Archive for the ‘John Dryzek’ Category
As it says on my About page, “The driver of an accelerating car about to hit a brick wall might well say ‘so far so good’ – but that does not mean that the wall is not there!” — John Dryzek (2005: 70).
This is the almost-ubiquitous advice of stockbrokers but, sadly, it is almost universally ignored.
I have never died before. Does this mean I can presume upon my immortality?
I would therefore like to take this opportunity to make a few suggestions to all those who think concern for the environment is a false alarm, a new religion, or an excuse to curtail your freedom or tax you more heavily:
1. Grow up.
2. Go back to school.
3. Open your eyes and look out the window.
4. Stop cherry-picking data that reinforces your prejudice.
5. Stop ignoring all the data that contradicts your misperception of reality.
6. Read this Wikipedia article on the New World Order – it might just open up your mind.
7. Read this Skeptical Science article on the History of Climate Science – it might just resolve your confusion.
This post has been prompted by an exchange of comments I have been having with Patrice Ayme – on my previous post (i.e. here) – that I feel deserves wider exposure and/or appreciation. However, if you have not the faintest idea what I might be on about, please be patient: This post is not too long and, if you read to the end, I believe all will become clear.
The image shown here is the cover of one of the two main course texts I had to buy in order to do my MA in Environmental Politics at Keele University in 2010-11. It is an excellent introduction to the subject of environmental politics and the concept of discourse analysis.
It is in this book that John Dryzek puts forward his own particular method of discourse analysis – analysing the things people say or have written – suggesting examination of: (a) the basic entities people recognise or appear to construct; (b) the assumptions they make about natural relationships; (c) the agents they recognise and motivations they assume; and (d) the key metaphors and rhetorical devices they use.
In the sphere of environmental politics, Dryzek suggests that it is possible to classify people on the basis of whether they appear to believe sustainability can be achieved by reformation of the status quo; and the extent to which they are thinking “outside the box”; as follows:
After Dryzek Box 1.1 on page 15 of The Politics of the Earth (2005).
In essence, economic rationalists assume market forces can be used to solve environmental problems; whereas ecological modernisers think it will take more than that.
This then was the starting point for my discourse analysis of climate change scepticism, which I have now published as The Denial of Science. However, in order to propose a similar classification of climate change scepticism, it was necessary to take Dryzek’s basic idea and combine it with what I have called the ‘Six Pillars of Climate Change Denial’ that I extracted from Robert Henson’s The Rough Guide to Climate Change:
The atmosphere may not be warming; but if it is, this is probably due to natural variation; but if it isn’t, the amount of warming is probably not significant; but if it is, the benefits should outweigh the disadvantages; but if they don’t, technology should be able to solve problems as they arise; but if it can’t, we shouldn’t wreck the economy to fix the problem (after Henson 2008: 257).
As I explain in my book, I simplified this summary of the positions adopted by those who are supposedly sceptical, in order to produce my Dryzek-style classification of climate change denial, as follows:
(1 – ACD is not happening)
(4 – ACD is not worth fixing)
(2 – ACD is not significant)
(3 – ACD is not problematic)
Contrarians are those refuse to acknowledge the nature of reality.
Cornucopians are those (like Julian Simon) who do not believe action is yet required to address any anticipated effects of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). They are named after Cornucopia, the horn of the goat Amalthea in Greek mythology, which Zeus endowed with a supernatural power to provide an unlimited supply of food etc.. As such, Cornucopians have unlimited confidence in the abundant supply of natural resources; the ability of natural systems to absorb pollutants; and their corrective capacity to mitigate human activities.
Economic Rationalists are defined and discussed by Dryzek (2005: 121-42) but, for the sake of argument, can here be taken to be synonymous with Karl Marx’s “money fetishism” as cited in Elster (1986); and/or Herman Daly’s “growthmania” (1974).
Prometheans are those (like Bjorn Lomborg) who propose radical technological solutions including environmental stabilisation of the atmosphere by means of geo-engineering. They are named after Prometheus, one of the Titans of Greek mythology, who stole fire from Zeus and so vastly increased the human capacity to manipulate the world. As such, Prometheans have unlimited confidence in the ability of technology to overcome environmental problems.
In a nutshell, my discourse analysis of climate change scepticism (i.e. the most prominent climate change sceptics in the UK) appears to suggest that the majority of these “sceptics” are either contrarians or economic rationalists. However, I suspect that as the outright denial of reality and the need to address the problem of ACD both become increasingly untenable, I think more and more people will try and find solace in either cornucopian or promethean beliefs.
