On March 10 The Guardian dedicated its Letters to the editor page nearly entirely to comments from readers about climate change. These were triggered by the paper’s divestment campaign and addressed various issues related to options for practical action about climate change, be they individual or on the level of public policy.
The letters show a rich variety of recommendations, all coming from a readership that is convinced by the narrative that climate change is a serious problem and needs urgent attention. Below I summarize these letters in bullet points, the interested reader can view them in full here, here, here, and here.
- · We need population control
- · We need a global level regulator to implement emission reductions
- · Instead of divestment campaigns (shaming) we should adopt a positive stance and support progressive companies
- · We should re-direct £6bn worth of global subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable energy
- · We need to reduce our own energy consumption drastically
- · Role models like Naomi Klein should lead by example (air travel!)
- · We should adopt a vegan lifestyle which would reduce GHG emissions by 50% (stop eating meat and dairy products)
- · We should lead a simpler, but happier life
- · We should implement carbon capture and storage, and geo-engineering—these can be financed while higher energy prices are politically not viable
- · Capitalism is the real cause for catastrophic climate change but cannot be changed
- · The market cannot solve the problem of climate change, only public investment can
- · We should not alienate the political right, fighting climate change is more important than fighting capitalism.
(I am sure the Guardian received other letters praising the usefulness of nuclear power, of fracking, of sleeping naked, of smart grids, or some other solution).
These letters and their messages need to be taken seriously and it is surprising how little note has been taken of them, and of similar other examples. What they show is how different options are put forward that not always go together. In fact, the important point is how people convinced by the official message of potential catastrophic climate change tend to disagree about solutions for the problem. Imagine a government trying to put into practice the above options as part of one climate policy.
One wonders how important it is that the public should sing from the same hymn sheet as the scientists (assuming for one moment that the scientists are actually doing anything like that). Despite the best efforts at establishing an all-encompassing science assessment which drives policy, it would tell us pretty little about what to do next.
In this context it is interesting to take a quick glance at a recent public discussion in Germany. At the ‘Ladenburg Dialog’ Ortwin Renn, one of Germany’s foremost risk sociologists, said that without a convincing story radical measures for the protection of climate would not be attractive. While we have narratives that emphasize economic opportunities, ecological dystopia, justice between rich and poor countries, or the end of capitalism, we do not have an over arching message.
According to Renn we are lacking convincing narratives about climate change.
Compare this to Anthony Giddens’s recent intervention in which he supports the storyline that has become appealing to many people concerned about climate change, and what I call the dominant discourse on climate change. Its protagonists are activist climate scientists, left leaning commentators and journalists, some politicians, green activists, and social scientists. The storyline says: the scientific case for climate change has become much stronger over the past years, but the public endorsement has become weaker (no prizes if you guess who the culprits are). The IPCC consensus view is likely to underestimate potential climate risks so we should be assuming that worst case scenarios are more likely than mild climate impacts. Recent extreme weather events are a manifestation of climate change. Climate change is multiplier of many other risks.
(watch the video of Giddens's speech here http://www.bris.ac.uk/sps/policypolitcs/annuallecture2015/
from where you can also download the transcript).
This leads us back to the beginning of this blog post. What do we gain by constructing ONE story about climate change that is so appealing that we all accept it? And that we welcome whatever it takes to combat climate change? Renn thinks the narrative needs to be found, Giddens thinks he has found it, but the committed public (the Guardian readers) show how both are being contradicted by the facts. The facts are not scientific constructs, but real facts on the ground (the concerned citizens), which are normally more influential when it comes to policy formulation.
So what follows from this, and how can we give meaning to the title of this blog post?