists and the media, expertise and advocacy in democracies.



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