In the discussion that I alluded to at the outset of this post, Patrice Ayme did not like the way in which I appeared to disparage the importance of human ingenuity (by suggesting that people who believe in both Cornucopianism and Prometheanism are deluded). I am pleased to say that we have now resolved any misunderstanding by agreeing that Prometheanism is the best option. However, crucially, we also agree that, in order to avert an ecological catastrophe, we will also need to modify our behaviour. That is to say, neither faith in Nature’s bounty (Cornucopianism) nor faith in human ingenuity (Prometheanism) should be used to deny our responsibility for causing the problem or to abdicate responsibility for doing everything we can to minimise its consequences.
Great stuff, hey? All we need to do now is get those with the power to make policy decisions to do the right thing.
I have something important I want, on behalf of Bill McKibbin’s 350.org, to ask you to do today: The idea is that for a 24 hour period—starting at 8AM UTC/GMT today, folks around the world create a Twitterstorm by sending thousands upon thousands of tweets all with the same hashtag: #EndFossilFuelSubsidies.
But first, to get you in the mood, I hope you will read this:
If you ever find yourself in a business meeting playing a game of bull***t bingo, and don’t have the phrase “going forward” on your card, prepare to lose. However, last week, whilst pondering the notion of “sustainable development” (or rather its absence), my attention was caught by someone on TV combining the two into a wonderful sound byte: Apparently, the maintenance of 3 Accident and Emergency hospitals in one County is “not sustainable going forward…” It was then that it hit me! People use this excuse all the time: Whenever, a company wants to make lots of people redundant, end a manufacturing process, close a factory, or liquidate a business… they always cite the fact that any other course of action would be unsustainable. In other words, it would make a loss; it would be uneconomic; because the costs of doing so would be greater than any potential benefit. In short, it would be illogical; it might even be insane!
Leaving aside for a moment that companies seem perfectly capable of sustaining massive losses and yet remain in business (it’s called “being too big to fail” and “getting bailed-out by the taxpayer”), it is important to note that cost-benefit analysis is everywhere; we do it all the time; it is part of everyday life. That being the case, why do we not apply it to life itself?
A multi-disciplinary team of scientists based at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) have been trying to do just that; and they recently published the findings of their research in the journal Nature. Only an abstract may be viewed online without a subscription (i.e. free of charge). However, thanks to Christine over on 350orbust.com, I have been able to read a substantial summary of their work on the UCB website. The opening paragraph reads like this:
A prestigious group of scientists from around the world is warning that population growth, widespread destruction of natural ecosystems, and climate change may be driving Earth toward an irreversible change in the biosphere
The publication of their research findings may well have been deliberately timed to coincide with the G20 and Rio+20 Summits this week; and – if not deliberate – it is very fortuitous. However, one thing it is not is new. This message is at least 200 years old. The Rev Thomas Malthus was the first to point out that, unless food production can keep up with demand, perpetual population growth must ultimately lead to increasing numbers of impoverished and/or starving people. Needless to say, even 200 years ago, this message was not well received by those who had a financial interest in maintaining a happy productive workforce (and saw Malthus as being a dangerous and subversive distraction).
Over the last 50 years, numerous scientists (mostly biologists) have published articles, research findings, and books on the subject – including Garrett Hardin, Paul and Anna Ehrlich, William Ophuls – but the most well known is probably the team of researchers based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), originally led by Dennis Meadows, that produced the first Limits to Growth report in 1972. Unfortunately, like everyone that has gone before – and everyone who has come along since then – they were immediately lambasted on the basis that Malthus had been proved wrong; they were accused of ‘crying “wolf”‘; and/or denounced as doomsayers, anti-progress, anti-Western, Communists, even misanthropic. Not only is it important to remember that the moral of the story of the boy who repeatedly raised the alarm is that the wolf eventually turned up (thanks Christine); it is also important to ask yourself why so many people (who are mainly economists not biologists) seek to dismiss this message?
The former World Bank economist, Herman E Daly (yes him again), once lamented that:
“Anyone who asserts the existence of limits is soon presented with a whole litany of things that someone once said could never be done but subsequently were done”; but insisted that
“Continuing to study economies only in terms of the [exchange value of money] is like studying organisms only in terms of the circulatory system, without ever mentioning the digestive tract.”
I am therefore inclined to think that the reason economists attack biologists who insist that limits to growth are a real threat is this: Attack is the best form of defence. However, denying the reality of limits to growth does not mean that they cease to exist. As it says on my About page:
“The driver of an accelerating car about to hit a brick wall might well say ‘so far so good’ – but that does not mean that the wall is not there!” (John Dryzek, 2005)
Denial is not a river in Egypt; it is an ideologically-prejudiced refusal to accept scientific facts that challenge the entire business model of this Carbon Age (which cannot last forever).
