Environmental Values and Climate Change: New perspectives and challenges

by Claudia Carter

I have been interested in researching climate change ever since the first IPPC report was published and introduced in my Geography class at the University of Aberdeen by Professor Chalmers Clapperton all those 24 years ago. So here is a second blog on the topic following my recent blog inspired by the People’s Climate March that took place 21 September 2014. A week on, my attention turns to the just published October issue of the interdisciplinary journal Environmental Values which uncovers some of the thornier and neglected issues of climate change. My task as an associate editor was to introduce this issue and downloading the Editorial is free. The whole issue is an interesting read and this blog just picks up a few of the ideas and issues that stood out for me and made me reflect.

Quote 1 for Blog 23 Reading Gael Plumecocq’s[i] article highlighted for me the role of emotions as a trigger to changing behaviour and attitudes. If we feel passionate about something and think about what is really at stake, we are likely to change our behaviour and quite possibly aim to influence policies. Related to this, if we can influence politicians’ emotions through actual or virtual experiences of specific case studies and situations, then this may be more effective than simply casting a vote every few years. The emerging dramatic climate change impacts are as much about emotional and ethical pertinence as they are about physical processes and political challenges. These are aspects of my own trail of thoughts following from reading the paper as it made me think about the new ways and seemingly political weight of mass lobbying/communication via social media and the immediacy of sharing photos, videos and comments (but sadly there is also a darker side to this). However, the key argument of the paper is that public policies are based, at least in part, on rhetorical strategies and you can read the full article to find out how Gael Plumecocq considers the need for and associated challenges of “providing legitimate foundations for the rhetorical means used to encourage change” (Plumecocq 2014: 529).

Quote 2 for Blog 23Aesthetics of climate change was at best only subconsciously on my radar before reading Emily Brady’s article which discusses long-term impacts of climate change from an aesthetics perspective. I was aware of how aesthetics affects people’s viewpoint on wind farms, especially if in or near national parks or other scenic landscapes, and Foresight studies that consider how land use and associated landscape will change with climate change and other key drivers of change. But does aesthetics also influence how we feel about climate change? Without wanting to pre-empty what Emily Brady has to say on this and the role of aesthetic value in environmental agendas and policies more generally, I’d like to share her proposition, namely that aesthetics may help us adopt a moral attitude and greater emotional depth towards the environment.

Quote 3 for Blog 23To me, the ‘juicy points’ of Carl Knight’s paper on climate change related to the issues of reducing environmental harm and increasing distributive justice rather than grandfathering per se. Climate change negotiations often focus on allowing developing countries to have their share of polluting industrialisation, and the onus is on developed countries to reduce their emissions and transfer clean technology. This reflects some fairness yet I liked the way Carl Knight explores the wealthy perspective question: Does expensive taste (i.e. nations that have achieved and become used to a high level of wealth – and high level of negative environmental impact) require compensation and if so under which conditions? His answer considers to what degree greenhouse gas emissions are instrumentally bad (contributing to harmful climate change) and/or instrumentally good (enabling beneficial activities and outcomes), are voluntarily or involuntarily incurred, and prompts attention to equality for opportunity of welfare.

A kind of link and the key sentence for me in the whole issue is that by Simo Kyllönen when considering global environmental justice: “The duties include the positive duty of mutual assistance and the negative duty of not inflicting unnecessary harm and suffering” (Kyllönen 2014: 601). Simo Kyllönen’s paper considers whether civil disobedience should be seen as a means to achieve global environmental justice. Is civil disobedience justified if there is no fundamental change in sight in terms of policies, politics to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our environmental impact? The term ‘atmospheric fairness’ stood out and I got sucked into reading about the ‘Kingsnorth six’ case which Simo Kyllönen draws on to argue his case.

Quote 4 for Blog 23Of all the papers in the issue, probably the most topical is the one on fracking by Rusi Jaspal, Andrew Turner and Brigitte Nerlich[ii]. In recent months, the UK has seen much media coverage on shale-gas fracking due to the UK Government’s push for it; but little thorough public debate. Based on accounts and evidence from elsewhere (especially the USA) many residents in Britain do not wish to have commercial fracking as part of the UK energy mix. Nor do many residents like companies drilling underneath their homes without being able to have a say about it – although that is exactly what a new law is going to allow.[iii] Even small-scale exploratory fracking is met with many protests and worries about the negative impacts on the environment (including carbon emissions) and human health. In their article Jaspal et al. pay particular attention to the social and psychological impacts of fracking as glimpsed from 50 YouTube videos that they analysed. As in Plumecocq’s paper, an ‘emotional’ dimension is explored as part of environmental governance. The experiences that we have and ‘feel’ influence our perceptions and attitudes; more so than climate change policy-making and energy strategies seem to currently take account of.

Quote 5 for Blog 23All in all, these perspectives offered in the five Environmental Values articles and the implicit challenges presented, I think offer some interesting food for thought; and provocative takes on climate change keep coming up. For an, in my view, spot-on take on some baffling but not totally surprising myth on economic growth and climate change, read GRIST’s article by Sam Bliss published on 30th September; it offers a reality-check and deconstructs blinkered thinking and superficial, sometimes even misconstrued, interpretations.

In terms of – ‘What to do about climate change?’ – keep lobbying for global political action and take action yourself: walk and cycle more rather than use a car; live life simpler; reduce amassing consumer goods; switch to locally produced food … we have to start somewhere! Reading about climate change is useful, becoming emotionally and actively involved in new perspectives and changing damaging habits are essential.

 

[i] Luckily he laughed about me referring to him as ‘she’ in the Editorial; my mistake brought about by the Scottish infused mental association with Gail

[ii] Note that Jaspal et al.’s paper is open access and thus free to download

[iii] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/26/fracking-trespass-law-changes-move-forward-despite-huge-public-opposition

 

References

Brady, E. 2014. ‘Aesthetic value, ethics and climate change’, Environmental Values 23(5): 551–570.

Jaspal, R. Turner, A. and Nerlich, B. 2014. ‘Fracking on YouTube’, Environmental Values 23(5): 501–527.

Knight, C. 2014. ‘Moderate emissions grandfathering’, Environmental Values 23(5): 571–592.

Kyllönen, S. 2014. ‘Climate change, civil disobedience and political obligations’, Environmental Values 23(5): 593–614.

Plumecocq, G. 2014. ‘Rhetoric as a means for sustainable development policy’, Environmental Values 23(5): 529–549.

 

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