Thursday, June 15, 2017


Dealing with Climate Change: A Conversation with Paul N. Edwards and Oliver Geden


The technocratic character of the IPCC has tended to center the debate on technological solutions, especially renewable energy. I'm not against technocracy; in fact I think it's absolutely necessary, more now than ever. So long as the subject is breaking our addiction to fossil fuels, I think the technocratic approach is really the right one, and the IPCC has played a major role in promoting that.

Yet agricultural practices, meat-based diets, and deforestation are at least equally important causes of climate change. In many respects, those are much harder problems than energy, where real and successful solutions are well along. Mike Hulme's great book Why We Disagree about Climate Change points to the deep connections between climate and culture, from religion and housing to clothing and food.

Eco-modernist techno-solutionism barely touches the holistic kinds of social change that would really be needed for drastic emissions reductions. Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything does a better job of sketching those solutions than the IPCC, but as Oliver points out, her vision – like those of many others searching for ways to move us off the path of self-destruction we are currently walking – would require revolutionary and extremely widespread social change of a kind that seems depressingly unlikely at present.

The dilemma is clear. Scientists’ greatest asset is the high degree of trust invested in them by the public, at least in much of the developed world. To participate effectively in building climate solutions, they must maintain that. Yet this trust depends on the perception that science seeks truth, not power. To the degree that scientists advocate particular solutions over others, they may be seen as partisans. The challenge for scientists is to retain what Roger Pielke Jr. calls the “honest broker” position: proposing as many solution paths as they can find, evaluating their effects from a neutral point of view, while never advocating any particular path over others.