Like I have said before, the burning of fossil fuels has only become a problem because of the rate at which it is being done. When there were only 1 billion people on Earth chopping down trees and burning them to farm the land and keep warm, anthropogenic CO2 emissions were not a problem; but now that we are digging up fossilised carbon and putting it into the atmosphere 1000 times faster than it can be geologically recycled it is a very big problem indeed. Thus the unnatural climate change we are now causing is a limits to growth phenomenon; and the money that we must now spend to mitigate it and/or adapt (or else be annihilated) is just one of many costs incurred as a result of denying, for the last 40 years, that limits to growth exist.
I therefore make no apologies for again referring to The Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update (2005), wherein the authors repeated their warning that if we put off dealing with limits to growth we are more likely to come up against several of them simultaneously. With regard to the revised computer modelling undertaken, they observed that in most cases the simulations ran out of the “ability to cope” when too much industrial output has to be diverted to solving problems; and concluded: “Growth, and especially exponential growth, is so insidious because it shortens the time for effective action. It loads stress on a system faster and faster, until coping mechanisms that have been adequate with slower rates of change finally begin to fail.” (Meadows et al 2005: 223).
This is exactly the message of the UCB team of researchers. We have reached the point predicted by Meadows et al. Moreover, nowadays it is not just biologists that are admitting that we have reached the point where further delay will not be cost-effective; in fact it could well be deadly.
Above all else, we need a level playing field. That is why we must end the subsidies paid to fossil fuel companies that enable them to keep exploring for hydrocarbons that are becoming ever more costly to extract (whatever happened to cost-benefit analysis?). Therefore, I implore you to join the 350.org 24-hour Twitterstorm campaign, starting at 0800hrs UTC/GMT today (Monday 18 June 2012).
Find out more and sign-up at http://endfossilfuelsubsidies.org/twitterstorm/.
This is the first of a series of posts based on an essay with this title that I wrote earlier this year as part of the requirements for my MA in Environmental Politics.
There are two possible ways of understanding the question; as to require a critique of Ecological Modernisation (EM) as a school of environmental thought or perhaps, far more demandingly, a critique of modernity itself. Although the main intention of this essay is to do the latter; it will inevitably do the former as well.
In order to answer this question, it is essential to define what is meant by ‘ecological’; ‘modernisation’; and the theory of EM to which it has given rise:
– In the context of the question, ‘ecological’ is taken to mean thinking, behaviour, and policy that are ‘environmentally-friendly’; rather than merely or predominantly anthropocentric (i.e. concerned with human needs and interests).
– To understand what is implied by the term ‘modernisation’, it is necessary to define what is meant by the word ‘modernity’ because people often conflate the term with industrialisation or even capitalism. However, whereas both of the latter were forged in the industrial revolution of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, modernity has its roots in the scientific revolution of “the Enlightenment” in the eighteenth century.
– The theory – if not the practice – of EM emerged from Germany in the early 1980s. Whereas the social scientists Joseph Huber and Martin Jänicke are most-commonly credited with having originated the term, it is probably Arthur Mol that brought it to the attention of the English-speaking world in 1996, when he quoted Huber as having (somewhat enigmatically) said, ‘…all ways out of the environmental crisis lead us further into modernity.’ Thankfully, Mol then went on to explain that EM theory therefore seeks to repair “…a structural design fault of modernity: the institutionalised destruction of nature.” (Mol 1996: 305).
In addition to the above, it is important to differentiate the terms ‘modernity’ and ‘civilisation’: Civilisation pre-dates the Enlightenment by several millennia; and is often equated with the development of agriculture, settled communities, and cities. However, since past civilisations have come and gone, is there any reason to think that our modern civilisation will be any different? This should not be seen as the question of a wannabe anarchist; as it is merely an acknowledgement of human history.
According to John Dryzek, the rhetoric of the EM discourse is reassuringly optimistic; and would have us believe that we can retain a healthy environment without having to sacrifice the benefits of progress (Dryzek 2005: 171). More recently, echoing both Mol and Dryzek, Neil Carter has defined EM as a “…policy strategy that aims to restructure capitalist political economy along more environmentally benign lines based on the assumption that economic growth and environmental protection can be reconciled.” (Carter 2007: 7).
It is in this context that Carter used the term “decoupling” to refer the idea of breaking any direct causal link between economic growth and environmental degradation; but also suggested that “dematerialisation” of manufacturing processes (i.e. the reduction of environmental resources consumed per unit of production) would be essential (2007: 227). However, if we take the manufacturing of motor cars as an example, the rate of fossil fuel consumption will always accelerate unless the percentage increase in engine fuel efficiency is greater than the percentage increase in the number of cars. Therefore, since the former must exponentially decline towards zero, the logical conclusion is that we must control the demand for the latter.
Carter, N. (2007), The Politics of the Environment (2nd ed), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dryzek, J. (2005), The Politics of the Earth (2nd ed), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mol, A. (1996), ‘Ecological Modernisation and Institutional Reflexivity: Environmental Reform in the Late Modern Age’, Environmental Politics, 5(2), pp.302-23.