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THE SEASONS ALTER by Philip Kitcher


How to Save Our Planet in Six Acts

by Philip Kitcher & Evelyn Fox Keller

Pub Date: April 18th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-63149-283-9
Publisher: Liveright/Norton

A philosophical exploration of climate change.

Most nations across the world accept the reality of global warming, and some are taking action. Sadly, few expect action from the United States because the subject has become toxically politicized. Many conservatives consider it a liberal fad, like environmentalism or organic food, with climate scientists in cahoots. Liberals take climate change seriously, but their elected representatives often confine themselves to platitudes, aware of the firestorm any inconvenient law would produce. With the argument stalemated, why not let philosophers—who specialize in arguments—have a shot? The results from Kitcher (Philosophy/Columbia Univ.; Life After Faith: The Case for Secular Humanism, 2014, etc.) and Keller (Emerita, Philosophy/MIT; The Mirage of a Space between Nature and Nurture, 2010, etc.) are six Socratic dialogues between Jo (female, in favor of action) and Joe (male, skeptical). Jo argues for an immediate worldwide campaign to reverse global warming. She admits the uncertainties and costs but emphasizes the catastrophic consequences of inaction. Readers, agreeable so far, may roll their eyes as Jo proposes an international alliance of nations, rich and poor, whose leaders will meet to agree on the tactics, obligations, and finances. Jo, although extraordinarily articulate, is a realistic advocate, but Joe is fiction. His skeptical arguments are so reasonable that Jo works hard to deal with them. But Joe also listens respectfully, delivering comments that would never pass the lips of a climate control denier: “I see your point…,” “I don’t deny that…,” or “I agree with you there….” The authors emphasize that they aim to start a conversation. After all, “democracy depends on fruitful discussions of important issues.” If only elected officials could actually engage in such discussions.

The result is a superbly rational, entirely futile exchange of ideas. “Fruitful discussion” did little to resolve slavery or segregation, and it’s largely absent from America’s debate on global warming.