Lack of progress is often attributed to the influence of climate skepticism, and some observers expect a new wave of skeptical voices in the coming years. Yesterday Michael Oppenheimer was quoted in the Washington Post, saying
“Denialism draws its oxygen from larger political agendas and Paris won’t put an end to those... There will still be plenty of opposition to regulating greenhouse gas emissions, to regulation in general, and to any sort of international cooperation.”
However, opposition to climate policies does not need to be ideological. It may be tempting for some interest groups to use science based arguments in their strategies, but not all are on to this.
Consider, for example, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), who opposes federal regulations to regulate carbon emissions. His president notes his union, “does not dispute the science regarding climate change. Our dispute is with how our government is going about addressing it, and on whom the administration is placing the greatest burden in dealing with this challenge.”
"So why is the current political approach not working?" ask Nives Dolšak and Aseem Prakash from the University of Washington, Seattle in a recent paper. Their answer is interesting:
Scientific evidence, celebrity endorsements (such as the Natural Resource Defense Council asking actors to wear green ribbons at the 2015 Emmy Awards ceremony), and severe weather events (such as Hurricane Sandy) have not helped in generating the desired policy response towards emissions reductions. Perhaps a new climate advocacy strategy is needed that seeks to work on the political bottlenecks and address the concerns of policy opponents.
We suggest that an important reason creating opposition to mitigation is that domestic equity implications have not been appreciated. To address equity issues,we outline a proposal for ‘embedded environmentalism’ that can provide a new direction to the debate over climate change mitigation policies. While this proposal is directed principally at environmental groups as they are both the most visible and vocal in pushing for climate change mitigation, we hope it can inform the policy approaches of all mitigation advocates including regulators, politicians, and scientific bodies.The argument goes as follows.
Embedded environmentalism recognizes that policies can differentially impose costs and
bestows benefits across sectors and industries (Wilson, 1980). These benefits and costs can be economic or financial, but can also include psychological, social, or ideological ones. Some policies might concentrate costs (therefore imposing high per capita costs for those who incur them) or bestow benefits on specific sectors, while others might diffuse them over the whole economy (therefore creating low levels of benefits or costs on a per capita basis). Policies such as those for climate change mitigation, which currently tend to create diffused benefits for many but impose concentrated costs on few, face intense opposition and sometimes get stalled. This is as a result of those who lose out from the policy having incentives to organize and oppose it, while those who benefit have less compelling incentives to advocate for it.
The climate change debate in the United States seems to pit the predominantly educated,
affluent, urban pro-environment constituencies against relatively less privileged coal miners, manufacturing workers, and others in fossil fuel industries. Techno-determinists, such as Thomas Friedman, invoke Schumpeterian (2013 ) “creative destruction” to explain why the fossil-fuel based industrial order must perish. For them renewables, information technology, and technological breakthroughs will herald a ‘new order’. For many American coal miners, climate change mitigation policies are job killers that will force them into poverty, an argument echoed by several Republican presidential hopefuls such as Senators Ron Paul and Marco Rubio. While emerging technologies do create new jobs, these probably will not be filled by comparatively poorly educated miners.
We propose that mitigation advocates adopt a radically new political strategy. Along with advocating for emission regulations, they should lobby for the compensation of sectors and stakeholders that might be negatively impacted by such regulations. Our approach coheres with the proposal Hillary Clinton (2015) recently outlined to revitalize coal communities in the Appalachia. The $30 billion Clinton Plan focuses on investments in local infrastructure and responds to concerns that federal air emission regulations have contributed to the downturn in the coal industry.
The deal reached in Paris did not involve debates about the robustness of the science. There was no showdown between IPCC advocates and skeptics, and countries resisting some clauses of the draft treaty did not cite arguments from the skeptical armoury. The obstacles were interest based and solved through compromises, involving principles about burden sharing. Domestic climate policies will have to follow suit. Instead of getting bogged down in arguments about scientific evidence, workable solutions are needed that provide a sense of fairness to policy losers. Climate policy needs to be taken away from scientists and put in the hands of interest groups, politicians and, yes, diplomats and mediators.