Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed--and What It Means for Our Future

Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed--And What It Means for our Future

After reading just the first chapter of this book, I was stunned at how long the heat storage properties of carbon dioxide have been on the world’s radar. What would you guess? Twenty? Forty? Fifty years? How about 150 plus.

Back in 1863, John Tyndall, an Irish scientist measured the absorption of infrared radiation by carbon dioxide and showed that slight changes in the atmosphere’s composition can affect our planet's temperature.

Guy Callendar discovered in the 1930s that carbon dioxide levels were rising and causing an increase in temperatures. He said that there had already been a 10% increase in carbon dioxide levels. Other scientists mocked him. But even then he predicted a 2-4 C temperature raise in the 21st century.

In this wide-ranging book, Dale Jamieson, a philosopher, presents a richly detailed account of many issues connected to climate change. He covers various ramifications from the moral and ethical to the economic, political and scientific.

As the subtitle suggests, he believes that governments are failing to act. There’s a chapter devoted to climate change denialists and skeptics.

He faults our current political environment for taking none or little action.  But he also reports that studies on human psychology show that as a species we care about life for our children and grandchildren but have trouble envisioning life in the distant future, so have trouble taking action that will affect future generations.

He also describes the vast time-scapes that climate change will have effects on, and asks how anyone can make decisions that will affect so long a time period that we can scarcely envision it.

He closes with a chapter about ethics for the Anthropocene. He defines the Anthropocene as a new geological age for earth where people have changed the earth’s ecosystems so much that they have had a global impact. 

What ethics does this philosopher suggest we cultivate for the years ahead? One that includes mindfulness, cooperativeness, temperance (restraint and moderation in our consumption), simplicity, and respect for nature.

This highly readable book was twenty years in the making. It offers an overview and history of climate change and gives the reader ideas on what individuals can do in the face of what most scientists believe is a threat to our well-being and that of other creatures.

For a historical look at another time when changing climate greatly affected society, try William Rosen’s The Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th century.