Climate Change: How Do We Democratize the Process?

Before I start this post, I’d like to thank all the people who have commented on my previous entries. I started blogging in order to join the climate change conversation, and I feel like I’ve landed smack in the middle of that conversation.

One of the things I’m slowly learning is that, in the world of blogging, one must be flexible and go where the conversation sometimes naturally takes you.  So, I’m scrapping blog entry “Proof, Part 2” in order to journey elsewhere.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal found itself at the fulcrum of the climate change debate.  Two op-eds were the focus.  The first one titled “No Need to Panic About Global Warming” and signed by 16 scientists, appeared on January 26.  A “response” titled “Check with Climate Scientists for View on Climate“, signed by 20 scientists, was published on February 1st.  Part of the response by the “scientists” is worth quoting here: “Do you consult your dentist about your heart condition? In science, as in any area, reputations are based on knowledge and expertise in a field and on published, peer-reviewed work.  If you need surgery, you want a highly experienced expert in the field who has done a large number of the proposed operations”.  To put it a bit differently (my words) – hire yourself an epistemological lawyer before you vote and for good measure, check his list of publications before you hire him.

On a similar but different front in, an op-ed, published in the New York Times on September 7, 2011 and titled “Going Green but Getting Nowhere,” Gernot Wagner (an economist at the Environmental Defense Fund) wrote, “You reduce, reuse and recycle.  You turn down plastic and paper.  You avoid out-of-season grapes.  You do all the right things.  Just know that it won’t save the tuna, protect the rainforest or stop global warming.  The changes necessary are so large and profound that they are beyond the reach of individual action.”

His main point is that individual action doesn’t work even if you are the Pope with more than a billion adherents.  (Most of them are adherents only to a point and will not exactly follow your wishes.)  He believes that individual action detracts from the need for collective action and that individual action doesn’t add up to enough.  He says, “Self interest – not self sacrifice is what induces noticeable change,” and that the correct economic policies will do the trick.  Wagner notes that, “Getting people excited about making individual environmental sacrifices is doomed to fail.”   (In terms of climate change he favors Cap and Trade legislation).

The call for individual effort he calls “planetary socialism at its worst: we all pay the price because individuals don’t.  It wouldn’t change until a regulatory system compels us to pay our fair share to limit pollution.”

The question that he doesn’t raise is who will elect the government that will change the regulatory system to Mr. Wagner’s specifications?  Here we’d need a Platonian Philosopher King.  While government absolutely has a role in all this, simply waiting for the “correct” elected officials to do the “correct” thing is sort of like “Waiting for Godot” – it will probably never happen as it really needs to happen.

So, who, in a democracy, “decides” which actions are right on climate change?  Scientists?  Policy makers?  And how do we democratize those actions?

While I agree that all of us should be part of larger collective action on climate change, should we individually sit on our hands and do nothing?  Do we really have to choose between collective action and individual action?

Climate change on a grand scale can feel so overwhelming, that it often seems that no action – either collective or individual – can really make a difference.  I know this is true because many, many of my students have told me so.  They can feel helpless and, because the problem is so huge, they have a hard time finding a way to incorporate this big story into their seemingly small lives.

In the process of looking for ways to personalize climate change and make it relevant to individual lives, I found an amazing Holocaust project in Tennessee that started as a way to get students to find a personal way to relate to the Holocaust, but wound up becoming a much larger collective action that impacted thousands… (more for next time!)

About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
This entry was posted in Climate Change. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Climate Change: How Do We Democratize the Process?

  1. MaryBrown says:

    Ideally, perhaps, progress toward stable democracy and tackling climate change should proceed together. But the chance that in some places political experimentation could retard the bold and urgent action now needed on climate change cannot be ignored. Similarly, in some places the unavoidable effects of a changing climate make democracy’s advance more difficult.Click here read more.

  2. That is very nice and great post ever I think That is so amazing, I am so inspired

  3. Thanks for finally talking about > Climate Change:
    How Do We Democratize the Process? | ClimateChangeFork < Liked it!

