Too Hot to Handle? – Review
Too Hot to Handle?: The Democratic Challenge of Climate Change, by Rebecca Willis, March 2020. Bristol University Press, ISBN 978-1529206029, 162 pages. RRP £12.99
This is one of the best books on climate change that I have come across. It explains the threat, the politics, and what must be done, and undergone, as humanity deals with this challenge. Here is a great deal of analysis, concisely argued, and based on Rebecca Willis’s experience in both climate politics and academic research.
Her basic argument is that, in order to address the climate crisis, we need more and better democracy. Neither authoritarian “cockpitism” nor individual action will be sufficient to meet the unprecedented challenges of climate change. Despite widespread acknowledgement of the climate emergency, its implications have not been translated into policy or action. Political responses have tended to either the “feelgood fallacy”, focusing on positive initiatives without facing the difficult questions, or on “stealth strategies” without clarity about their context. Issues of equity and governance are largely avoided by both. The good news is that public opinion is ahead of most political representatives, and would welcome effective climate action so long as it formed part of a fair overarching strategy. Participatory democracy and deliberative processes, such as Citizens’ Assemblies, have a central role in telling the stories of transformation that we so urgently need.
As a churchman, I would have welcomed reference to the active work of Faith groups and churches in this area. I was therefore very pleased to see that Rebecca Willis was a speaker at the recent Green Christian Festival, Re-imagining the Promised Land. As she noted, climate change, as well as being a scientific and technical issue, “is about how people act collectively to shape their society”, and this aspect, and our part in it, is both a source of hope and a call to action.
This is an important text, with a well-constructed index and clearly presented references. It asks vital questions of our governments and ourselves, and suggests answers that are both radical and pragmatic, evidence-based paths to a fair and democratic society as well as to a stabilised climate.