Why climate action isn’t selling?

For climate action to take place, we need less funding for men and women in suits and more funding for the people you probably consider ‘uneducated’.

Background

Of course, you’re tired about hearing of climate change, its imminent danger, or the denial of its existence. This post isn’t about why I think climate change is real or whether I think humans are behind it. It’s an exploration of why deniers exist, why it seems there is an abnormal level of resistance for political change, and how I think we, as scientists and as a society, need to proceed.

Ever since Svante Arrhenius published his calculations about the warming effects of CO2 in the atmosphere on ground temperature in 1896 and Charles David Keeling demonstrated that the levels of atmospheric CO2 was in fact increasing,  we’ve known about the prevalence of anthropogenic emissions as a cause of rising temperatures.

Keeling Curve GIF.gif
Keeling Curve measurement series of the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere as measured from the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii.

However, it’s the political and social context that have been tarnished by polarization and an affinity to claim that ‘them’, the others who don’t share the same beliefs, are a hoard of brainless individuals. In this article, I present two societal mechanisms I think are driving protest against the push for climate action.

The homogeneity of thought

It’s been well known, especially after the 2016 US elections, that the majority of people in this country belong to one of two groups of people with homogenous thoughts on politics. By homogenous, I mean that the variation in the convictions among the people of one group is a tiny fraction of the difference in thought between representative individuals in the two, opposed, groups. In the case of the US, these two groups are Democrats and Republicans. This phenomenon is known as herding behavior.

herding

To prove my point, think of your friends. Do most agree with you on major political issues? If you ever think of challenging one of your group of friends’ beliefs, would you agree that there is an element of fear that arises ? Would that make you an outcast? Would that make similar people judge you? I think these are your fears. This social pressure is behind the homogeneity.

In my opinion, this dynamic plays a major role in people’s reluctance to stand for one unified issue such as climate change. So, when a Democrat announces their support for climate action, their conviction is more likely deeply rooted in the herd-like behavior of ideological or political groups. It is less likely, however, to be rooted in their values. In a recent visit to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the director of the Atmospheric Chemistry Division argued that it is values that stood in the way of people seeing the clear scientific results on climate change. By casting the problem as such, one relieves science from the responsibility because one can do so little to change another’s values. However, isn’t conserving our environment a ‘conservative’ value? Why do so-called ‘conservative’ Republicans apparently disagree with the need for climate action? Their is clearly a bigger pull by herding instincts that one by values.

Climate change activism and Globalisation

For anyone who wants to read more about globalisation, check out this book. The point is, globalisation was introduced to the world as a means for the free flow of thought, people, and money irrespective of borders. It was hoped that this free flow would increase global economic output and it did. Few people could argue the ability of open trade, for example, to provide cheaper products to ordinary people thus increasing their  collective wealth. Big corporations benefited too from their ability to tap into different markets for their products and an increased level of vocational expertise predominantly in Asian countries.

But what happened to the poor and lower middle class: the forgotten ones? With machines becoming intelligent and the export of industries abroad, among others, a lot of people in the lower economic and educational tiers of society, especially in first world countries, felt left out, and rightly so. No one cared about retraining or reassuring these people, until it was too late. Anyway, why would anyone stop the world from collectively becoming richer at the expense of a few?

But the few of before became the many of today and they desperately stand for each other, what they call the ‘us’ from the harmed posed by  the ‘them’. If I were left out for the sake of global prosperity once, why would I trust these same people about calls for global action again? For me, there is a trust issue that emanates from the rising tide of globalisation washing away those who can’t afford to exist on the top levels of society.

Conclusion

In my opinion, because industry can’t offer an economic, low-barrier to entry alternatives to traditional fuel types, and because of the scars left by globalisation, this time we need to think of the few, we need to reassure everyone, be as inclusive as possible, we need to promise retraining programs in these new technologies. We need less hand-shakes that mean little to ordinary people (looking at you, Paris Agreement), and more caring geared toward the basis of society.

Moreover, the less high-level the climate discussions appear, the less people will make climate action a political issue. The need for intergovernmental meetings is still there, but the need to balance it out with incentives at the individual levels is far greater.

I’m looking for thoughts and alternative views on the issue of climate action.

Book Review: Us vs Them by Ian Bremmer

Us vs Them was released in April 2018 and authored by Ian Bremmer

I’ve followed Ian Bremmer on twitter for many months before the release of his new book. His tweets are part statistics borrowed from newly published academic studies and part funny but enlightening comments on current events. Ian understands all points of view. He is a refreshing source of thought in the current contentious environment between the political right and left. I bought his book to get more of the same and understand his train of thought even deeper. I comment on the book and give a candid yet concise review of the thoughts and feelings engendered while reading it.

This book aims to put us all on the same page on the current rise of nationalism and how globalism is to blame especially in what is known as the West. It splits the source of this political change into economic and cultural with an emphasis on the effect of technology. While nationalism waxes and wanes throughout history, no one knows how serious the ability of technology to further polarize the political landscape is. The text is superfluous with reporting of academic studies and repetitive. Several points are repeated throughout the first chapter which makes it frustrating to follow. The first couple chapters are a somber look at the world: you can’t help but feel anxious while reading it. However, I really like how ‘them’ takes a different identity depending on who ‘us’ is. For Democrats in the USA, ‘them’ are the citizens on the Republican side of the spectrum. For working class men, ‘them’ are the immigrants who come to steal their job. The ability of Ian to wear different shoes provides a sense of impartiality and I’m sure most readers identified with what was written.

Developing countries are also under threat from Globalism and technological advances such as in Robotics. Ian is an American who doesn’t think America is at the center of the world. China and India’s economies are growing at incredible pace but both still have low income per capita. Turkey, under the rule of Erdogan, has used Globalism to its own economic advantage. However, Erdogan pits conservative citizens against those who believe in a secular Turkey for his own political gains. Donald Trump did the same in America. This book explores the negative effect of polarizing countries into ‘Us vs Them’.

A symptom of polarization is walls. Walls take different shapes and form. Some don’t take a form at all and exist only in Cyberspace. Compare Trump’s plans to build a physical wall along the Southern US border to China’s blocking of Facebook and Google within its territory. I’m a huge fan of Ian’s ability to create analogies and find common ground between political and economic strategies happening ocean lengths away.

In the end, and it finally came, is a chapter that offers hope that, even with all the darkness looming over our willingness to polarize, there are people willing to fix. These people can be in government or the private sector. In a world changing so fast, governments must adapt, revisit their social contract with their citizens, and change the tax code. The social responsibilities of private for-profit companies is a big as ever. There isn’t a shortage of efforts to reduce poverty, hunger, and remedy the feeling of being left behind and Mr. Bremmer makes a great list of these.

To conclude, this book is a great and easy read for anyone who wants to understand the political and economic climate of today. It doesn’t demonize any side and attempts to understand all positions and points of view. All in all, this is a refreshing but alarming resource for voting people, which should be all of us.