  4. brenda says:

    Hi colleagues, its impressive post concerning educationand entirely explained, keep
    it up all the time.

  5. climatechangefork says:

    That will be great.


  6. dorothy says:

    Simply desire to say your article is as astonishing.

    The clearness in your post is just cool and i could
    assume you are an expert on this subject. Well with your permission let me
    to grab your RSS feed to keep updated with forthcoming post.

    Thanks a million and please keep up the enjoyable work.

  7. Best Games says:

    Aw, this was a really nice post. Taking the time and
    actual effort to produce a great article… but
    what can I say… I put things off a lot and never seem to get anything done.

  8. Ezra says:

    Fabulous, what a blog it is! This website presents helpful facts to us,
    keep it up.

  9. Pingback: Dislike of Science – Who Is To Blame and What Is Being Done About It? | ClimateChangeFork

  10. Pingback: We Need to Do Some Serious Work if We Want to Democratize Climate Change Decisions. | ClimateChangeFork

  11. Are you sure that such conclusions gonna work in a long distance period?

  12. Climate Change: How Do We Democratize the Process? | ClimateChangeFork is an impressive share. Thanks a lot for this article.

  13. legal jobs says:

    We are a gaggle of volunteers and opening a brand new scheme in our community. Your website provided us with useful info to work on. You’ve performed a formidable process and our whole community shall be thankful to you.

  14. I do consider all the concepts you have introduced in your post. They’re very convincing and can certainly work. Still, the posts are very quick for starters. May just you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

  15. sidd says:

    Wendell Berry remarked recently that you should not undertake environmental action with a goal or a timetable in mind. Rather you ought do so because it is the right thing to do. I also recall Margaret Mead stating that only a small group of unreasonable people can change the world.

  16. Climate Weenie says:

    “because the problem is so huge”

    Problem is huge because it is unbounded or poorly bounded.

    Problem is poorly bounded because it is poorly defined.

    Explicitly and precisely define the problem and watch it shrink, perhaps to no problem at all.

  17. Christine says:

    I have found the balance between individual and collective action through connecting with the Transition Network (which focuses on making change at the local community level) as well as being an active Citizens Climate Lobby volunteer (which focuses on creating the political will for a sustainable climate through empowering individuals to claim their individual and political power).
    The choice isn’t one or the other, it’s both! And since being engaged in working for action on climate change (personally and politically) my despair and fear has been transformed. As Professor David Orr says, “hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”

  18. Wyo says:

    Another great post. I, too, believe that everyone has to know more about climate change to make the changes necessary. It’s too bad that science education in this country is definitely lacking (mine science education background if nearly pitiful). We should also be clamoring for more and better science education earlier in our lives.

  19. says:

    Currently I’m writing an essay on this topic. I`d appreciate if you allow me to use some information from this post if you dont mind. thank you

  20. PhillipS says:

    Another great post – thank you. I feel that it is safe to say that those individuals who are sufficiently motivated to make changes and sacrifices in their own lives are also sufficiently motivated to get involved in the democartic process and support candidates who will tackle the changes needed at state and national levels. We’ve seen that activism at the state level in California, and in the past at the national level for the formation of the EPA and the passage of the Clean Air Act.

    As for the widespread feeling that individual action is meaningless – I would point out that our current situation is not the result of one massive release of CO2 but rather the result of billions of unthinking individual actions. Mitigation will result from billions of informed individual actions. Which is why it is so important to make honest information easy to find and understand.

  21. Marco says:

    Urgh, that should read “..if they find their customers are not in tune with their current behavior”.

  22. Marco says:

    I agree with you, Micha.

    If there are enough people taking certain actions, the economy will follow. That is, companies will change their behavior if they find their customers are not in tune with that behavior. Also elected officials will change when they find they are not in sync with their constituency. This does not take away that collective action is needed, but rather speeds up collective action. We cannot keep on looking at our governments to take the lead, especially when so many in that government are essentially ‘bought’ by vested interests.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *