Climate change and humanity: Elite perceptions, Sustainable solutions

Marianne McKiggan
Crisis Forum

Workshop – summary notes

Marianne McKiggan, 13 November 2004

Abbreviation: CC = Climate Change

Introductions: Assessing Elite Perceptions

Introduction: Mark Levene (Crisis Forum Organiser, School of Humanities, University of Southampton)

Climate change “our last best chance” to tackle the global crisis of resource control.

If Contraction and Convergence, as the architecture of a climate change solution, is the thesis – then the antithesis is the reality of where we are at now.

There are many top down assumptions about what climate change means for humanity. We live in a strange constructive world (media) – too many conventional wisdoms that have to be challenged.
Solutions – from people, and how they are empowered to respond.

1) ‘ The geo-strategic level’: impacts on global security and the potentiality of conflict (Dave Webb and Steve Wright: Leeds Metropolitan University).

Dr Steve Wright. Visiting Professor, Praxis Centre for the study of Information and Technology for Peace, Conflict resolution and Human rights.

The Pentagon Report – Identifies CC as a national security issue.
Abrupt cc scenario and conflict.
Government/Police responses – already planning; technologies for the control of large numbers of people (e.g. current technologies in people control designed not to show on TV) – uses / abuses of information and technology in society.

Is cc also the last best chance for militaristic control?
i.e. is cc an excuse for increased control?; increasing inequality (exacerbated by cc) leading to increases military command and control.

Full Spectrum dominance
“What is planned is mass torture at boarders” (in the event of mass migrations forced by climate change) a technological fix to the problem is planned by the military.

2) Industry and commerce (David Ballard (Env Manager): New Academy of Business, and University of Bath.)

10 years ago people were disturbed by CC, now we have corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement.

Today (from experience of working in industry):

Trends:

  • low awareness of cc in business and construction companies.
  • The adaptation agenda is being missed
  • Mitigation agenda – strategy to avoid being ‘locked in’ to high emissions
  • At operational level CC is “not on the agenda” (not on business or local council agenda)
  • People in business are more aware than the general population, but awareness of the scale, urgency and relevance of the situation is low. Most aren’t getting it, problems of more general awareness. “people don’t want to talk about it because they think they can’t do anything”
  • CC is “pushed from consciousness”
  • Issues do not come up in stakeholder surveys
  • Environmental management systems (EMS) as an education process (need accountability – argument for no change)

Business has an operational rather than strategic focus:
E.g. BP ‘post petrol liquid fuels transition’ 2 routes; both have high costs in development, the path chosen will determine which route they go down. At present BP is spending 80% on high carbon route, to 20% on low carbon route.
Institutional “inertia is taking us in completely the wrong direction” leads to ‘lock in’ in technological decisions.

(Ref: Induced Technical Change in Energy and Environmental modeling: Analytic Approaches and Policy Implications (2002) Grubb, M. Kohler, J. Anderson, D. Journal: Ann. Rev. Energy Environ, 27,271-308. The Seven Myths of Kyoto (2001) Grubb, M. Journal: Climate Policy , 1 (3) . ‘Who’s Afraid of Atmospheric Stabilisation? Making a Link Between Energy (2000 ) Grubb, M. Journal: Energy Policy)

3) The view from the NGOs (George Marshall: Rising Tide)

NGO’s “there are a lot of them and they’re not doing very much”

Definitions of NGO’s (imp: not profit making, but must be aware that they are financially directed)

  • Groups involved in CC:
    Deniers and oppositional think tanks. E.g. many industry groups, covert/overt interest in holding back cc legislation/action. May appear as grassroots (Astroturf) (sceptic orgs)
  • Watching brief. Commercial interest groups.
  • Economic advantage interest groups.
  • Environmental and progressive organisations.

Parties to the framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) – include many industry/watching brief/commercial interest/sceptic groups etc.

Environmental and progressive organisations:
Progressive NGO’s working on climate change – mainstream environmental groups:

  • focus on government/international policy
  • invest in Kyoto
  • follow business connections (e.g. FoE, ‘Stop Esso’ Campaign, Campaigns against the Climate Coalition) but also increasingly work with business.
  • Very little work on the level of public engagement with the issue. Combined memberships up to 1million (all progressive)

Failures:
NGO’s reflect wider society’s inability to engage with climate change. Personal psychological conflict. Interest to protect membership (subscribers)

“People don’t want to be told that cheap flights are immoral”

Failure to engage with source of emissions (increasingly want to work with oil corporations than against them)

Work on short term cycles like business and government.
Failure to challenge underlying source of the problem.

Solutions: Critical analysis of the UN solution process, reveals it as regressive not progressive.
Awareness: not isolated ‘public opinion’ but awareness of NGO’s

NGO’s not engaging with CC:
Include; anti-war, social rights, trade unions, welfare/elderly, international development, tourism industry, conservation.

Need to raise NGO awareness.

4) The Academic Community (Nigell Arnell, Tyndall Centre, University of Southampton)

View from conventional science; IPCC (4th assessment due 2007)

CC happening and serious. IPCC is an international panel of government representatives, who are commissioned to review the science.
Models/scenarios – source of confusion, controversy.

Sceptics; now claiming that you can’t trust scientists because they are government funded. Challenge evidence (e.g. hockey stick), projections (models) – challenges are wrong.
Or say science doesn’t matter as we are committed to climate change in next 50yrs anyway.

Some things we want to know can’t know – likelihood of THC switching off?

Dominant perceptions of impacts:

  • species composition, phenological changes
  • physical processes
    As IPCC drew attention to these.

Extreme weather events (can’t put individual events down to CC – accused of scaremongering) but can say that frequency of extreme events attributable to CC.

