Does climate change need a new agenda?

I was speaking to some friends of mine recently about climate change (I know what you’re thinking, those poor souls). They understand and accept the science of climate change but were not particularly interested in the topic or its solutions. One thought wind farms were ugly and the other felt the answer lay with reducing energy usage. I accept that some people find wind farms ugly but someone’s personal aesthetic preference about wind farms pales in significance to the gravity of the problem of climate change. I do have some sympathy with the view that we need to use less energy. I agree with that. But we need to do much more than simply consuming less energy. Using less energy is not going to solve the problem. Emissions need to be zero not just less.

I’ve just been reading an interesting report – I haven’t read all of it though – called A new agenda on climate change by Jonathan Rowson. He thinks we should not bother wasting our time arguing with those who question the scientific consensus on climate change but instead turn our attention to those who accept the science “but continue to live as though [the problem] were not there.” This is, according to Rowson, two thirds of the population. There are four main points to his argument:

* Forget about national emissions, it’s really about global extraction of fossil fuels. It was recently reported that just 90 companies are mostly to blame for the climate crisis. Our current focus on improving energy efficiency should be switched to action to prevent the extraction of fossil fuels.

* This is not just an environmental problem. Climate change is often thought of as a problem for environmentalists or greenies. But this is not so. According to Rowson, climate change will have “significant implications for public health, immigration, industrial policy, pensions, financial stability and energy security”. It is relevant to all of us.

* We have to stop pinning our hope to ineffective action like improvements to energy efficiency.

* Connect people to solutions and solutions to people. Rowson is suggesting here that we should refocus the debate away from the problem and onto to a debate about solutions.

He offers eight suggestions for linking people and solutions. I was surprised by point 6 which is to dismantle the ETS but the others all sound reasonable:

1) Build a climate alliance with clear shared objectives that is not part of the environmental movement
2) Consistently refocus the debate away from the existence of the problem towards competing ideas about solutions
3) Create public platforms for people to speak to each other about climate change for more than a few minutes at a time
4) Lobby for consumption based emission reporting
5) Support and promote divestment in fossil fuels
6) Campaign for the reduction of fossil fuel subsidies and the dismantling of the European Emissions Trading Scheme
7) As far as possible, collectively supply and manage your own renewable energy
8) Build reciprocal international commitment by highlighting that we are not alone in our attempts to lead on climate change

Rowson has grouped the population into three groups: those who remain unconvinced about anthropogenic climate change (19.6%); those who accept that there is a problem but who are unmoved (63.9%); and the last group who accept the problem and who live in ways that are consistent with their understanding of it (14.5%).


Probably Rowson is right when he says we should forget about the 19.6% who are unconvinced. We should instead focus on the unmoved, a group he calls the climate ignorers. Their reasons for being unmoved are threefold:
1) “I don’t feel uneasy about climate change”
2) “My daily actions are not part of the climate change problem”
3) “There is nothing I can do personally that will have any significant effect on limiting climate change”

The question is how to move the unmoved? We need to start by reframing climate change from a technical, environmental problem to an ethical challenge which requires collective solutions. He says, it “is as much a financial risk as it is an environmental risk”.

I thought I’d finish with this cartoon I saw recently which, although I’m not a climate scientist, strikes a chord with me. I can only say, why are we waiting?