The Politics of Climate Change

BOOK: The Politics of Climate Change
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Books by Anthony Giddens:
Capitalism and Modern Social Theory
Politics and Sociology in the Thought of Max Weber
The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies
New Rules of Sociological Method
Studies in Social and Political Theory
Emile Durkheim
Central Problems in Social Theory
A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism
Sociology: A Brief but Critical Introduction
Profiles and Critiques in Social Theory
The Constitution of Society
The Nation-State and Violence
Durkheim on Politics and the State
Social Theory and Modern Sociology
The Consequences of Modernity
Modernity and Self-Identity
The Transformation of Intimacy
Beyond Left and Right
Reflexive Modernization
(with Ulrich Beck and Scott Lash)
Politics, Sociology and Social Theory
In Defence of Sociology
The Third Way
Runaway World
The Third Way and its Critics
Where Now for New Labour?
Europe in the Global Age
Over to You, Mr Brown
Sociology Sixth Edition
Edited Works:
Emile Durkheim: Selected Writings
Positivism and Sociology
Elites and Power in British Society
(with Philip Stanworth)
Classes, Conflict and Power
Classes and the Division of Labour
Social Theory Today
Human Societies
On the Edge: Living with Global Capitalism
(with Will Hutton)
The Global Third Way Debate
The Progressive Manifesto
The New Egalitarianism
(with Patrick Diamond)
Global Europe, Social Europe
(with Patrick Diamond and Roger Liddle)
Second Edition, Revised and Updated
Anthony Giddens


Copyright © Anthony Giddens 2011
The right of Anthony Giddens to be identified as Author of this Work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in 2011 by Polity Press
Polity Press
65 Bridge Street
Cambridge CB2 1UR, UK
Polity Press
350 Main Street
Malden, MA 02148, USA
All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purpose of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.
ISBN-13: 978-0-7456-5464-5
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
The publisher has used its best endeavours to ensure that the URLs for external websites referred to in this book are correct and active at the time of going to press. However, the publisher has no responsibility for the websites and can make no guarantee that a site will remain live or that the content is or will remain appropriate.
Every effort has been made to trace all copyright holders, but if any have been inadvertently overlooked the publisher will be pleased to include any necessary credits in any subsequent reprint or edition.
For further information on Polity, visit our website:
1  Climate Change, Risk and Danger
The sceptics and their critics
The ‘climate wars'
The radicals
2  Running Out, Running Down?
Peak oil
Sweating the assets
The struggle for resources
3  The Greens and After
The greens
Managing risk: the precautionary principle
‘Sustainable development'
Polluter pays
Ungreen themes
The politics of climate change: concepts
4  The Track Record So Far
Sweden, Germany and Denmark
Spain and Portugal
The case of the UK
Climate change policy and the US
Lessons to be drawn
5  A Return to Planning?
Planning, then and now
Changing lives
A political concordat
State and society: business and the NGOs
6  Technologies and Taxes
Technologies: where we stand
The role of government
Promoting job creation
Carbon taxes
Carbon rationing
The re-emergence of utopia
7  The Politics of Adaptation
Adaptation in the context of Europe
Floods in the UK
Insurance, hurricanes and typhoons
Adaptation: the developing world
8  International Negotiations, the EU and Carbon Markets
Further negotiations
The role of the EU
Carbon markets
9  The Geopolitics of Climate Change
An illusory world community?
The bottom billion
Oil and geopolitics
Coalitions and collaborations
The US and China
India and Brazil
In conclusion: why we still need the UN

