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Must-reads for Copenhagen

At the UN climate conference in Copenhagen this December, talk will turn to scientific, political and economic issues with a global reach and a long history — not easy to pick up from the daily news. We asked select experts on climate change what books we should be reading ahead of the big event.

Here’s a peek at some well-informed desks, bookshelves and bedside tables. Read the full roundup here – and join in our pre-Copenhagen book club by commenting below.

When your last work led to an Oscar and Nobel Prize, anticipation is high on the sequel. And Al Gore’s new book delivers, says Joe Romm, the voice of Climate Progress at the Centre for American Progress. Gore’s Our Choice collects the most effective climate change solutions that policymakers could put in place now.

Tony Juniper, the campaigner and onetime director of Friends of the Earth, picks out Mark Lynas’s Six Degrees (also a favorite of the Royal Society). The book vividly paints the changes expected as the world warms – revealing the practical implications of compromises we could see at Copenhagen.

A lively new book by an ex-oilman and geologist tells some of the insider history behind the UN talks – an eyewitness account of shifting views on climate change within the oil industry. Lord Ron Oxburgh, former chairman of Shell, says Brian Lovell’s Challenged by Carbon is an instant tonic for ‘climate change fatigue’.

Roger Pielke, Jr., a University of Colorado science-policy expert, argues that climate negotiators are failing to learn from history. He recommends the 1998 book Seeing Like a State by James C. Scott, which recites a litany of failed attempts at centralized planning.

Oliver Tickell’s climate policy proposal Kyoto2 is just the thing a truly intelligent species would come up with, according to Mark Lynas, environmentalist and Six Degrees author. But it’s nothing like what’s on the table for December.

Can we ‘solve the climate crisis’? In Why We Disagree About Climate Change, Mike Hulme of the University of East Anglia asserts that “climate change is not ‘a problem’ waiting for ‘a solution’” but rather is an idea whose shape can differ completely depending on one’s political and cultural biases. New York Times reporter and Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin recommends the book and sketches out its implications for Copenhagen.

In turn, Mike Hulme points to a book that looks beyond the usual dichotomy of climate change ‘believers’ and ‘sceptics’ to find a more fundamental split in thinking. John Foster’s The Sustainability Mirage explores some crucial social and psychological realities of climate change that you won’t be hearing much about during the conference.

Another good read when you want to lift your head from the trenches, the new book Whole Earth Discipline by Stewart Brand takes an overview of environmental issues in the twenty-first century. Former Nature editor (and sun-eater) Oliver Morton dubs it a lucid big picture put together with experience, wisdom and optimism.

Could you call yourself ready for Copenhagen without taking a look at the IPCC report? Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says their 2007 Synthesis Report – a sum-up of the masses of policy-relevant research reviewed by the three working groups – has perhaps been the panel’s most effective report thus far in creating awareness across every section of society.

Here are the book reviews in full. What do you think – are these the right reads to get ready for the conference? What others should be on the list?

Anna Barnett

Image: © iStockphoto / Pertunisas


  1. Report this comment

    Sveta M. said:

    Dynamic Analysis of Weather and Climate Atmospheric circulation, Perturbations, Climatic evolution

    Series: Springer Praxis

    Leroux, Marcel

    2nd ed., 2010, Approx. 400 p. 236 illus., 10 in color., Hardcover

    ISBN: 978-3-642-04679-7

  2. Report this comment

    Alexander Ač said:

    Dear Anna,

    these books are all excellent – but I think we should concentrate for the solutions

    And as a first basic reading I suggest prof. David JC MacKay (now science advisor of UK governement) freely possible to download at

    and a book by prof. Ted Trainer about sustainable energy –

    these books are showing, what should be done in order to avoid worst of peak oil and climate change… best,


  3. Report this comment

    Bart Verheggen said:

    It sounds like Hulme and Scott make a similar case in their books (at least in part). Namely that the focus should better be on short term specific actions rather than on all-encompassing long term emission reductions. Interestingly, Hansen doesn’t have much trust in long term emission reduction agreements either (based on his presentations,

    Hulme (as per Revkin):

    “Hulme’s argument bolsters predictions by long-time observers of climate diplomacy that a grand agreement is less achievable than a set of specific deals on particular issues.”

    Scott (as per Pielke):

    “Unrealistic commitments to targets and timetables for emissions reductions under an ever more complex superstructure of international bureaucracy cannot succeed.”

  4. Report this comment

    Kristen Sheeran Ph.D. said:

    Great choices, all of them. For those interested in understanding the economics better, I would also add these books/reports aimed at a general audience:

    The Economics of 350: The Benefits and Costs of Climate Stabilization, Ackerman, et al. for E3 Network 2009. (

    Saving Kyoto, Graciela Chichilnisky and Kristen Sheeran, New Holland Press, 2009.

    Can We Afford The Future? Frank Ackerman, Zed Books, 2009.

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    Peter Wood said:

    I would recommend:

    Aldy, J. E., Stavins, R. N. (2007), Architectures for Agreement: Addressing Global Climate Change in the Post-Kyoto World, Cambridge University Press


    Benedick, R. E. (1991, 1998),Ozone Diplomacy: New Directions in Safeguarding the Planet, Harvard University Press.

    Aldy and Stavins contains a variety of essays by different authors on what an international agreement should look like, and related issues to do with institutions and incentives.

    Benedick describes in detail the successful global negotiations around the Montreal Protocol on the Ozone Depleting Substances. It also includes a chapter on Ozone Lessons and Climate Change.

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    Richard said:

    Mike Hulme:

    [Upcoming UN climate conference in Copenhagen] “is about raw politics, not about the politics of science. … It is possible that climate science has become too partisan, too centralized. The tribalism that some of the leaked emails display is something more usually associated with social organization within primitive cultures; it is not attractive when we find it at work inside science. It is also possible that the institutional innovation that has been the I.P.C.C. has run its course. Yes, there will be an AR5 but for what purpose? The I.P.C.C. itself, through its structural tendency to politicize climate change science, has perhaps helped to foster a more authoritarian and exclusive form of knowledge production – just at a time when a globalizing and wired cosmopolitan culture is demanding of science something much more open and inclusive.

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