Book Reviews

From Chain Reaction #126, April 2016, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia

Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change

Don't Even Think About It. Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change

George Marshall


Bloomsbury, New York

ISBN13: 9781620401330
ISBN10: 1620401339

Review by Chrissy Sharp

Most people recognise that climate change is real, and yet do little to stop it. What is the psychological mechanism that allows us to know something is true but act as if it is not? George Marshall's book tackles the big question that confronts us in the environment movement. How is it that after decades of campaigning and advocacy, the issue of climate change still fails to receive the level of attention it deserves in global political discourse? Why are we failing to get our message across with the urgency it deserves?

Why will a newspaper devote a front-page headline to a drowned toddler or a grisly murder but demote an international conference, the outcome of which will affect the future lives of billions, to a few paragraphs in the back pages?

Martin suggests there are two impediments working against this issue. Our brain's wiring means that most information about climate change, which is technical and hypothetical in nature, gets processed in the rational frontal lobe, that part of our brain that excites us as much as the filling in of forms does.

Our reptilian brain, or the “emotional brain” as Marshall calls it, does not get activated by abstract hypotheses, and dry facts and figures about sea levels. Yet it is this part of the brain that motivates us to take urgent action to flee or fight or to love and hate, in other words to get emotionally involved.

His other explanation is even more challenging: in the environment movement we have claimed climate change as our biggest issue. Yet in using the narrative of environmentalism, we have sent a subliminal message to the average voter that this problem is not about something critical to them. Polar bears being trapped on shrinking ice are not one of their everyday challenges, so they can dismiss the problem.

There's the challenge: how do we personalise this issue? There is a need for a new inclusive communication strategy that connects to both left and right and to ordinary lives. At the last climate change rally I attended the main banner on centre stage read, “Zero Emissions Now”. That was the message seen on the local TV coverage – an impossible goal that would clearly fail to invoke the shared conviction needed to evoke concern.

So there you have it: personalise the issues, recognise our own emissions, affirm wider values, close the partisan gap and drop the eco-speak. This book challenges our set ways. That is why it is worth reading.

How the food system drives climate change

The great climate robbery: how the food system drives climate change and what we can do about it

By the international NGO Grain. 

December 2015
ISBN: 9781742199917
246 pages

Hard copy: A$27.95, eBook: A$17.95

This anthology shows how food sovereignty is critical to any lasting and just solution to climate change. With governments, particularly those from the main polluting countries, abdicating their responsibility to deal with the problem, it has become ever more critical for people to take action into their own hands.

Changing the food system is perhaps the most important and effective place to start. The great climate robbery provides valuable information about how the industrial food system causes climate change, how food and agribusiness corporations are getting away with it, and what can be done to turn things around. 

The chapters in this collection document the ill effects of this industrial food system such as the growing hunger, the destruction of rural peoples' livelihoods, the loss of biodiversity and cultures, the exploitation of labour and a range of health calamities. 

Naomi Klein writes: "This book lifts up the voices of indigenous and peasant farmers around the world, comprehensively explaining why their fight to stop the industrial food juggernaut is the same as the fight for a habitable, just planet."

Vandana Shiva writes: "This book is a must read for movements addressing climate change as well as Seed and Food Sovereignty. It shows that industrial corporate agriculture is a major part of the climate crisis, and small scale ecological farming is a significant solution. It also alerts us to the false solutions being offered by those who created the problem."



Richard Denniss

February 2016


ISBN: 9781863958042

Black Inc. Redback Quarterly


We hear it every day, when public figures and commentators use incomprehensible economic jargon to dress up their self-interest as the national interest, to make the absurd seem inevitable or the inequitable seem fair. This book is designed to expose the stupid arguments, bizarre contradictions and complete lack of evidence upon which much 'common sense' about the economy rests in Australia. With acuity and precision, Richard Denniss from the Australia Institute demolishes the tired and misleading arguments of right-wing economic 'experts', empowering you to cut through the babble and reach the truth.

Readers interested in Econobabble might also be interested in Jason Sweig's book, The Devil's Financial Dictionary. Zweig skewers the plutocrats and bureaucrats who gave us exploding mortgages, freakish risks, and banks too big to fail. And he distils the complexities, absurdities, and pomposities of Wall Street into plain truths and aphorisms anyone can understand. The book is published by Public Affairs and was released last November.

Civil resistance in West Papua

Merdeka and the Morning Star: Civil Resistance in West Papua

Jason MacLeod


December 2015

304 pages

ISBN: 978 0 7022 5376 8

Review by James Whelan

Jason Macleod is a member of the Change Agency team: a dedicated activist educator, mentor and strategist. Having dropped out of university in 1991, Jason hitched to northern Queensland then made his way to Papua New Guinea. Hiking and paddling the Sepik, he made his way into a remote part of West Papua where he contracted malaria. He collapsed into a coma and was cared for by local health workers.

Jason's initial experiences in West Papua led him to form an enduring commitment to justice for the West Papuan people: a 25-year commitment that has involved spending time with leaders of the self-determination movement each year, training hundreds of West Papuan activists and completing a PhD to deepen and articulate his emerging understandings.

Jason's analysis of the West Papuan struggle for self-determination is powerful and compelling. He draws on his 25 years of lived experience as an ally and his deep understanding of social movement theory.

Merdeka and the Morning Star speaks equally to academics and activists. Jason applies his deep understanding of theoretical frameworks and political history to analyse strategic options, looking at the West Papuan self-determination struggle in its historical and contemporary forms, and looking forward to its future success.

This is a precious example of activist research. Jason writes with the clarity that comes from decades of action and reflection and the commitment of a genuine ally.