Apr 10 2017

The Climate Resilient Organization: Adaptation and Resilience to Climate Change and Weather Extremes

Reviewed by Jessica Gordon, Massachusetts Institute for Technology

Given the impacts of climate change, what are the things that private organizations can do to adapt?

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by Martina K. Linnenluecke and Andrew Griffiths The Climate Resilient Organization: Adaptation and Resilience to Climate Change and Weather Extremes, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2015, 222 pp

What is a climate resilient organization? Martina K. Linnenluecke and Andrew Griffiths’s call for integrating mitigation, adaptation and resilience recognizes that this will require efforts beyond the organization itself. They assert that “a future key activity will be to create climate change resilient organizations,” which can deal with gradual and extreme changes (v). This begs the question, why is this a future activity and not a present-day one, especially given their lengthy explanation of climate impacts.

The book is divided into two sections, which could have easily been two different books. The first section provides a general overview on climate change impacts and politics. The authors outline the history of international climate policy until 2013 with a particular focus on adaptation and how these international commitments have played out on the national scale. Chapter 2 helpfully presents a short summary of the impacts on the private sector including investment risks, insurance and legal risks.

The second part of the book is more prescriptive and focused on organizational responses to climate change. It includes presenting the impacts of climate change on organizations and challenges to adaptation and resilience. This is primarily focused on private sector organizations. The authors provide an overview of different tools to assist organizations in assessing vulnerabilities and developing adaptation priorities. They also offer a general step-by-step list of activities (drawing on the UK Climate Impacts program) to assess adaptation options, which the authors also suggest using for resilience measures. Short cases studies are scattered throughout and are illustrative of the various ways private sector organizations are tackling climate change but are too cursory to guide decision-making.

Geared toward organizational decision-makers and policymakers, The Climate Resilient Organization is clearly written, nicely summarizes the literature and draws heavily on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. It is a good starting point for those looking for an introduction to climate change and how it might influence their business.


Jan 11 2017

Can Science Fix Climate Change? A Case against Climate Engineering

Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma

A case against planet plumbing.

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by Mike Hulme Can Science Fix Climate Change? A Case against Climate Engineering, Polity, 2014, 158 pp.

Mike Hulme, a professor of climate and culture at King’s College London, holds no two opinions that the proposals to use stratospheric aerosols to cool the planet are inherently flawed and deeply undesirable, if not dangerous. Engineering the world’s climate by using global temperature as the control variable cannot secure the intended benefits for humans and the things that matter to them. Hulme’s argument is that the environmental, political and psychological costs of designing global climate through aerosol injections overwhelmingly outweigh any assumed benefits.

Research studies show that it may not be possible to stabilize the climate in all regions simultaneously. There is regional diversity in response to different levels of aerosol injection. These variations could make geo-engineering a difficult proposition. Hulme evaluates an array of geo-engineering technologies including orbital mirrors, ocean fertilization, carbon capture and urban whitewashing, concluding that none are technically feasible enough to be scaled up to the planetary level. Add to this, the relevant computer simulation models are not sufficient to determine the possible risks of geo-engineering at scale. There are, after all, limits to human knowledge. Our species is a product of evolution, not its author or controller.

This slim volume argues that human-induced climate change is not the sort of problem that lends itself to a technological end-of-pipe solution. Instead, climate change is a “wicked problem” and needs to be approached as such. Hulme suggests “climate pragmatism” as a way to reframe the problem of climate change: first, by decoupling the energy question and, second, by recognizing that there are many ways to alter the functioning of the atmosphere. Viewing the singular problem of climate change through the lens of climate pragmatism can lead the world to a three-pronged strategy: first, enhance social resilience to meteorological extremes; second, reduce emissions of atmospheric pollutants; and, third, meet the growing demand for energy in the world through cheap, reliable and sustainable means. By suggesting climate pragmatism as an approach, the author seeks to advance human welfare and human development by relying on fixes other than technological.


Oct 8 2016

The Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus: Lessons from India for Development

Reviewed by Elise Harrington, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 Is there a water-energy-food security nexus? What can we learn about managing this nexus from India’s experience?

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Edited by M. Dinesh Kumar, Nitin Bassi, A. Narayanamoorthy and M. V. K. Sivamohan The Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus: Lessons from India for Development, Routledge, 2014, 246 pp.

The Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus unpacks the three critical components of development in India given concerns about climate change and sustainable resource management.

While collectively the authors cover issues related to water management, energy pricing and agriculture, each chapter generally focuses on one component of the energy-water-food security nexus. The “nexus” is knit together primarily in the introduction and the conclusion, with the exception of chapters 6 and 8, which examine the potential impact of metered and subsidized electricity on groundwater use and agriculture. In the final chapter, M. Dinesh Kumar introduces a new nexus, the “politics-bureaucracy-academics” nexus––the combined force behind historical policies of free power, free water access and subsidies that he views as ineffective and costly approaches to development. Ultimately the goal of this volume “is to trigger an informed debate on some of the most controversial and yet unresolved issues concerning water-energy-food security nexus in developing countries.”

Despite the varying degrees to which each chapter addresses water, energy, and food security as integrated concerns or as individual challenges, three common themes emerge from this volume. First, the water management challenges presented highlight the need to reframe existing planning models to encourage integrated approaches that consider, for example, basin-wide hydrological planning (chapter 2) and integrated hydrological and economic planning (chapter 3). Second, each chapter focuses on a specific state, handful of states, or a particular geographic region, indicating that natural resource management in India must account for differing social, political, ecological and climatic conditions, allowing for solutions and policy experiments at subnational levels. Third, evidence points to new opportunities for policy experimentation related to pricing of water and energy that may help manage consumption and allow for increased measuring, monitoring and testing of new resource management solutions.


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.

 


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

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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.


May 8 2015

HOW CULTURE SHAPES THE CLIMATE CHANGE DEBATE

Reviewed by Danya Rumore, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

A helpful primer for those interested in what research has to say about why climate change remains so socially contentious

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How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate, by Andrew Hoffman, Stanford University Press, 2015

Andrew Hoffman’s new book How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate skillfully weaves together research from numerous social sciences – ranging from psychology to sociology – to show that public confusion about and lack of action on climate change is not the result of a knowledge deficit or a misunderstanding of the relevant science. Instead, Hoffman shows the startling disconnect between the high level of scientific consensus on one hand and the lack of social consensus on the other is the result of people’s intentional and unintentional avoidance of information.

Research suggests that avoidance of information is the result of a variety of cultural and cognitive dynamics. Hoffman effectively summarizes four such forces: (1) humans use cognitive filters, such as motivated reasoning; (2) our cognitive filters reflect our cultural identity; (3) cultural identity can overpower scientific reasoning; and (4) our political economy creates inertia for change.  He concludes “The debate over climate change in the United States (and elsewhere) is not about carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas models; it is about opposing cultural values and worldviews through which that science is seen.” Building on what research has to say about these forces, he suggests that no amount of science, in and of itself, can reconcile conflicting cultures and values. Instead, he advises that worldviews will have to be altered. This, in turn will necessitates careful public education and engagement campaigns that take account of the strong cultural and cognitive forces causing the current cultural schism.

Hoffman’s conclusions are by no means new – indeed, similar points have been made, albeit in bits and pieces, by the many scholars he cites. He does add great value, however, and advances our understanding by summarizing and insightfully stitching together existing scholarship. His goal in writing this book was to “build an edifice from the large and growing body of research in sociology, psychology, and other social sciences about why people accept or reject the science of climate change.”

In successfully doing this, Hoffman’s small book – with its less than 100 pages of text – packs a big punch. It is a helpful primer for those interested in what research has to say about why climate change remains so socially contentious despite the considerable scientific consensus that exists. Written in readily accessible language, How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate will be user-friendly for anyone trying to grasp what social science research has to say about the lack of action on climate change.

Hoffman’s book provides an excellent example of the kind of writing — succinct, clear, interesting, that we need.


