The Politics of Climate Change

Issue section: 

Anthony Giddens, Polity; £12.99

According to Anthony Giddens, this book is a prolonged inquiry into why anyone still drives an SUV. As might be expected from the author of The Third Way, the New Labour speak here never quite gets round to answering the question, but you're nevertheless left with the impression that it's all our fault.

Giddens likes neither the green movement nor the left. He dislikes the Greens so much that he won't even use the term, leading to some rather odd references to the "Climate Change New Deal". A real response to climate change has only eluded the world of mainstream politics, apparently, because we have turned them off by failing to keep our thinking within "orthodox political discourse". How fortunate for all of us we have Giddens to show us where we've been going wrong.

There are some clues here to what Giddens's answers to climate change might look like - subsidised renewable energy, nuclear power, hi-tech cars - but in the main, this is not a book interested in concrete proposals. Despite the fact that there are only three references to Nicholas Stern in the index, it is probably best to see it as a continuation of the 2006 Stern Review's project of convincing capitalism that it does have to respond to climate change.

Stern did it by arguing that it would be more expensive to adapt to climate change than to mitigate it, and put his trust in carbon markets to deliver the necessary reduction in emissions. In contrast, Giddens seems to understand that carbon markets can generate profits, but not emissions reductions. His answer to capitalism's inability to take the long view is an "enabling state" to do capitalists' planning for them, along with a prohibition against any climate change suggestions which don't have economic competitiveness at their heart.

This is neither a well written nor a well argued work, and the overwhelming impression of many passages is less Giddens's belief in the importance of responding to climate change than his belief in the importance of Giddens. His annexation of the often remarked problem that the effects of climate change aren't universally perceptible until it's too late to do much about them as "the Giddens Paradox" is just one example. It will probably be influential in some quarters but it has little to offer as a serious contribution to climate change theory.

True to the Third Way, Giddens devotes much space here to his belief in the radicalism of the politics of consensus. It's just a pity that the really radical proposals appear to have passed him by. We have, he says in pained tones, no developed analysis of the political innovations needed to deal with climate change. Perhaps we should get him a subscription to Socialist Review.