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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Climate Change - celebrating the clumsy approach

The UK Royal Society of Arts is an interesting British institution –
committed to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges. Through its ideas, research and 27,000-strong Fellowship it seeks to understand and enhance human capability so we can close the gap between today’s reality and people’s hopes for a better world.
Its Director’s blogs give a very good sense of what a highly intelligent and engaged individual in today’s Britain is thinking. Sometimes, for me, it sounds like messages from Mars! No reflection meant on Matthew Taylor! Just on the environment in which the UK chattering classes currently operate with its neo-liberal government.
The blogsite of RSA Fellows also offers fascinating insights and I was impressed with this recent one which was inspired by Professor Mike Hulme’s most recent book – Why we Disagree about Climate Change - which applies cultural theory and reframing to the issue. He argues that the very different perspectives and underlying values we all have make climate change an issue for which we should not be trying to find "a solution". A question of the best being the enemy of the good. Finding a way through the highly contested values involves intense dialogue and the acceptance of "clumsy" compromises
So much that is written about the subject is, quite frankly, hysterical – and the tone both of the blog and of the book which inspired it are rare examples of how we should be debating issues.
Climatology/Science
1. Do we really understand how the climate works?(If it’s so much more complex than the financial system, and we got that badly wrong…)
2. Is climate change happening?(Yes, demonstrably so, but some say ‘climate change’ is not – i.e. it’s nothing out of the ordinary if we had access to records that went far enough back. They are almost certainly wrong)
3. Is climate change anthropogenic (man-made)?(Almost certainly, but there are enough sceptics to allow people to imagine there is a position to be taken here- we are often asked “Do you believe in climate change”)
4. Is ‘runaway global warming’ likely or not?(How valid/important is the idea of ‘tipping points’)
5. How many degrees of planetary warming are ‘safe’?(Is the 2 degree limit a political or scientific judgement?)
Science/Technology
6. Are there any likely scientific breakthroughs that will solve ‘the problem’?
7. Do current intellectual property laws help or hinder the development of carbon abatement technologies?
8. Will anticipated technological change happen quickly enough to prevent avoidable harm, or not?
9. Could an ‘energy internet’ meet our energy needs?(Some, e.g. Jeremy Rifkind argue the key is to make households produce and share energy, not just share it)
Macroeconomics/Modelling
10. Is it viable to stop seeking economic growth in the developed world?(Some say economic growth is economically imperative, but ecologically impossible)
11. Do we have to assume indefinite economic growth in climate models?(Most climate models, e.g. The Stern Review, assume 1.2% growth in perpetuity- this matters because it implies future generations will be richer, and better able to deal with the worst effects of climate change)
12. What should the price of carbon be?
13. Is ‘absolute decoupling’ possible?
14. Does/could ‘cap and trade’ work?
15. Can we design a viable carbon market that is ‘functional and fair’?(The magazine Ephemera recently devoted an issue to this question)Ethics
16. Do natural systems and species have intrinsic value or not?
17. Can we place a quantitative or comparative value on a life?
18. Should/can we value the quality of life of future generations as much as our own?(This question, the so-called ‘discount value’ appears to be a critical wedge issue because it can only be a value judgement, with no objective way of settling the question, but most economic models discount future generations considerably in their models).
Communication/social marketing
19. Is ‘climate change’ the best expression to work with?
20. Is climate change an environmental issue?
21. Is Climate change best framed as a public health issue?
Political
22. Are relatively short democractic electoral cycles part of the problem, or not?
23. Does the developed world have an obligation to allow the developing world to pollute relatively more to correct for historic exploitation, or not?
24. Do we need more regulation or less?
Worldview
25. Is nothing sacred?(Are there things that don’t have a price, or that if they were given a price, would be valued even less?)
26. Do attitudes drive behaviour, or is it the other way round?(A biggie, but I was impressed by this resource as giving some ammunition for an answer)
27. Is the rebound effect serious or not?
28. Should we appeal to economic incentives, or not?
29. Should we work directly with values, or not? 
Framing and reframing (and recognion of the importance of cultural values to problem-solving) goes back a long way. I remember being impressed in the 1960s with the 3 world views suggested by Etzioni in his "Social Problems". Post-modernist thinking, however, has focussed more and more on the variety of ideological prisms with which we sense of the world. And yet, the professionals in my field who teach policy development to the senior civil servants in the Balkans, Near East and Central Asia continue to sell the rational model of problem solving. I hope to look at this in more detail in the future.  

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