I’ve always been a little puzzled by the (mostly) social scientists who seem to argue that to develop effective climate policy we should stop using labels, be depolarizing the debate, and should prioritise civil disagreements. It’s not that I object to these in principle (I’m in favour) I just don’t see really see how engaging constructively with those who don’t see the need for climate policy would somehow lead to effective climate policy.
What brought this up again, was that I was having a brief Twitter discussion with Matthew Nisbet who commented that constructive disagreement was sorely needed. So, I asked him what motivated this suggestion. He highighted a number of his articles, including one that discusses the trouble with climate emergency journalism, another that discusses public intellectuals and their arguments for action on climate change, and one that argues that [t]he IPCC report is a wake up call for scholars, advocates and funders. There’s a lot in these, but to give you a flavour, a suggestion is that the current style of engagement results in
a discourse culture that substantially reduces opportunities for developing effective policy and technology approaches on climate change that broker support among not only liberals, but also moderates and conservatives.
This all sounds great, but it’s still not clear how this would help to develop effective climate policy, especially if we do need to make substantial changes on a timescale of decades.
What then struck me is that this article ended with
There is no ending or solving climate change, but we can do better, rather than worse at managing the far reaching risks.
and this article ended with
We will not solve climate change; it is a chronic societal condition that we will do better or worse at managing over the century and beyond.
Clearly we will continue to have volcanoes, the Sun will continue to vary slightly, and there will always be internal climate variability. Hence, we will not end, or stop, climate change. However, in the context of these discussions, climate change refers to anthropogenically-driven climate change, which is almost entirely due to our emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Furthermore, until we stop emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the climate will continue to change and, in the absence of technology for removing these gases from the atmospheres, the changes we do induce will be irreversible.
So, we can solve/end climate change; stop emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The longer we take to do so, the bigger the changes we will be leaving for future generations. So, there are real long-term consequences to delaying acting. This is what I was trying to argue in this post, but I’m still not sure I’m articulating this as clearly as I could.
Of course, if some people think that climate change is simply some kind of societal condition that we can only manage, rather than end/solve, then I can see why they regard it as important to spend time depolarising the debate. However, in my view, this framing of climate change is wrong; it is something we can end/solve, and the longer we take to do so, the greater the changes we, and future generations, will have to deal with. It may still be worth trying to depolarise the debate, but it’s not clear why – given the constraints – this would be the optimal way to develop effective climate policy.
Sciences, Publics, Politics: The Trouble With Climate Emergency Journalism by Matthew Nisbet.
The IPCC report is a wake up call for scholars, advocates and funders by Matthew Nisbet.
Disruptive ideas: public intellectuals and their arguments for action on climate changeby Matthew Nisbet.
The benefits of acting now, rather than later – post by me trying to argue why we really should act soon (not sure I’ve quite articulated this as well as I could have).
Wicked – some posts by me about framing climate change as a wicked problem.