My latest post at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media asks if the ratcheting up of climate fear will grab hold of a public already numb to such appeals. I think David Roberts at Grist makes a strong case for how it can work, but it rests on this assumption:
what drives social change and shifts politics is not broad-based support but intensity. An intensely committed minority can act as a lever that moves larger populations.
In fairness to Roberts, he also says that “activism, protest, and agitation,” hallmarks of a committed movement, along with continued warnings of imminent climate catastrophe, need not
be seen as an alternative to pragmatic, incremental process pushed by moderate insiders. They are not mutually exclusive; indeed, they ought to be mutually reinforcing.
The problem with even this multi-pronged approach is that there are no overarching values defined, which, to me, seems the only way you can expand beyond your “committed minority.” As one commenter (“grypo”) observes over at the Planet 3.0 site:
This is what the climate movement is missing. There is no core set of values that gets moved to the front of the movement that excites people. I can say the same for the issue of sustainability. What we do instead, is try the climate hawk approach, where we work within the value system of the establishment. We even bend over backwards to make rational economic arguments that don’t solve the main issues. For the Grist approach to work, this all must end. We need to attach the risk of future climate change and sustainability to a value system, and not the one that serves established politics. Ultimately, these issues revolve around human connection, social contracts, and the power of people working together to fix shit.
Roberts, in his post, refers to how American conservatives, over the last few decades, have moved narrow, minority held views (such as supply side economics) into the Republican mainstream. He points out that they’ve achieved this with relentless organization and advocacy. But he fails to mention the cultural values underlying these attitudinal shifts of the Republican party, and how these values have been powerfully framed (subsequently catching on as motivating force) and successfully wedded to policy positions.
So what are the values the climate movement wants audiences to embrace? I submit that avoiding climate doom won’t suffice. In my Yale Forum piece, I suggest that whatever values are formed, they ought to be able to strike a chord with people holding different worldviews.
Is Marion Nestle stoking nanotechnology fears here? Or is she trying to head off an ugly variation of the GMO wars? I’m not sure, but this is what she advises:
Companies using this technology should be telling the public more about it. Nanotechnology is technical, difficult to grasp intuitively, “foreign,” and not under personal control. This places it high on the scale of “dread-and-outrage.”
Does it belong there? Who knows? But the sooner its risks and benefits are assessed, the better. Otherwise it risks becoming the next GMO in public perception.
A reader in that Atlantic thread feels pretty strongly that Nestle is “poisoning the discourse.” Anyone have thoughts on this?
Several weeks ago in Washington D.C., I met with a scholar whose work I find fascinating. My interview with Ed Carr, an archaeologist-turned geographer, is now up at Yale Environment 360. Here’s an excerpt:
e360: Over the summer various commentators talking about the famine in Somalia and the drought in the Horn of Africa were making a connection to global warming. You criticized this as simplistic.
Carr: What you’re referring to is my argument that drought does not equal famine, and it doesn’t. Famine is a situation of extreme food insecurity, and there’s a very technical definition for it. Drought is a meteorological event: Does it rain or does it not rain? How much under the norm does it not rain? How much water is not available? The problem is that the correlation between weather and famine is actually pretty low, historically. The correlation between markets and things like food prices and famine is actually extraordinarily high.
So the problem is, when we start looking at a situation anywhere in the world where we see famine kicking off, people immediately start pointing to the weather. But that’s one of many things that have to come together to get us to that situation. In almost every case that I’ve ever seen, the weather is a trigger, another stressor on top of a set of stressors. That was my concern there, not to oversimplify a very complex situation.
In addition to asking for more rigor on climate attribution, Carr is someone who challenges conventional wisdom on globalization and development. For more on this, go over and read the whole interview. Lastly, my headline of this post is a play off of Ed’s excellent blog, called Open the Echo Chamber.