josh rosner


In Australian Culture and Society, Australian Environment, Australian Politics on May 7, 2012 at 5:53 am

My review of Anna Rose’s book Madlands. A Journey to Change the Mind of a Climate Sceptic was published in the Canberra Times last weekend. It’s always difficult to encapsulate the enjoyment (or otherwise) of 90,000 words that someone has slogged away at, often for years (although in this case, two months) in 800 or so words of available space in the newspaper. Which is by way of saying that re-reading my review it may appear that I didn’t enjoy the book. Not true. I love the way Anna Rose has used personal circumstances from her life and related them to the bigger picture she presents – that climate change is a real and urgent challenge for planet Earth. But, it also would be disingenuous of me not to mention the flaws in the book, and that I have done.

Regardless, as I make clear in the review, readers of this book will divide down ideological lines and little will change regarding the urgency of global warming. At least as far as this book is concerned. Nonetheless, Anna Rose is an impressive and passionate young woman. If only more people on the planet were like her.

MADLANDS. A Journey to Change the Mind of a Climate Sceptic. By Anna Rose. Melbourne University Press. 357pp. $29.99

Do you believe that climate change is real and human-induced? Let’s get that question out of the way up front. It is, after all, at the heart of Anna Rose’s engaging and passionate book, Madlands.

Your answer to this question will undoubtedly determine your reaction to the book. If you believe climate change is real, you will cheer for climate activist Anna Rose. If you don’t, you will cheer for her formidable opponent, climate sceptic Nick Minchin.

By now, you may already have seen the documentary, I Can Change Your Mind About Climate, which aired recently on ABC1. If you did, you would also have seen the episode of Q&A dedicated to climate change, which immediately followed airing of the documentary. Now comes the book.

Anna Rose’s greatest fear is that we may never reach a consensus about the best approach to mitigate the effect of global warming before the earth reaches a ‘tipping point”; a point of no return. Her fears are well founded, given there remains a vocal – albeit minority – group who still deny climate change is occurring.

She writes, “I live in hope that maybe the world will wake up in time and act with sufficient bravery to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. This is what I am working towards in this journey with Nick Minchin.”

Therein lies the premise for Madlands. Take one climate change activist and put her together with arguably Australia’s most vocal climate change sceptic, Nick Minchin, and see if one can convince the other to come over to their side of the argument.

The pair travels around the world together, from Anna’s uncle’s farm in Moree, where they hear about the devastating effects of the buffalo fly on cattle, to Perth where they meet bloggers and climate-change deniers Joanne Codling and David Evans. They drive to the top of Muana Loa, the biggest volcano in the world, where Professor Charles Keeling first alerted the world to the possibility of man-made global warming three decades ago.

Their journey takes them further to San Francisco, San Diego, Boston, Washington, DC, New York, London and Geneva. They hear compelling arguments from climate scientist and sceptics alike. They also encounter downright nutty views, which do little to progress the arguments on either side.

By the time I reached the final pages of Madlands I was exhausted. Rose and Minchin, with a camera crew in tow, travel 65,000 kilometres together around the world (emitting thirty tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere) in their effort to convince the other of their merits of their arguments. The air travel alone is unenviable, but both bring considerable energy to the task.

Anna Rose strikes me as one of those people who finds no redeeming quality in relaxing with a good book at the beach. Instead, she has to be perpetually on the move, “working to solve climate change before it’s too late”. Her passion for the cause of climate change is infectious, if not exhausting.

Rose has subtitled her book, A Journey to Change the Mind of a Climate Sceptic. But Madlands is more than one climate activists attempt to change the mind of one climate change sceptic. She is on a mission to change the minds of all those who continue to deny the existence of climate change.

It’s a difficult task, and one she is unlikely to achieve with this book. She has some compelling science on her side, but unfortunately at times she allows her frustration with opposing arguments to come to the fore, coming across as shrill and condescending while attempting to defend or argue her position.

She mocks Joanne Codling in a way that does little to advance her cause.

“But the question remains,” she writes, “if CO2 didn’t kick off climate change in the past, what makes scientists so sure it is the cause now? Couldn’t it be that pesky sun again, getting hotter?”

Again on the following page, “If the heat’s not coming out, it’s being trapped by something – those pesky heat-trapping greenhouse gases…”

Rose’s frustration with what she believes is the idiocy of climate change deniers is understandable, but few arguments are ever won by mocking one’s opponent, despite the temptation to do so.

Nonetheless, I suspect those readers who are as passionate about the cause of climate change as Anna Rose will join with her in mocking people like Nick Minchin and his cohort. And in return the deniers will continue to accuse the environmental activists of peddling a monumental lie in order to realise futile international global governance.

To that end, Madlands is not going to change the world. I suspect it is unlikely to change even one mind that is sceptical about man-made global warming. But what Rose does achieve is to put a human face on climate change and hold a mirror up to the planet.

The next step belongs to all of us. If only we could agree what the next step should be.

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