Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Professor Mike Hulme is worried people are ignoring climate warnings, so he suggests promoting climate action with “co-benefits”, convincing people to take climate action for reasons other than climate change. But some advocates of reframing have taken things a step further than Professor Hulme suggests. In my opinion their actions verge on deliberate deception of the public.
Science can’t solve climate change — better politics can, former IPCC scientist says
It’s not every day you hear that the climate change debate needs to be “more political and less scientific” — but that is exactly what Mike Hulme is calling for.
The 2015 Paris agreement was declared “a victory for climate science“, but Professor Hulme — who used to work for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — is not convinced that the Paris deal will work.
In fact, he said he thought climate change was in danger of becoming a “fetish” and that rallying cries to “save the planet by limiting global warming to 2 degrees” could distract us from the “political logjam” in front of us.
“We can actually only deal with climate through the human imagination.”
He said a focus on immediate “co-benefits” would give governments, businesses and individuals the incentives they needed to move away from fossil fuels or to create carbon sinks.
Think solar panels or wind farms for those without access to electricity; planting forests that protect catchments and provide shade from the searing heat; or replacing coal-fired power stations — not simply to cut carbon emissions, but to reduce deaths from air pollution.
This approach could be attractive to hundreds of millions of people across the planet, regardless of their views on global warming, Professor Hulme argued.
Professor Hulme makes reframing climate action as environmental policy sound all nice and fluffy. I’m sure Professor Hulme’s intention is to be open about the climate aspects of reframed climate action.
But in the USA, government employed activists quietly boast about using reframing to secretly maintain rebadged climate expenditure under President Trump.
From February 2017;
… ‘Deliberate framing’
My colleagues and I did a survey of over 200 local governments in 11 states of the Great Plains region to learn about steps they’re taking to mitigate the effects of climate change and to adapt to them. We found local officials in red states responsible for public health, soil conservation, parks and natural resources management, as well as county commissioners and mayors, are concerned about climate change, and many feel a responsibility to take action in the absence of national policy.
But because it is such a complex and polarizing topic, they often face public uncertainty or outrage toward the issue. So while these local officials have been addressing climate change in their communities over the past decade, many of these policy activities are specifically not framed that way. As one respondent to our survey said:
“It is my personal and professional opinion that the conservation community is on track with addressing the issue of climate change but is way off track in assigning a cause. The public understands the value of clean water and clean air. If the need to improve our water quality and air quality was emphasized, most would agree. Who is going to say dirty water and dirty air is not a problem? By making the argument ‘climate change and humans are the cause’ significant energy is wasted trying to prove this. It is also something the public has a hard time sinking their teeth into.”
In my opinion such secret reframing verges on deliberate deception of the public.
If local government money is spent on rebadged climate action, that same money cannot also be spent on say improving schools or financial assistance for poor people.
Even if some of the reframed actions are necessary environmental works, say tree planting to protect a water catchment from soil runoff pollution, the fact that some officials appear to be secretly prioritising climate expenditure more than they admit invites suspicion that their judgement is skewed, that the alleged environmental works they advocate are receiving more attention and financial support than they would have received, had such environmental works been subject to a more objective cost / benefit analysis.
I do not think climate “reframing” is OK. If reframers want climate action, they should propose such action openly and honestly to the people, and accept that for most people such climate action simply isn’t a priority. Sneaking around “reframing” climate action as necessary local environmental work in my opinion undermines democracy, undermines the quality of information presented to taxpayers, and undermines the right of taxpayers to fairly decide how their tax money should be spent.