Please, Oh Please Say Something New About Climate Change!

 In Climate Change
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Photo by Alessia Rossi

Is there nothing new to say about climate change – is the issue ‘done’ and ‘dusted’?

“Climate change is the greatest threat facing humanity” or “Warming over 2°C will lead to climate catastrophe” are common headlines in today’s media. So what is there to do? Curl up and die or fight tooth and nail for change? I would say fight tooth and nail but, as part of the fight, let’s start to question received wisdom on climate change and the way we have constructed the issue. By asking some difficult questions, and by stating some unpalatable truths, we will hopefully create a new narrative about ‘the greatest threat facing humanity’ – a narrative that could lead to real change.

I have been in the climate change field for many years, and although I have see interest and concern grow around the issue, there has been no real development in our thinking on innovative ways to tackle climate change. We are, supposedly, the most creative species on this planet but the best we have come up with to solve climate change is ‘mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’. Is there nothing else? Seriously, is that the best we can do?

Discussions around mitigation and adaptation do not really challenge the status quo. They are narratives that have developed around the issue, not to radically change our behaviour, but largely to allow for small token gestures, which allow business to continue as usual. The dominant discourse of climate change, constructed by those with power, does not talk of radical change but, surely, that is exactly what we need?

There are strong political and economic reasons why climate change receives so much attention and there are strong political and economic reasons why those with power don\’t want us to ask difficult questions and challenge received wisdom on the issue. The reason why politicians and business leaders \’like\’ climate change is because they can feign environmental concern without actually having to do anything. Climate change is constructed as a \’future\’ threat and because it will occur in the future, action can be delayed.

My work on climate change, particularly research I conducted in the island states in the South West Pacific made me realise that the threat of climate change resides in the discourse constructed around the threat and not just in the physical impacts. This is why I feel so passionately that we need to challenge received wisdom on the issue and ask questions such as:

  • Are we creating a causal link between climate change and poverty to legitimise ever greater levels of interference in the lives and affairs of people living in Africa, Asia and Latin America?
  • Is wealth really a good indicator of a person’s ability to cope with the impacts of climate change? Could poverty reduction strategies actually increase vulnerability to climate change?
  • Why is a group of non-specialists – more interested in finding ways to bolster economic growth than solving environmental crises – defining the discourse on climate change?
  • What are the political and economic reasons why climate change attracts so much interest compared to other environmental threats?
  • Why do ‘activists’ call for an international agreement on climate change when history shows that even binding agreements often do not work?
  • Why are bureaucrats deciding our future? Does civil society really have any power when it comes to climate change?
  • What are the true reasons behind the corporate engagement with the issue of climate change?
  • Are we at risk of implementing some narrow-minded, short-term policy decisions in order to address the threat of climate change? In this regard, is nuclear power really an appropriate response to the threat?

Engaging with the questions above will, I hope, support the creation of new narratives around the issue of climate change. The reason we are not making any headway on dealing with the issue is because we are bored – we are bored with the same narrative that leads to a range of hackneyed approaches to dealing with the threat. What we need is a new story: a story that has different characters, a different storyline and, more importantly, an ending that is all about radical change and meaningful solutions.

It is time to fly in the face of conventional wisdom and say something new about climate change!

Mike Edwards

Showing 5 comments
  • Daniel Katz

    May we think of climate change in terms of connection? That is, the more connected our ecosystem, the more harmonious. There is more potential for connection culturally, with the food we eat, the animals we raise and the wind that blows through our hair. Higher consciousness for me implies a greater sense of connection.

    On the other hand, climate catastrophe will lead to great division. There will be displacement, rationing of energy, food, water, and economic and political partisanship. When we talk about climate change, it might be helpful for us to think of how important connection is to us. Do we see the present as the apex of connection or the cusp of a new age?

  • akhtar shaheen rind

    Yes these questions should also be asked and be answered.

  • Wendee Nicole

    Can you explain your thoughts behind the question “Could poverty reduction strategies actually increase vulnerability to climate change?” I can’t think of how it would, so Im curious what you are thinking.

    • Mike Edwards

      Sorry for the delay in replying! It is my opinion that some poverty reduction strategies will increase vulnerability to climate change. This is because they are often conceived of by ‘outside’ experts who operate within the parameters of a Western development paradigm which is totally inappropriate to many geographical and cultural contexts. Western notions of development – which is the type of development that the majority of the ‘big’ NGOs are engaged in – tie ‘local’ people into types of development which are not sustainable and, therefore, will increase their vulnerability to a changing climate in the long term.

  • Sandra Norval

    Part of the challenge is that understanding climate change is like walking through clouds. The closer you try to get to it, the less you see it. Human nature is to try to make sense, which leads us to clutch the things we can understand, even if they aren’t correct or useful to us. It’s why we maintain relationships rather than be alone, why we stay in jobs rather than risk being unemployed and why we look for someone to blame when we see things going wrong.

    Business will continue to assume that individuals will blindly follow even with a new story to consider. The classic tale of frogs in water being heated springs to mind. Many will await disruption before changing course leading to a messy change which we will all be tangled up in with our pensions and insurance funds all tied up in the companies at risk and our key decision makers equally tied up and heavily influenced to make the wrong choices.

    To my mind we’ve already stepped into that cloud so now it’s just a case of seeing who will make it to the other side.

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