(What Nigel didn’t mention: the rest of the academic community? – The role of industry funding sceptics / PR etc – Guardian Radford article Nov 2004, covers International Policy Institute report on CC.)

Discussion

Public opinion: Is a vital factor pressure on politicians from the electorate?
(D. Ballard – we could die waiting for public opinion to change) assumed impotence – but where direct public opinion? Will/intention – what do we want to happen?

(The crisis has no historical precedence – M. Levene)

It is a mistake to underestimate scope for social / political change. (Change in Eastern Europe, coincided with a complete loss of faith/trust in media)

(Aubrey Meyer (GCI) – N. Arnell underestimated sceptics tactics, there arguments/position have shifted from questioning science to ‘it’s too late to do anything about’.)

Crisis of capitalism – need low carbon future, institutional structures a barrier to change.

Shouldn’t assume that change is always progressive – gov/institutions planning regressive change?

Small Group Sessions

i)Climate Change and Public opinion: facilitator, David Cromwell
(University of Southampton)

ii)Climate Change and Conflict: facilitator, Dave Webb and Steve Wright (Leeds Metropolitan University)

iii)’Clearing the Pathways to Transformation’.
facilitators, David Ballard (Bath University) and Susan Ballard (University of West of England)

i) Climate Change and Public opinion

Notes from session attended:

Media representation; problems:

  • Report event (weather event, political, scientific report); then little sustained coverage/ no follow up.
  • Presentation semi-humorous (e.g. echo flamingos on the Hamble etc, Blackpool with palm trees ~ John Theobold)
  • No probing of underlying forces/causes – global capitalism off the agenda.
  • No coverage of corporate lobbying
  • Links – poverty, justice etc are not made. (have to be) (Jonathan Dimbleby programmes ITV)

TV: People who only get news from TV have a lower level of concern than those who read papers aswell. (cause/effect?? – need focus group studies)
www.mediachannel.org

Systematic bias – appears neutral (e.g. Israel/Palestine) Glasgow Uni media group, media analysis.

Propaganda Model (Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent) (introduced, limited discussion)
Model does not explain wilful trivialisation (though it doesn’t claim to – but how can we explain this? – psychology/internalised values?)

Internet:
As alternative channel. Many sources of information.
But:
No counter-framework, alternate visions, worldviews, no coherent alternative (one no many yeses) Do we need one alternative vision?

Example of engaging with public: GMNation?
(Simon Lewis – Public debate on GM, summer 2003)
Could this be done for climate change?
Need to assess GM Nation (thoughts: in who’s interest, by whom? outcomes etc, was it in the publics interest or not so benign PR stunt? last ditch marketing event?)

Sam Clarke – FoE. What the NGO community wants from academia:

  • actionable information (e.g. illustrating carrying capacity/ place specific impacts) e.g. Steady state economics
  • media only one of many routes

PR / corporations / government, look at how they use media: target opinion formers; NGO/Gov/leader writers.

How is major social change achieved? E.g. Eastern Europe

  • mass lack of faith in mainstream media
  • de-legitimisation of current institutional structures
  • need alternative worldviews

Current inability of NGO’s to articulate vision, unaware of scale of transformation? (Parecon, New Economics Foundation, Clive Hamilton – Growth Fetish) (What does alternative economic model look like?)

Expose corporate lobby – BP etc – Question futures.

Plenary Session

Towards Sustainable Solutions: Where do we go from here?

Each small group present outcomes of workshop:

i) Climate Change and Public Opinion

Notes as above.

ii) Climate Change and Conflict

Based on IPCC
Military response not bounded by short-termism (unlike that of governments/business/NGO’s)
E.g. UK military has just commissioned 2 large aircraft carriers.

Humans are adaptable – but today increased movement (forced migrations, e.g. Bangladesh) is likely to result in violence. Need to demonstrate to people that climate change impacts are likely to result in war.

2degreesC temperature increase is very significant for an average of 15degreesC. Business as usual would result in greater change (increased feedbacks etc).

Need to navigate a ‘soft landing’, to pre-empt military solutions.

Who is the ‘we’ that are going to manage the change? (technofix, limits to growth)

iii) ‘Clearing the Pathways to Transformation’

Jim Scott – Save Our World (paper: By Force, Persuasion or Enlightened Self-Interest?) Meyer Hillman (book)

Campaigning/conferencing/science – not working; need movement to preserve life (instinct to survive?)
Bonn conference on renewable energy – low attendance.

On communication:

  • Little evaluation of what works.
  • Government communication of climate change
  • A state of ignorance “disempowered state of knowledge” (George Marshall)
  • Denial of capacity to respond to climate change; denial of facts of climate change

Currently military involvement inevitable, fortress mentality.
Individual motivation / belief (what motivated people to produce change?)

Final sum up – Discussion

Key questions:

1)what motivates people? (compassion, enlightened self interest?) [Robin Attfield; we should avoid thinking in terms of faith or self interest for affecting change, humans have a vast capacity for compassion, we should also remember that wonder is a source of motivation.]

2)What is the best way to effect change? (different people / different responses, critical mass – political shift, local level to global, Unions, Tyndall C tech fix, STOA Panel for CC in European Parliament)

3)Need to address military response, and climate change causes.

Crisis forum outcome – academic/activist relationship.
Levels of transformation, inaction to action.

Problem in universities – have power to lead the way, but increasingly going down corporate path. Need to lobby academic community – cross pollination within academia, so far a lack of climate change research in sociology, IR etc, not a surprise when social scientist receive information on climate change from mainstream media)

The cost of inaction is far higher than the cost of action. Need to challenge the government on repeated prioritising of economy over environment – be explicit about CC (Aubrey Meyer).

Marianne McKiggan, 13 November 2004.

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