Climate Change Schism?

When Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger wrote the Death of Environmentalism, controversy raged. They argued – after interviewing more than 25 of the US environmental community’s top leaders, thinkers and funders – people need to search beneath symptoms, that appear to be causes, for deeper issues.

For example, the cause of global warming is too much greenhouse gas. Which leads to action; lets legislate to cut emissions.

So what’s stopping us and this solution? They asked us to consider obstacles like:

  • Our failure to articulate an inspiring and positive vision.
  • The radical right’s control of all three branches of the US government.
  • Trade policies that undermine environmental protections.
  • Overpopulation.
  • The influence of money in American politics.
  • The inability to craft legislative proposals that shape the debate around core American values.
  • Poverty.

The point is not, just, that there are many barriers. But the solutions we seek to implement depend on how we frame the problem. That is, how deeply we look beneath, while still including, the initial causes like greenhouse emissions.

Death of Environmentalism was written in 2004. Fast forward to today and we want to be picking policy winners. The best solutions are those that we can implement now and for the future. Not the most perfect, ideal, cap and trade system (or other mechanism) if they never becomes law.

In today’s terms it also means standing in other’s shoes – people who don’t believe action on climate change is important. This could vitally avoid a schism like the USA abortion debate – a climate-action fracture Bryan Walsh outlines here.

Summer and science week

Communicating science is vital, difficult and challenging. Just how do we effectively talk about probability and likelihood of increased impacts on humans with climate change? Science, communication and psychology has a big role to play.

Just one example to illustrate the point. The Fear Won’t Do It study looks at what we commonly see with climate issues – the risk of destruction to ice caps, the Barrier Reef, coral bleaching, increased severity of dangerous storms and, likelihood of more/longer heat waves etc. While this might grab people’s attention it is generally an ineffective tool for motivating genuine personal engagement.

Research like this argues we should be engaging people’s personal concerns. And understanding environmental leadership.

Part of this leadership, in Australia, is National Science Week. And within this is a social media challenge to science communicators. See details – complete with free tickets to win to How I Ended This Summer – here…

Image from the film How I Ended This Summer. It’s shot at an Arctic research station.

March mind shifts

While Japan struggles to shift mountains of debris and deal with human tragedy from the gargantuan tsunami, the ongoing Fukushima nuclear accident is seeing some significant mind shifts.

George Monbiot’s change of heart has the highest profile. A widely regarded environmental advocate, Fukushima has taught him to stop worrying and embrace nuclear power. He says:

On every measure (climate change, mining impact, local pollution, industrial injury and death, even radioactive discharges) coal is 100 times worse than nuclear power…

(But) there are no ideal solutions. Every energy technology carries a cost; so does the absence of energy technologies. Atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small. The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power

Not shifting is Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountains Institute. He finds nuclear so slow and costly that building plants reduces and retards climate protection.

Here’s how. Each dollar spent on a new reactor buys about 2-10 times less carbon savings, 20-40 times slower, than spending that dollar on the cheaper, faster, safer solutions that make nuclear power unnecessary and uneconomic: efficient use of electricity, making heat and power together in factories or buildings (“cogeneration”), and renewable energy

Who’s right? Barry Brook makes the base case for nuclear safety and why we need it here. Amory Lovins for efficiency, distributed power generation and why nuclear is out of date here.

Image: Fukushima Daiichi March 14 2011