The politics of climate change – where are we?

Bryan Walsh’s piece on Al Gore’s reality versus everyone else’s in Time magazine is an excellent precis of the current politics of climate change. He even gets the UK picture about right; the default position for US environmental writers is to assume European climate policy is a done deal. That said, the Cambridge Econometrics study Walsh points to isn’t the most obvious example. The screaming hyperbole of the Daily Mail (no link; the Mail doesn’t need our traffic)  – copies of which we managed to get hold of even in Tuscany – and the energy prices backlash is where the politics currently reside.

Thus Gore’s Climate Reality gig, though no doubt heroic, seems curiously at odds with the current mood. A disastrously crap summer in Europe – from any standpoint you care to choose – will almost certainly push us into a chilly winter of deep discontent, where the Mail’s version of reality will be much closer to most people’s than Al Gore’s. In this context, we won’t so much be concerned about climate sceptics as about the widely shared lack of interest in the realities of a changing climate.

Behind the FT’s pay-wall, Simon Kuper also neatly summarised climate politics (Climate Change: Who cares any more? 17 September). He repeats the US political scientist and Breakthrough associate Roger Pielke Jr’s iron law: ‘When policies focused on economic growth confront policies focused on emissions reductions, it is economic growth that will win out every time.’

In facts it’s wrong to argue that people don’t care about climate change and that they don’t want to pay towards climate policy. On the contrary, in IPPR’s recent consumer workshops (in fact focusing on renewable heat and so buried in this report) there was no repetition of the climate sceptic line, much support for ‘doing something’ and a willingness to contribute. But many people’s attention is likely to be focused elsewhere.

The challenge for campaigners and Al Gore is to take the debate to where people are and not continue to argue as if most people would make a priority out of tackling climate change if only they knew the truth about the science. It didn’t work during the good times and our times are not good any more.

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1 Comment

Filed under Climate deniers, Public opinion, UK politics

One response to “The politics of climate change – where are we?

  1. Yes, and well said. But what’s the takeaway? If you believe that 1) the climate situation really is mega-dire, and 2) the Geo-economic is changing in ways that would be “challenging” even without the climate crisis, 3) the big money / austerity / denialist bloc is really quite dangerous, what do you conclude? Where would you take the climate movement?

    Personally, the only way forward that I can see is a parallel strategy that lays down a “Tax Justice / Climate Justice” logic. The first side would have to be a well-managed Race to the Future. In other words, one that works for everyone. The second would have to be fairness-forward politics that comes down as social democracy for a climate constrained world.

    I know you guys are a bit jaundiced on the Global New Deal approach, but what else makes any sense? And I say this even though I agree that the governance crisis may be so wide and so deep that nothing like this could ever happen.