A reflection on “Giddens’s paradox”

Ron Johnston and Chris Deeming
Ron Johnston and Chris Deeming

by Ron Johnston and Chris Deeming

In his article The Politics of Climate Change as in the the two editions of his The Politics of Climate Change, Anthony Giddens identifies what he and others now refer to as ‘Giddens’s paradox’ – that although climate scientists are increasingly certain about the nature and intensity of anthropogenic climate change the general public is becoming less concerned that it is a crucial issue calling for immediate comprehensive, global action. He identifies four reasons for this: the well-funded campaigns against policy proposals to reduce carbon emissions, often involving disinformation, by those who would lose financially, notably companies involved in fossil fuels; the difficulties lay people have in appreciating climate science and the concepts of risk and uncertainty; the ‘free rider’ issue – why should Britain (or any country for that matter) which is only a small contributor to the global emissions total take a lead in tackling the issue; and the primacy that many countries, especially those in the developing world, place on economic development.

There is thus a global paralysis regarding climate change policy that needs to be broken. Giddens suggests that a new policy paradigm is now urgently needed, based on four principles. First, people – including some politicians – have to be convinced that it is an immediate problem that must be tackled now; not to do so will make the medium-term scenarios even more pessimistic. Secondly, while securing a global agreement at major conferences – such as that scheduled for Paris later in 2015 – is desirable, much more impact is likely to come from regional, even bilateral, agreements, especially if they involve one or more of the USA, the EU, India, China and Brazil giving a lead that others will follow. Thirdly, the fossil fuel companies’ power has to be challenged. And finally, local activism has to be promoted, to underpin and stimulate national and international political action.

On all of these, Giddens is relatively optimistic. The massive advances in communications media can bring home the message that the future risks are daunting and immediate – and are increasingly linked to violence, even war. They can also be used to promote the spread of sustainable technologies; just as mobile communications networks are changing the nature of economic activity in the developing world so they can be used to promote those technologies – and at the same time mobilise opinion there against the fossil fuel companies. Those networks can link together local activists – such as cities that develop their own sustainable policies.

Giddens’ call is therefore for a global activism, digitally-enhanced, which will stimulate changed attitudes to the immediate risks, promote alternative technologies and, presumably, mobilise people and groups to put pressure on governments and international organisations to face down the fossil fuel companies and other climate change deniers and adopt national and global policies that will ensure rapid action to reduce carbon emissions; thus saving the earth from impending catastrophe. Time – and perhaps not very much of it – will tell if he is right.

If you enjoyed this blog entry, you may be interested in a similar article entitled British political values, attitudes to climate change, and travel behaviour by Ron Johnston & Chris Deeming

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