THE BLOG

[Book Review] Canned Heat: Ethics and Politics of Global Climate Change

28/07/2015 6:40 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
NEW! HIGHLIGHT AND SHARE
Highlight text to share via Facebook and Twitter

"The occurrence of climate change significantly complicates the debate over environmental aesthetics developed during the last 50 years, and makes all attempts of moving from 'beauty to duty'..." - pg 236.

We are witnessing a wave of climate change negotiations in the international realm today. In the recent past, states have synergised efforts to address potent mitigation practices to combat the growing effects of climate change domestically and internationally. In the current run-up to submitting their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) reports to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), approximately 200 states have voluntarily pledged to incorporate climate-friendly norms in their national policies. The G7 meeting that concluded in Germany last month issued a declaration stating that fossil fuels must be completely decarbonised by 2100.

In this wake comes Canned Heat: Ethics and Politics of Global Climate Change, edited by Italian academics Marcello Di Paola and Gianfranco Pellegrino. Divided into four sections, the book examines climate change through the lenses of politics, law, ethics, philosophy, religion, and contemporary art and culture with the aim of "elucidating climate change as a general philosophical problem... and representing the wide variety of sub-themes and theoretical perspectives."

"The book is exhaustive and topical in the lead up to the COP21 but it does not cite recent factual data, making the overall tone of the edition exceedingly optimistic and abstract."

The book gets off to a strong start with its exploration of the manifold dimensions surrounding the climate change debate. The absence or scarcity of theory, motivational sets, moral systems and political institutions to engage with global conditions are pinned as the root causes of persisting challenges. Other issues include discerning principles to restructure the world order when institutional capacity fails. The book is exhaustive and topical in the lead up to the COP21 but it does not cite recent factual data, making the overall tone of the edition exceedingly optimistic and abstract.

Part one highlights the moral and political intricacies of climate change. How the global system of governance fails to provide effective and accountable resolutions and how the problem-solving capacity required to balance global interests with that of state sovereignty stands limited. The section successfully examines the moral and political responsibility of not only states but also individual actors in capping their carbon footprints. However, more space could have been allocated to remedial alternatives, the challenges posed by renewable energy and striking a balance between the two. A study on climate change from a socio-economic and political perspective requires less theorising and more practical ramifications, statistics and figures within the theoretical framework.

Moving onto the second section, the volume explores topics in the political theory of climate change governance. It weighs the significance of adaptation and mitigation practices in today's era. It illustrates how mitigation efforts, if not intensified, can act as a deterrent to reducing global temperature. In effect, the welfare of the future is discounted since it is easily procrastinated -- "To not count a dollar today the same as a dollar tomorrow, but rather to count a dollar today as worth more than a dollar in the future, and still more than a dollar in the further future." The further away in time the goal, the lesser interest for the welfare of future generations. One of the best features of this section (otherwise insignificantly addressed in climate change deliberations) is how it identifies the implications of continually ascribing responsibility and leadership roles on developed states. In an ever-changing global context, this has a negative effect on the negotiating process and curtails all mitigation and adaptation strategies envisaged by regional actors. By ascribing to such a norm, states often remain divided on their national agendas. Furthermore, climate change is a collective problem that requires international cooperation rather than individual agents advancing their own interests independently.

"Overall, this book deals comprehensively with the political, ethical and social underpinnings of climate change, offering a relatively more nuanced perspective than the available literature today."

The third cluster of essays caters to the moral theory of climate change by applying the contractualist framework. The essays seek to address climate change responses through self-realisation and retribution for action which are drawn from the Buddhist teachings of kamma (karma) and the theory of virtue. Climate change is addressed from the vantage point of Buddhist ideology that emphasises "responsibility for action" during one's lifetime and, thus, how actions result in "inescapable futuristic consequences".

Today, we hear plenty of discourse regarding religion's role in the environmental movement with religious leaders such as Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama addressing global warming. However, an unending debate persists regarding the legitimacy of the relationship between climate science and religion. By aligning two contestable issues together one can only draw more divergences than seek any form of conformity or convergence. A whole philosophical, descriptive account on the "four noble truths" and slokas was incongruous and took away more than did it to add to the book. In this section, the essays overall were hopelessly idealistic as well as repetitive, verbose and offering uncorroborated solutions for systemic reform.

The final section explores contemporary issues within the climate change scenario, including the relationship between greenhouse gases and food production as well as the troubling rise in the number of "climate refugees". It identifies bad governance as a root cause, while also calling for an increased impetus for climate change education today.

Overall, this book deals comprehensively with the political, ethical and social underpinnings of climate change, offering a relatively more nuanced perspective than the available literature today. It contributes to the policy-making process by highlighting social science aspects well and shifts the focus towards reaching an informed consensus on prevalent concerns.

MORE:

More On This Topic