I’ve been meaning to post a review of 2019, but wanted to first comment on something else. I quite often see criticism of how some people approach the issue of climate change. For example, in the Guardian yesterday, there was an article by a political scientist suggesting that even though we may have now defeated climate denial, it looks like there may be a new form of climate denial. Specifically, this new form of climate denial is the failure to recognise the complexity of policy making, and how our values might influence how we would approach this issue.
The suggestion in the article is that the environmental movement has actively suppressed attempts to consider these difficult questions, and its elitism has has done more to invite populist backlashes than to further its own goals..
What I find confusing about these criticisms is that they seem to conflate activism with policy making. Activists have agendas; they’re trying to get policy makers to engage with something that they regard as important. Their message will often be intentionally simplistic. It’s not really their job to work out how to implement some policy or even if we should actually do so. Presumably it’s also their values that are driving their activism; why should they be expected to show awareness of other people’s values? Policy makers may well need to take this all into account, but it’s not obvious why we should expect activists to do so.
To be clear, it may well be advantageous for activists to have an awareness of the political process and to aim for inclusion, rather than exclusion. I’m also certainly not suggesting that they should be openly dismissive of other people’s values, it’s just not clear why it should influence their activism. Other people/groups are perfectly entitled to have their own agendas.
In the context of climate change, the criticism often revolves around a sense that some regard this as being an entirely technological/scientific issue. For example, it’s wrong to say listen to the science because science can’t actually tell us what to do. This is, of course, true; science simply provides information. What we do with that information will be influenced by many other factors. However, this is an obvious simplification that is motivated by a desire for people to take the scientific information into account when making decisions. It’s not a literal suggestion that we should simply listen to the science and all will be clear.
My rather cynical view is that some of this criticism is driven by a sense that science has too prominent a role in this debate and that other important factors are not being considered. This may well be true, but there’s nothing stopping people from highlighting these other important issues. Semi-academic critiques that sound objective, but that are probably highly subjective, may not be the most effective way to do this.
Also, given that the slogan of one of the most successful, and prominent, climate activists is unite behind the science you’re going to have a hard time convincing me that a simple message that promotes the importance of the science, isn’t an effective way to highlight this issue.
I should say that having written this I do still find myself somewhat conflicted. I agree with much of what the Guardian article was saying. Even if we have defeated climate denial (which may be optimistic) the next stage will be very difficult. There isn’t an obvious and simple way to implement climate policy. There are plenty of different, and valid, views about how to proceed. We should think about things like personal freedom, distributive justice and respect for established traditions and ways of life. It isn’t simply a scientitific/technological issue; our values should, of course, play a role in how we perceive this issue.
However, it seems clear that there will be a difference between the simplistic messages that activists might use to promote their agendas, and the realities of how we then deal with these issues. Expecting activists to incorporate all this complexity into their messaging seems unrealistic, but then I’m not a political scientist.