Book Review by Kip Hansen
“[T]he idea of climate pragmatism is kind of obvious: let’s do the things that provide broad benefits regardless of one’s particular set of commitments in the climate debate.”
The Climate Pragmatism project is a partnership between the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes (CSPO) at Arizona State University and the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, California. Together they organized a series of three workshops over three years bringing together diverse experts to explore new approaches to the climate change challenge. The workshops resulted in three reports (links here=[i]) that have been adapted to produce this volume which represents both a broad synopsis and an in-depth analysis of the prescriptions developed by the Climate Pragmatism project. This review presents some of these ideas with a few illustrative quotes.
“The power of the Climate Pragmatism vision lies in its ability to abandon long-held dogmatic views about the relationship between energy and climate change in favor of a well-founded faith in human ingenuity.”
“It offers a way forward that helps policymakers, researchers, and practitioners escape the false and stultifying dichotomies between economic growth and sustainability, between energy consumption and climate change, and between climate mitigation and adaptation.”
Our High Energy Planet
The starting point for Climate Pragmatism is the understanding that it is entirely wrong-headed to attempt to force civilization to transition from societies with high-energy access — cheap, plentiful, ubiquitous electricity and liquid fuels — to societies with reduced access and consumption. In the still-developing world, the key to successful and rapid human development is energy access — real energy access, not the nonsensical goals set by current UN and NGO programs that consider that “a household has achieved access to modern energy when consuming 50 to 100 kWh per person annually – less than the [consumption of] the average American’s cable television box”.
“Achieving negligible access thresholds with technologies like rooftop solar panels or cleaner cookstoves — rather than, for example, reliable grid connections — leaves other human development goals far out of reach.” In part because these technologies “have little capacity for scaling up and meeting the expanding needs of economically productive, non-household activities like manufacturing, transportation, or commercial agriculture”.
The argument is put forward that the starting place for achieving basic human development goals is “an explicit commitment to the kind of energy equity that enables an escape from subsistence living and fosters the capacity to prosper, adapt, and innovate.” The Climate Pragmatism spoken of in this slim volume “combines a commitment to pragmatism — a clear-eyed focus on what works in practice, rather than what’s ideologically acceptable — with an insistence that all humans deserve access to sufficient energy services to achieve the quality of life enjoyed by people in economically developed regions of the world. A high-energy planet with universal access to affordable, cleaner and plentiful energy is the most practical way to secure this socioeconomic development while ensuring environmental protection.”
Innovation and Adaptation
Readers will find themselves well-informed regarding the reasoning behind the call for Climate Pragmatism as it relates to the relationships between energy and societal innovation, meeting human development goals, and adaptation and resilience to existing weather and climate hazards — how improved energy access leads to local innovation and helps regions to adapt not only to future potential risks from changing weather and climatic conditions, but to innovating ways of adapting and bringing about a deep resilience to existing conditions that already adversely affect human development, health, agriculture, and industry.
A Way Forward
Those looking to explore alternative paths to real world solutions to the troubling questions of dealing with local, regional, national and global effects of ever-changing weather — and potential future changes to climates — and how we can collectively shape international policy efforts to bring about a better future, without waiting for the uncertainties of global climate science to be resolved, should start with this well-organized, well-written presentation of a possible route to a better future for all.
This book is a terrific read for those with interests in international development policy and its intersection with climate change policy. Even those with differing, contrary opinions will find it informative and enlightening, opening new vistas of potential.
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 Our High-Energy Planet, High-Energy Innovation, and Adaptation for a High-Energy Planet . The Breakthrough Institute published the related paper: Climate Pragmatism: Innovation, Resilience and No Regrets
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Author’s Comment Policy:
Always happy to answer your questions if I can, address your comment to me personally if you expect a response. The purpose of this review is to inform readers here that the book is available and encourage those interested to read it, as I have.
This is a Book Review and the opinions and policy proposals contained in the quotes provided are those of the individual authors and editors of the book reviewed — not necessarily mine. If you have disagreements with quoted portions of the book, I strongly suggest obtaining a copy of the book (purchase or via your local library) and reading it in its entirety before taking a public stance — I have, out of necessity, quoted only very short sections which may be missing important context and further explanation and justification.
Immediately above are links to full and free .pdf copies of the three underlying publications on which the book is based, and one further related publication from the Breakthrough Institute. Enjoy.
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