In Today’s Guardian newspaper in the UK, environmental columnist George Monbiot has seemingly woken up to the politics of climate change – almost. He finishes a lengthy soliloquy to the global climate change negotiations and climate campaigning more generally with the following:
‘All I know is that we must stop dreaming about an institutional response that will never materialise and start facing a political reality we’ve sought to avoid. The conversation starts here.’
The conversation in fact began a while ago, notably over at the Breakthrough Institute in the US and in Anthony Giddens book. Here at Political Climate we’ve been trying to bring some of the thinking on climate politics together and to present some of the evidence to support a climate politics focus in addition to science and economics.
Monbiot falls short of naming precisely which politics he means, although mentions in passing the activities of corporate lobbyists, the customary bête noir of environmentalists, and the failure of leadership:
‘Greens are a puny force by comparison to industrial lobby groups, the cowardice of governments and the natural human tendency to deny what we don’t want to see.’
He also confuses the failure of an intergovernmental agreement, whose crime was to try and move ahead of national politics based on the assumption that leadership would win through, with government action in general. We still need governments and institutions to take climate change seriously, but not necessarily or primarily within the frame of a global agreement.
It’s hardly a revelation to say this, but climate change is a long-term problem that requires short-term responses; this paradox is shot through with politics. And so while polls suggest two-thirds or more of people accept the role of humans in changing the climate, they do not tend to prioritise it in the decisions they take at the checkout or, critically, at the ballot box. Thus while political and corporate rhetoric on the issue has become more shrill in recent years, costly investments to stem still-rising emissions have on the whole not been forthcoming.
Pushing for a grand, global agreement was a bold endeavour, but Monbiot is correct to observe that, at least for now, it is also a fruitless one as politicians justifiably feel that the space for high ambition is not yet available to them. That’s why we’ve been trying to identify the politics and championing the concept of learning by doing (see the previous post). It may not satisfy the carbon accountants and scenario geeks as much as top-down targets, but at least it’s concrete progress.