Saturday, January 17, 2009

Petals of Blood / Ngugi wa Thiong’o -- New York, NY: Penguin, 1977.

A couple of years ago I read another novel by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Wizard of the Crow, which I found to be an extraordinarily gripping and brilliant political novel. So it was with high expectations that I picked up the celebrated Kenyan author’s earlier work, Petals of Blood. The novel opens as a murder mystery but does not function as one. Those who were murdered develop as characters very little and much later in the novel, and Ngugi does not build much suspense around solving the mystery of who murdered them. Petals of Blood is not as gripping as Wizard of the Crow and moves quite slowly for the first third. However, in the second two thirds of the books, a handful of very well developed characters from a remote village in Kenya engage in some interesting and revealing dilemmas. Although the novel may have been shocking in its time, political corruption in Africa is not news today. Petals of Blood remains an excellent novel, however, not only for its beautiful writing but also as a meditation on the dynamics of power and development.

The Ethics of Climate Change: Right and Wrong in a Warming World / James Garvey –- N.Y.: Continuum Books, 2008

Of all the books I read my first semester as a graduate student, The Ethics of Climate Change: Right and Wrong in a Warming World was my favorite. Although Garvey takes up perhaps too many words of his introduction assuring his readers that philosophy is not overly abstruse, in this short (158 page) volume, he successfully lays out background information and provides eloquent arguments on the ethics of climate change. The arguments are developed systematically, from a simple notion of causal responsibility, to more nuanced questions, for example, what obligations one has in the absence of action from others. The book ends evaluating the international response to climate change in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol and addressing the potential of individual actions. While not a rousing call, Garvey does offer more impetus to action than I had expected from a philosophy book on climate change.

Two areas that were not adequately addressed were the questions of, Does futility obviate moral imperative? and Are moral arguments politically persuasive? Nonetheless, The Ethics of Climate Change is an excellent introduction to the topic. Much attention is paid to the science and economics of climate change, but the need to make the ethics of climate change politically persuasive may be the key to addressing the enormous challenge ahead.