This work grew out of my involvement in a project organized under the auspices of the think-tank Policy Network and the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at the London School of Economics. I should like to thank my colleagues in both institutions for their help and advice during the writing process. My gratitude is due in particular to Roger Liddle, Olaf Cramme, Simon Latham and Jade Groves at Policy Network; and to David Held at the Centre. Anne de Sayrah helped the project in more ways than I can count. Karen Birdsall did a marvellous job for the first edition, checking footnotes and assembling the bibliography. Olaf Corry provided some important feedback on a draft manuscript. I owe an especially large debt to Hugh Compston, who commented in a meticulous way on an early version of the book; and to Johanna Juselius, who did the same at a later point. Victor Philip Dahdaleh generously provided the funding for the collective project, so a big vote of thanks to him. I am indebted to everyone at Polity Press, including especially John Thompson, Gill Motley (as always), Sarah Lambert and Emma Hutchinson. I would like to thank Emma in particular for her attention to detail and for the amount of work she put into the project. Sarah was unfailingly helpful in preparing this new edition. Olaf Corry provided further critical comments. Special gratitude is due to Anna Wishart, whose
help and involvement were invaluable; Anna made a major contribution in particular to the section on the US in
chapter 4
. Tom Hale provided a very valuable critical reading of the manuscript. Sarah Dancy has done an excellent copy-editing job on both editions. I dedicate the work to Indie and Matilda, definitely members of the younger generation, in the hope that it might contribute a little to making the world in which they will grow up less daunting.


This is a book about nightmares, catastrophes – and dreams. It is also about the everyday, the routines that give our lives continuity and substance. It is about the warming of our planet – a phenomenon which, if it proceeds unchecked, constitutes an existential threat to our civilization. The changes we are wreaking on the world's climate will produce increasingly extreme and erratic weather, subject large areas of the globe to drought and eventually make them uninhabitable. Rising ocean levels will have the same effect upon low-lying coastal zones.

The book is a prolonged enquiry into a single question. Why do most people, most of the time, act as though a threat of such magnitude can be ignored? Almost everyone across the world must have heard the phrases ‘climate change' and ‘global warming' and know at least a bit about what they mean. The two terms can be used interchangeably. They refer to the fact that the greenhouse gas emissions produced by modern industry are causing the earth's climate to warm up, with potentially devastating consequences for the future. Yet the vast majority of people are doing very little, if anything at all, to alter their daily habits, even though those habits are the source of the dangers in store for us.

It is not as if climate change is creeping up on us unawares. On the contrary, large numbers of books have been written
about it and its likely consequences. Serious worries about the warming of the earth's climate were expressed for a quarter of a century or more without making much of an impact. Within the past few years the issue has jumped to the forefront of discussion and debate, not just in this or that country, but across the world. Yet, as collective humanity, we are only just beginning to take the steps needed to respond to the threats that we and succeeding generations are confronting. Global warming is a problem unlike any other, however, both because of its scale and because it is mainly about the future. Many have said that to cope with it we will need to mobilize on a level comparable to fighting a war; but in this case there are no enemies to identify and confront. We are dealing with dangers that seem abstract and elusive, however potentially devastating they may be.

No matter how much we are told about the threats, it is hard to face up to them, because they feel somehow unreal – and, in the meantime, there is a life to be lived, with all its pleasures and pressures. The politics of climate change has to cope with what I call
Giddens's paradox
– a theme that appears throughout this text. It states that, since the dangers posed by global warming aren't tangible, immediate or visible in the course of day-to-day life, many will sit on their hands and do nothing of a concrete nature about them. Yet waiting until such dangers become visible and acute – in the shape of catastrophes that are irrefutably the result of climate change – before being stirred to serious action will be too late. For we know of no way of getting the greenhouse gases out again once they are there and most will be in the atmosphere for centuries.

Giddens's paradox affects almost every aspect of current reactions to climate change. It is the reason why, for most citizens, climate change is a back-of-the-mind issue rather than a front-of-the-mind one. Attitude surveys show that many of the public accept that global warming is a major threat; yet only a few are willing to alter their lives in any significant way as a result. Among elites, climate change lends itself to gestural politics – grandiose-sounding plans largely empty of content.

BOOK: The Politics of Climate Change
4.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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