Dec 5 2014

MANAGING ADAPTATION TO CLIMATE RISK: BEYOND FRAGMENTED RESPONSES

Reviewed by Jessica Gordon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Framing resilience properly could lead to radical institutional reforms


Managing Adaptation to Climate Risk: Beyond Fragmented Responses, by Geoff O’Brien and Phil O’Keefe, Routledge, 2014

Managing Adaptation to Climate Risk provides a critical analysis of development, adaptation and disaster management, arguing for the importance of resilience as a means of connecting these siloed fields and developing a people-centred response to extreme events, which the authors see as the primary climate risk of concern. The book, to its credit, criticizes the various uses of resilience, recognizing that the term can lead to the abdication of political responsibility and the continuation of the status quo. The authors instead call for a framing of resilience that could lead to radical institutional change in the relationship between people and the environment, refocusing the discussion where sustainability has failed.  The authors make clear that their argument is grounded in a critique of capitalism and the neoliberal project, which has produced poverty, inequality and increased vulnerability. At the heart of the book is the assumption that humans can adapt and learn in times of stress, which we are currently facing given the urgency of climate change.

Written in clear and accessible language and filled with examples, the book is a useful text for newcomers to the topics discussed. The sections include detailed historical analyses and a literature review with helpful diagrams and tables.  The chapters feel a bit fragmented and certainly could be read separately. The final chapter links resilience to social capital and social learning, a refreshing addition to the argument, demonstrating how new ways of thinking and learning can support transformational change. In the end, the book calls for reform of governance and institutions, driven by proactive bottom-up processes and a concern about equity. This is a welcome thought, but it seems like a big mouthful for resilience to chew.


Dec 5 2014

MEGACITIES AND THE COAST: RISK, RESILIENCE AND TRANSFORMATION

Reviewed by Daniel Gallagher, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 A timely call for scholars of urban planning and coastal systems to join forces 

Megacities and the Coast: Risk, Resilience and Transformation, by Mark Pelling and Sophie Blackburn, Routledge, 2013

In their introduction to Megacities and the Coast, Mark Pelling and Sophie Blackburn argue that the lack of focus at the interface of megacities and coastal systems is a dangerous gap in scholarship. This edited volume responds to this gap through a comprehensive synthesis of an international study involving over 60 contributing authors from the environmental sciences, disaster risk management, urban governance, and climate adaptation.

The report explores the definitional challenge of identifying coastal megacities, and locates 23 such cities across five continents. It provides a comprehensive tour of the societal and environmental impacts of urban growth, pointing to strong existing research on earth sub-systems. Where more study is required, they argue, is on integrated, system-level research that captures the dynamic feedback between natural and social systems.

Of most value to policymakers and scholars of urban planning will be the report’s discussion on risk governance.  Drawing on empirical study of disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation, it shows how scholarship must move beyond the universalistic ‘good governance’ discourse to recognize that municipal government autonomy varies hugely with local politics and social networks. The authors argue convincingly that scholars of urban planning and coastal management ought to pursue more joined-up research that recognizes the co-evolution of political, economic and physical systems.

The scholarly argument is complemented by seven case studies of coastal megacities. Although brief, the case studies stay true to the joined-up perspective that the report calls for by stressing the particularities of political economy and context in which public policy responses are formed.

At a time when megacities continue to grapple with long-standing socio-economic issues and the added stresses of disasters and climate change, this volume will be of immense value to scholars of urban planning and coastal systems who seek to undertake cross-disciplinary research at the important intersection between their disciplines.

 

 

 


Dec 5 2014

THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF CLIMATE CHANGE: AN HISTORICAL READER

Review by Todd Schenk, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Societies are, in part, products of their changing climate

The Anthropology of Climate Change: An Historical Reader, by Michael R. Dove, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2014

From Hippocrates to Hurricane Katrina, this collection provides a wide perspective. While anthropogenic climate change may be a relatively recent phenomenon, scholars have been reflecting on the relationship between climate and society for millennia. Now more than ever, it is important that we learn all we can about these relationships. Yale University Professor Michael Dove has assembled a collection that demonstrates how anthropology can enhance our understanding of the relationship between climate and society.

Dove has organized his book around eleven themes including: Climate Theory; Climate Change and Societal Collapse; Climatic Events as Social Crucibles; Climatic Disasters and Social Marginalization; and Co-Production of Knowledge in Climatic and Social Histories. Each theme features two papers, although some threads weave throughout the collection. For example, the question of environmental determinism, or ‘climate theory’ – the notion that social development is driven and bounded by environmental conditions – emerges repeatedly.

