Matthew Nisbet, Professor of Communication, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, has a new article called Manufacturing Consent: The dangerous campaign behind climate emergency declarations. It makes similar arguments to those made by Mike Hulme in an article called Climate Emergency Politics Is Dangerous.
The concern expressed by Nisbet and Hulme is that by declaring some kind of Climate Emergency you give governments an opportunity to impose all sorts of authoritarian policies under the guise of dealing with this climate emergency.
I do sympathise with the concerns; I think we should be careful of giving governments carte blanche to impose policies without some kind of democratic oversight. However, I didn’t really agree with the implication in Matthew Nisbet’s article that authoritarian policies were already being implimented in the name of dealing with the climate emergency. That an authoritarian government may pay lip service to climate change doesn’t necessarily imply that the climate emergency is a cover for authoritarian policies.
Also, neither Matthew Nisbet nor Mike Hulme seemed to provide some kind of viable alternative, at least not one that I could see. If we should avoid acknowledging a climate emergency, what should we do instead? How do we deal with a serious global problem in a way that is effective, but doesn’t provide cover for authoritarian policies?
Nisbet also criticised the science says this is an emergency type narrative. Of course, strictly speaking he’s correct; we can’t use science to determine if something is an emergency. However, I think that this narrative is mostly a shorthand for we’ve looked at the scientific evidence and, in our judgement, this is an emergency.
Additionally, under what conditions would it be acceptable to declare some kind of emergency? If changing the climate of the only planet on which we can live doesn’t qualify, what does? How would we determine when something justifies emergency status? In some sense, Nisbet and Hulme’s arguments against declaring a climate emergency are as much a personal judgement as the arguments of those in favour of doing so.
Anyway, this is getting rather long, and I need to get ready for a barbecue (braai, for those who know my origins). I do share some of the concerns of those who argue against climate emergency declarations, but I would have more sympathy if they were to present viable alternatives, rather than appearing to simply be arguing against this framing.
As I tried to explain in this post, I do think climate change is a different problem to almost anything else we face today and if we do want to limit the impact of climate change, I do think we need to take some fairly drastic action. I do agree that we should be aware of the possibility that governments could use this as a cover for implementing unpopular policies that have little to do with climate change, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t got to the point where climate change has become an emergency
Manufacturing Consent: The dangerous campaign behind climate emergency declarations – article by Matthew Nisbet.
Climate Emergency Politics is Dangerous – article by Mike Hulme
The benefits of acting now, rather than later – post I wrote about why climate change is different to the other problems we face.