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Money, money, money?

A recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) asked what it would take for action on climate change to be ‘mainstreamed’[1]. The IPPR conducted research with ‘Now’ people – perceived as leaders of public opinion and a supposed barometer for the acceptability of behavioural norms. A key conclusion was that for these trend-setters to change their behaviour, there would have to be something in it for them. That something, according to the IPPR, was the promise of financial gain for their adventures in sustainability.

On these pages, Tim Holmes has already questioned some of the methodological assumptions of the study, and the predictable media response to it[2]. But there is a further problem with the logic of the report that raises a serious communication challenge for environmental campaigners: Using money as a motivator of sustainable behaviour simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

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Cuts? Sure, if you mean emissions cuts 1

Cuts! Cuts! Cuts! The knives are out at Westminster as all three major parties vie to outdo each other in their commitment to reining in the public debt and slashing government spending. With the Lib Dems retreating from their promise to abolish tuition fees, and the Tories looking to cut defence budgets by a quarter, it seems that few policy areas are off-limits. How, then, might spending on the environment fare in a time of retrenchment? Read more

Melting compost heaps and the permafrost precautionary principle 1

Thawing permafrost could inject enough carbon into the atmosphere to cook the planet. But nobody’s quite sure how fast it’s going to happen.

Permafrost is a giant cold-storage compost heap, stuffed full of frozen carbon. Just like you chucked out last night’s potato peelings, the planet has chucked out billions of tonnes of dead plants, trees, mammoths and, yes, polar bears, all of which is now happily interred under the Arctic wastes.

The difference is that while your compost heap ticks over at a nice warm temperature, breaking down the potato peelings into compost, the frozen ground which makes up permafrost stops that organic stew of Arctic flora and fauna from decomposing, safely locking up the carbon stored in it.

I say ‘safely locking up’ because from the point of view of creating human civilisation, permafrost has been pretty handy. While the permafrost has been permanently frozen, we’ve been busy ekeing out human life, discovering fire, developing agriculture, growing our population. While we’ve been busy nurturing the capabilities that ultimately allow the lucky few to participate in Britain’s Got Talent, the planet’s been watching our backs by keeping this massive store of carbon locked up under the frozen parts of the planet’s surface. Read more

Melanie Philips uses careful scientific investigation to debunk climate change

spectator*Yawn* Another week, another howler from the Spectator, rapidly pulling ahead in the 'single least informed source on climate science' awards, or maybe just the 'most credulous rag' category.

So Melanie Philips announces on her Spectator blog…

Yet another scientific scandal has come to light which knocks another whopping crater in the already shattered theory of anthropogenic global warming. Eight peer-reviewed studies, which for years have played a significant supporting role behind the IPPC’s claims of AGW, have been shown to be fraudulent.

Oh good, we can all pack up and go home – I can get on with writing that book about water polo I've been putting off. Just to make sure, let's have a quick check on RealClimate, just in case… Read more

Labour conference: gauging the political weather 1

Brighton is renowned for its tolerant atmosphere, which extends to suffering the arrival of the country’s political classes for conference season each autumn. Yet this year, as an embattled Labour Party met for what is almost certainly its last conference whilst in power, it seemed that even Brighton had grown tired of its guests. ‘Labour is old news in Brighton’ declared a twenty-foot high hoarding for the Greens, cheekily installed on the main route party delegates were taking to the convention hall. An exhausted-looking Brown, fashioned out of newspaper cuttings, scowled down at the hordes of indifferent daytrippers enjoying the seaside sunshine.

Brown old news Read more

Misrepresenting Public Opinion? 5

The IPPR’s spin on its latest report – echoed in the media – misleads the public, and potentially damages efforts to mobilise action against climate change.

One of the most basic, but also one of the most important problems in the way people respond to climate change is the so-called “bystander effect”. This phenomenon, widely noted in the social science literature, concerns the way in which people’s responses are influenced by the responses of those around them, with various experiments demonstrating just how strongly people’s tendencies towards social conformity affect their behaviour. This even seems to apply in situations as cut-and-dried as simply stating which line on a chart is the longest; or as potentially life-threatening as watching thick smoke begin to pour through the bottom of a doorway. ((On scientific evidence of social conformity, see Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, Nudge, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 2009. Johann Hari talks about Darley and Latané’s “smoke” experiment in the context of climate change in “The climate camp – and a psychological experiment”, johannhari.com, 19 August 2007; http://www.johannhari.com/archive/article.php?id=1172. Stanley Cohen explores the “bystander effect” further in States of Denial: Knowing about atrocities and suffering, Polity Press, 2001.)) Read more

Mitigation and the emerging economic consensus

There”s an emerging economic consensus – in parallel with the scientific consensus – that investing in mitigation and adaptation is good value for money.

Joe Romm points out an overlooked conclusion of a recent IIED study by Martin Parry and others on the underestimated cost of adaptation, Romm notes:

In the “aggressive abatement” case (450 ppm), the mean online casino “Net present value [NPV] of climate change impacts” is only $410 trillion — or $275 trillion with adaptation.  So stabilizing at 450 ppm reduces NPV impacts by $615 to $830 trillion. But the abatement NPV cost is only $110 trillion — a 6-to-1 savings or better.

In English that means investing $1 in mitigation saves $6 in damages from unmitigated climate change. A similar conclusion to the Stern Review.

Read Romm”s full post here.

Evidence is not enough

Much commentary on politicians, and the political establishment in general, is heavily loaded with the rhetoric of corruption, personal accusation and recrimination. Politicians are accused of being greedy, corrupt, and contemptuous of the public. Many of these charges no doubt contain more than a grain of truth. Yet such personal accusations tend to miss the point.

Governments and political parties operate within an institutional framework that, while not entirely determining their actions, maintains intense pressures, and sets the limits of what can be achieved – the boundaries of the politically possible. As political analyst and former Downing Street insider James Humphreys suggests, the best way to understand how such political institutions work is to place oneself in policymakers’ shoes – what are the obstacles, blockages and pressures constraining your behaviour? Read more