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Climate Blowback: What I didn’t say was not what I didn’t mean not to say

My post criticizing Sachs on climate change got many negative responses yesterday. The main problem was that I was much too terse about an issue that people care a lot about (you should probably apply a “weekend discount” to things I post on weekends!). So some understandably jumped to conclusions about what I was saying, which were inaccurate.

Honestly, I know very little about climate change. But I do know a little bit about political economy, which offers cross-disciplinary insights to the climate change discussion. So let me try again.

What I was NOT saying:

Here’s how to solve global warming. How and whether we know man-made global warming is scientific fact (I think it is from what I have read). That I am qualified to provide any detailed guidance on climate change.

What I was saying:

There is no such thing as a neutral technocratic solution. All solutions are political. The aura of the neutral technocracy just winds up giving cover to some political interests who have their own agenda.

The poor have very, very little political power. Because of this, other things equal, they were more likely to be victims of environmental destruction in the first place. And because of this, they could still lose out in attempts to reverse environmental destruction. I am talking here about poor individuals, not about poor country governments.

Current policy discussions on global warming show little sensitivity to these political realities.

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  1. Loretta wrote:

    Interesting timing on this, Bill – I was speaking today with a forestry consultant who’s here in Zambia for some training sessions. Somehow we got onto climate change stuff, and he was VERY skeptical about it all. Not skeptical about the pure science, but rather the “solutions” being imposed on countries in the name of it. He cited one example where he’d helped the government of a large African country write up their forestry policies, and he inserted in there a line about how local communities could register their forest lands and decide how they’re used (in his experience, local control leads to better land management). The line stayed in the regulation until the World Bank came in, talking about donor funding for carbon offsets and all that; once the national government got dollar signs in their eyes, they removed that line about local control of lands in order to get access to the WB funds. This guy wasn’t a climate skeptic, by any means, but he’s certainly become cynical about some of the big climate policies he’s seeing imposed on local communities, which from what he’s seen usually end up being counter-productive.

    Posted March 14, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  2. rjs wrote:

    there are plenty of rich that will be affected when lower manhatten floods…

    Posted March 15, 2010 at 6:30 am | Permalink
  3. Michael wrote:


    Quite right!

    I work with climate scientists, though I’m an engineer myself so perhaps see things slightly differently. Recognising politics as part of what they do, rather than just a nuisance is hard for scientists – just as it’s hard for many business folks.

    Until recently it seemed many scientists were sure that if only the public could understand the issues then everything would fall into place. So I felt it best to remind them that most people accept that WAR is very, very BAD. This doesn’t seem to stop wars happening. Wars, I guess, begin and end in the political domain, but are played out in our world. Similarly for climate change.


    Posted March 15, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink
  4. lukas wrote:

    The rich people will find a way to keep Lower Manhattan from flooding. I’m less optimistic for the people of Dhaka.

    Posted March 15, 2010 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  5. Barun wrote:

    The poor are vulnerable because of poverty, not because they consume too much but because they cannot afford to consume much. If the sea level rises, poor people in Bangladesh will suffer not because the sea has risen, but because they are too poor to deal with it. This is why people in Bangladesh have been so vulnerable to natural disasters, long before climate change entered the political lexicon. This is also why, there is very little talk about Holland or Hawaii getting affected by climate change, but so much about Bangladesh. IF the political economy in Bangladesh becomes conducive to economic prosperity, people in Bangladesh will be able to find ways to protect themselves that much better, irrespective of any changes in climate.

    Posted March 16, 2010 at 1:55 am | Permalink
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