Understanding angles of action in relation to climate change

Reading Mike Hulme’s (2009) Why we disagree about climate change (Cambridge UP) for a new discussion group leads me to say that I’m most interested in hearing how the other members of the group have pursued their various angles of action in relation to climate change.  Two lines of thinking underlie this interest:

1. I expect the group members already appreciate that scientific knowledge is not established/accepted/disputed solely on the basis of its correspondence to physical reality.  Many diverse practical considerations have to be addressed in trying to make or dispute knowledge and these considerations span intersecting social worlds (lab technicians, computer programmers, funders, journal editors, media portrayals, policy makers, owners, workers,…).  The challenge is where and how to engage within the resulting complexity with a view to changing what is accepted as knowledge and necessarily simultaneously modifying our own social situatedness (where social is a shorthand for the intersecting social world in which each of us makes the many practical decisions).  In addressing this challenge we draw on resources that include aspirations (a sense of the place we want to head towards) and values-talk (what we say to others and ourselves –or even viscerally feel– about what should guide individual and group decisions.

Where I diverge from Hulme is that I do not position aspirations or values as drivers or foundational.  Several reasons for rejecting that:

a. Empirical–Abundant cases of people acting in ways that depart from their expressed values, or shifting their professed values when push comes to shove.

b. Methodological–How does a researcher demonstrate that values are drivers of the diverse practical decisions?

c.  Explanatory weakness–Do we know why people disagree after reading a book that highlights aspirations and values better than after reading Merchants of Doubt, which documents the active work done to discredit scientific results around smoking, ozone, climate change, etc.?

d. Practical, in specific situations–When trying to make changes in some specific situation, it is necessary to address a wide range of practical considerations.  Values talk is a small and often distracting part of that work.

e. Interpretive–The author emphasizing deep drivers can be viewed in terms of his particular positioning in their own specific situation.

f. Political blowback–Movements that emphasize deep drivers and discount the diverse practical considerations facing diverse knowledge-making agents end up producing unintended and undesired consequences.

2.  To the extent that any of us emphasize “diverse practical considerations facing diverse knowledge-making agents” we have to develop frameworks that help us navigate and negotiate a multi-stranded and -layered complexity, more complex in many ways than the supercomputer models of climate change.


One thought on “Understanding angles of action in relation to climate change

  1. Michael Brown

    Hi Peter, This book I wrote that is being published by Earthscan in June is on avoided deforestation and REDD, a subset of climate change and its mitigation. It tries to get at some of the complexity of the known/unknown in the science, and how this influences frameworks and methods employed under what is referred to as “best practice”. How the values of the powerful/politically marginalized influence all this, particularly the role that carbon markets plays in shaping approaches to to deal with a real, complex problem, and the conventional wisdom on methods employed, is at the heart of it.


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