The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) recently released a called Deny, Deceive, Delay: Documenting and responding to climate disinformation at COP26 and beyond. It highlighted a number of people who will be familiar to those who have followed the public climate debate, and used a taxonomy for Discourses of delay presented by Lamb et al. These discourses of delay are various narratives that can be used to argue against and, hence, delay effective cimate action.
There are a number of different climate delaying discourses, but one of them is an appeal to social justice. Essentially, arguing that climate action will have large costs that will pre-dominantly impact the most vulnerable. As highighted in the ISD report, this has led to environmentalism becoming a new front in the culture wars.
This issue is something I have pondered from time to time, but have never quite seemed to express my thoughts as clearly as maybe I should. I also worry that maybe it’s a form of just asking questions, so will acknowledge this in advance. I should also acknowledge that this falls well outside my area of expertise, so some of my terminology may be, un-intentionally, not ideal.
It seems clear that there are social justice issues associated with climate change. Some groups will be more severely impacted than others, and it seems likely that those who’ve contributed least will suffer most. So, it seems that if we want to develop climate policy that is fair, then these kind of social justice issues should be taken into account.
However, the more we focus on these kind of issues, the more we would seem to run the risk of falling into the culture wars and, potentially, validating what are probably disingenuous social justice arguments. For example, those (such as Alex Epstein) who seem to argue that we should expand the use of fossil fuels so as to deal with some of these issues. On the other hand, there probably are perfectly valid arguments for expanded fossil fuel use in some circumstances. Also, I certainly don’t think that those of us who have benefitted from the use of fossil fuels should be telling those who haven’t what they should do.
I’m not sure if I’ve expressed my concern all that clearly. I’m certainly not arguing against highlighting the importance of social justice when thinking about how to deal with climate change. Mostly I’m wondering how you do so without it ending up being counter-productive. Maybe one option is to highlight discourses of delay and identify who is spreading disinformation, and how they’re doing so. Maybe we just should just make the strongest arguments we can and shouldn’t really care about bad-faith actors. On the other hand, being aware can at least help to identify easily avoidable pitfalls.
I should probably stop there, as I’m not really sure what else to say. I’m actually on the train down to Cambridge for a few days, so am going to get out my book and relax for a while. However, if anyone does have any thoughts on this, I would be interested to hear them.