A New Agenda on Climate Change
‘To know and not to act, is not to know.’ *
Today we are releasing our report: A New Agenda on Climate Change: Facing up to Stealth Denial and Winding down on Fossil Fuels.
The piece was covered in The Times earlier today and I have a piece distilling the report in the Guardian. We also experimented with conveying the report’s message through Buzzfeed, which will appear soon, and was a lot of fun to create.
The human response to climate change is unfolding as a political tragedy because scientific knowledge and economic power are pointing in different directions.
The website preamble is copied below, but the main thing I want to convey now is that researching and writing this report really opened my eyes. At the start of the process I thought of climate change as a problem of emissions, and that the purpose of behaviour change was about using behavioural insights to reducing personal carbon footprints. However, the more I looked into it, the more I felt the issue is unavoidably political, and that ‘behaviour change’, to be worth its salt, had to connect with the core issue of gradually substituting our energy supply. We can still play nicely, but if you care about climate change, you have to talk about the price of fossil fuels, and think hard about what it would take to keep them in the ground.
Facing Up to Stealth Denial and Winding Down on Fossil Fuels
The human response to climate change is unfolding as a political tragedy because scientific knowledge and economic power are pointing in different directions. The knowledge of the reality, causes and implications of anthropogenic climate change creates a moral imperative to act, but this imperative is diluted at every level by collective action problems that appear to be beyond our existing ability to resolve. This challenge is compounded by collectively mischaracterising the climate problem as an exclusively environmental issue, rather than a broader systemic threat to the global financial system, public health and national security.
This report makes a case for how Britain can take a leading role in addressing the global climate problem, based on a new agenda that faces up to pervasive ‘stealth denial’ and the need to focus on keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Our data indicates that about two thirds of the population intellectually accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change, but ‘deny’ some or all of the commensurate feelings, responsibility and agency that are necessary to deal with it. It is argued that this stealth denial may be what perpetuates the doublethink of trying to minimise carbon emissions while maximising fossil fuel production, and also what makes us expect far too much of energy efficiency gains in the face of a range of rebound effects that lead energy to be used elsewhere.
This report argues that we should focus less on those who question the scientific consensus as if they were the principle barrier to meaningful action. Those who deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change are not at all helpful, but at least they are consistent. One corollary of facing up to stealth denial is that we should turn more of our attention instead to mobilising those who, like the author of this report, fully accept the moral imperative to act, but continue to live as though it were not there.
*- Wang Yang-ming (Neo-Confucian philosopher 1472–1529)