Hippocrates (Ch. 1), Ibn Khaldûn (Ch. 3), and the Vedic texts (Zimmermann, Ch. 4) argue that societies are products of their environment. Montesquieu (Ch. 2) makes the related assertion that laws should reflect climatic differences. Ratzel (Ch. 7), Meggers (Ch. 8), McGovern (Ch. 9) and Weiss and Bradley (Ch. 10) make more modern arguments for environmental determinism, including that ‘civilized’ societies are more likely to be found in temperate climates than in the tropics. McGovern offers the collapse of Norse settlements during the ‘Little Ice Age’ as an illustration of how societies can be impacted by climate change. Weiss and Bradley draw on palaeoclimatic data to explain the social consequences of climatic change. There are also more subtle explorations. Soloway (Ch. 12) explores how drought in Botswana’s Kalahari provided a window for profound social change, while Scheper-Hughes (Ch. 15) explains how the dramatic impact of Hurricane Katrina was more a product of long-standing inequality and racism than a ‘natural disaster’. Taken as a whole, one might conclude that societies are in part products of their (changing) climates, but that one must acknowledge the myriad of other factors at play, including power and competing interests.

The collection is strengthened by Dove’s excellent introduction, in which he outlines key themes and situates each work. It is too bad we don’t hear more from him. Beyond the 30-page introduction and overview, Dove lets the mostly unabridged readings speak for themselves. His introduction gives us a taste of his astute interpretations, but  we are left wanting more of his analysis of what we can learn about climate and society from the canon of anthropology.

 

 


Sep 12 2014

THE FUTURE IS NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE: CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY SECURITY

Reviewed by Mike Gunter, Jr., Rollins College

 A thought-provoking analysis of the rather pessimistic prospects for dealing effectively with climate change and energy security

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The Future Is Not What It Used To Be, by Jörg Friedrichs, MIT Press, 2013

International development scholar Jörg Friedrichs offers a thought-provoking analysis of the rather pessimistic prospects for dealing effectively with climate change and energy security. Arguing our industrial society is inherently transitory, Friedrichs goes beyond other recent analyses on climate change politics, spelling out in his sixth chapter the “moral economy of inaction.” Such inaction prevails thanks to the four obstinate obstacles of free-riding with collective action problems, psychological coping with seemingly intractable threats, and the discount factors of both time and space. This follows the logic of David Hume (1739) that the more distant a threat is, the less one cares.

After introducing his topic and discussing the links between climate change and energy scarcity in his first two chapters, chapters three and four delve into an intriguing set of case studies. With its focus upon climate change, the second case study in chapter three contrasts the medieval Norse settlements of Iceland and Greenland during the Little Ice Age (pp. 67–71) and makes a convincing argument that settlers in Iceland were more flexible then their Greenland brethren, adjusting agriculturally and becoming more accomplished fishermen.

Similarly, chapter four offers two case studies focusing upon energy scarcity. The latter study, which compares the Hermit Kingdom in North Korea to the Castro regime in Cuba, is more interesting. Both communist regimes were hurt by the loss of Soviet oil subsides at the end of the Cold War. However, while hundreds of thousands died from hunger in mid-1990s in North Korea, those in Cuba exploited the social capital offered by family, friends, and neighbors and survived.

Friedrichs next prescribes four solutions for our twin threats including lower energy consumption, better energy efficiency, the switch from fossil fuels, and carbon capture and storage. At the same time, he takes into account realistic limitations. The rebound effect, or Jevons paradox, for example, limits efficiency as there is considerable risk it will not lead to lower consumption, but will rather, because of reduced costs, actually encourage higher consumption.

Finally, despite its numerous strengths, the book falls short in the fifth chapter, a critique of the struggle over knowledge about climate change and peak oil. While Friedrichs is certainly correct that our knowledge base is flawed, one might take issue with his analysis as to why. Regarding climate in particular, Friedrichs gives the so-called skeptics too much credit. Mainstream climate scientists are labeled as alarmists while skeptics are assigned their preferred choice of terminology (instead of the deniers label) simply for the reason that they “openly talk about climate change” (p. 129).

Friedrichs justifies this reasoning by saying that the deniers label should only be reserved for those who avoid the issue altogether, but in doing so cedes significant rhetorical power to skeptics in terms of agenda setting. Additional references to skeptics as typically less published and less cited than peers (p. 133) is a gross understatement and there is a lack of attention to their financial connections to the fossil fuel industry.



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