How we talk about climate change

At a dinner on UK climate policy last night, there were – as always – several people around the table lamenting the fact that in generally messing up on how they communicate climate change to  a sceptical public, policymakers have in particular failed to make more of the ‘green collar jobs’ argument.  Climate change shouldn’t just be presented as a problem, the argument goes; doing that just makes people feel depressed.  No, we should present it as a huge opportunity: this, after all, is Britain’s chance to make money from the jobs of the future.

I must admit, I always think there’s something a bit disingenuous about these arguments. True, some countries will do very well out of particular export sectors that emerge from the need to reduce emissions: think of the Danes and offshore wind, for instance. But all countries are talking about green new deals etc., and logically, not all of them are going to win prizes (a point particularly germane in the UK, you might think, given we’re 25th out of 27 EU member states on renewable energy; only Malta and Luxembourg perform worse).

For most countries, the realistic best case scenario is that some new jobs will be created, while some old ones will be lost. True, Britain has a small fuel cells sector that might yet go places. But if you work in aviation or steel or cement or road haulage or coal mining or any of the other sectors with a less-than-rosy future in a low carbon world, you might worry about whether your kids should follow you into the same line of work. Just to focus on the jobs being created might make you feel good, but it’s hardly the whole picture. And this is before we even consider what happens to employment if – as you might reasonably suspect – the medium to long term effect of climate change is that we all have to (gasp!) consume a bit less.

So if you’re convinced that the only way to get people to take action on climate change is to persuade them that there will be vast benefits, then it’s unclear to me that green jobs is the best place to pitch your tent.  I think instead you need to show people the money: not just the few thousand of them who get green collar jobs, but all of them, through some mechanism such as a revenue-neutral carbon tax, or a system of domestic tradable quotas (i.e. personal level emissions trading).

But I have to say, I’m not convinced that the ‘climate change is a huge opportunity’ argument has any clothes anyway.  The blockage we’re up against here is laziness, inertia and inconvenience on a large scale.  Reducing emissions is a big hassle. We know this, because even though study after study shows that it’s essentially cheaper than free for people to insulate their lofts, they still don’t.

But we’re not just talking insulating lofts. We’re talking about changing the entire energy system – how you heat your home, how you get to work, how your power is generated, how it’s distributed from there to you. It’s like the hassle involved with changing your bank, times a hundred and forty seven.  If someone told you that the quid pro quo for incurring that much hassle was the creation of 12,000 new engineering jobs in the north-east of England, you would look at them and say, “So?” 

The “opportunity” argument just doesn’t stack up against the tedious, time-consuming, expensive, unglamorous reality that will be the transition to a low carbon economy – and I think we’re doing ourselves no favours in sticking with it.

I think we need to look seriously at the last time Brits were persuaded to take on this much hassle – namely rationing, during and after World War Two – and ask how they were won over. It wasn’t about opportunity. The arguments that got them to put up with it were not about how much healthier they’d be on their new diets (true though this was). Instead, they were persuaded by a story about personal sacrifice that would make them part of a heroic shared undertaking in the face of an existential threat

And even then, they moaned like hell. Continue reading

24 hours to go to the EU top jobs summit…

…and things are turning nasty, according to the Economist’s Charlemagne:

To my surprise, a dominant mood in this final stretch is one of hostility towards the Swedish presidency and specifically, the Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

If the briefing, which comes from several EU governments, were just sniping about incompetence, I would not be so surprised: every rotating presidency is criticised before every big summit, because everything always looks like a mess before every crunch meeting of the EU. It is only when summits are over and the results are known, that you can really judge the role played by its hosts.

No, what takes me aback is the level of “distrust” out there about Mr Reinfeldt, to use the word chosen by a senior figure from one EU country. There are veiled hints that he is using his role as chairman of the selection process in a way that is not wholly straightforward.

Specifically, there is grumbling about Mr Reinfeldt’s decision to seek a very short list of candidates to put to EU leaders at their emergency summit, consisting of one or two names who enjoy near consensus before discussions even start. The thing about this system, it is alleged, is that it gives Mr Reinfeldt extraordinary power over the process, because once a candidate attracts any opposition, that candidate can be chucked off the shortlist as “failing to create consensus”. The accusation from some camps is that candidates are being chucked off too quickly, when the opposition to them might not be as hard and fast as all that. Nobody is quite accusing Mr Reinfeldt of using this system to kick people off the shortlist who he himself does not favour, but they are coming pretty close.

International cooperation – the book!

We don’t just blog. Some of us edit books.  Old school!

Cambridge University Press has just published Cooperating for Peace and Security, a guide to all types of security cooperation since the Cold War.  It’s edited by Bruce Jones, Shep Forman and me and – despite being $85 – is basically the answer to all your Christmas present problems. 

It includes a great range of authors (Mats Berdal, Barnett Rubin, Stephen Stedman, Sting…  OK, not Sting) on everything from NATO to biosecurity.

So go out and buy it.

There goes the [global] neighbourhood

Front page splash on The Times this morning:

Less than half the population believes that human activity is to blame for global warming, according to an exclusive poll for The Times.

Only 41 per cent accept as an established scientific fact that global warming is taking place and is largely man-made. Almost a third (32 per cent) believe that the link is not yet proved; 8 per cent say that it is environmentalist propaganda to blame man and 15 per cent say that the world is not warming.

Tory voters are more likely to doubt the scientific evidence that man is to blame. Only 38 per cent accept it, compared with 45 per cent of Labour supporters and 47 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters.

Similarly depressing polling data a month ago in an FT / Harris poll:

Fewer than a third of people in the UK and only one in five in the US were in favour of developed countries offering aid to the developing world to help them adapt to the effects of global warming, the Harris poll showed.

In the US there was strong opposition to such aid – four in 10 people were against, compared with about a quarter in the UK, and 17-19 per cent in continental Europe.

From the same poll:

When it came to apportioning the burden of cutting emissions, people were clear that China, as the world’s biggest emitter, must make most of the effort required.

A majority in all countries was in favour – 63 per cent in the UK and the US, with higher percentages in mainland Europe – and fewer than 10 per cent in each country disagreed.

On the web: Obama’s Asia tour, the EU’s world role, and Pakistan’s nuclear security…

- With President Obama embarking on his visit to Asia, John Plender examines the nature of China’s challenge to US dominance. Cheng Li and Jordan Lee suggest what the President has to do in striking the right tone for US-China relations going forward. Kishore Mahubani, meanwhile, views Asia’s rise through the prism of Francis Fukuyama’s End of History twenty years on.

– In a wide-ranging interview with Der Spiegel, Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev talks about Stalin, democracy and the rule of law, his relationship with Vladimir Putin, and ongoing Western entanglement in Afghanistan.

– Elsewhere, Stefan Theil argues that, aided by the financial crisis, the EU’s global standing is on the rise:

“The EU’s modus operandi — sharing power, hammering out agreements, resolving conflict by endless committee — can be boring and even frustrating to watch”, he argues, “[b]ut in an increasingly networked and interdependent world, it has become the global standard.”

Julian Priestley, meanwhile, suggests four conditions if the EU is to get the most from its “institutional architecture”.

– Finally, writing in the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh explores US concerns about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal amid growing instability.

Page 205 of 496« First...102030...204205206...210220230...Last »