15 December 2009

Stewart Brand's Four Camps

In the NYT today Stewart Brand explains that the climate debate really has four -- not two -- different poles. He confuses me and my father as an example of a "skeptic" (he refers to my father, a climate scientist, but then cites my research on IPCC scenarios). While it is nice to see a little nuance creep into the debate, the fatal flaw in Brand's taxonomy is that it defines its ordering with respect to views on science. The climate debate has much more nuance among people who share the same views on the science, so I find Brand's taxonomy a bit simplistic.

In 2005, I blogged my own taxonomy of the debate.

Climate realists. The UPI column correctly places me in this camp. But Steve Rayner characterized this community best,

“But, between Kyoto’s supporters and those who scoff at the dangers of leaving greenhouse gas emissions unchecked, there has been a tiny minority of commentators and analysts convinced of the urgency of the problem while remaining profoundly sceptical of the proposed solution. Their voices have largely gone unheard. Climate change policy has become a victim of the sunk costs fallacy. We are told that Kyoto is “the only game in town”.

However, it is plausible to argue that implementing Kyoto has distracted attention and effort from real opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect society against climate impacts. While it may not be politically practical or desirable to abandon the Kyoto path altogether, it certainly seems prudent to open up other approaches to achieving global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientizers. This large and diverse group actively works to frame the climate issue as a scientific debate under the expectation that if you win the scientific debate then your political agenda will necessarily follow. This group is comprised mostly of scientists of one sort or another. I would include here the dueling science-cum-politics weblogs Realclimate.org and Climateaudit.org (we had an exchange with Reaclimate folks a while back). I would also include here CATO’s Patrick Michaels and the IPCC’s Rajendra Pachauri (see this post) and others who have a clear political perspective but choose frequently to debate the science as a proxy war. A great irony is that the Scientizers have different political views but share the expectation that science is the appropriate battleground for this debate, and have together thus far successfully kept the focus of attention on the climate science rather than policy and politics.

Energy Policy Free Riders. The climate debate in many ways represents the evolution of an energy policy debate that took place in the 1970s and 1980s. Senator Tim Wirth (D-CO) characterized this perspective in the late 1980s when he said,

“We’ve got to ride the global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic and environmental policy” (cited here, in PDF).
For this group the current debate over climate change is really all about changing energy policies.

Free Market Free Riders. Like the EP Free Riders the FM Free Riders see the climate debate as the evolution of a preexisting debate over the role of government and the individual in society. A recent column at Tech Central Station presented a strong version of this perspective,

“[The Kyoto Protocol] is emblematic of the ‘unorthodox’ thinking in social sciences. It gave the world Marxism, Stalinism, planned economies and fascism in the past, and supports anti-trade movements, anarcho-socialism, dogmatic pacifism and multicultural relativism today.”

International Relations Free Riders. The international relations free riders see the Kyoto Protocol as an extension of recent tensions between the U.S. and Europe, in particular, and have more concern with multilateralism than climate per se. In this group are those who see multilateralism as a solution to international conflicts (climate among them) and others who see it as part of them problem. The IR Free Riders includes the U.S. neoconservatives and their opponents. It also represents a cleavage of opinion between the Bush Administration’s approach-to-date on climate and that generally favored by governments in Europe.

There is undoubtedly a larger set of “free riders” who have sought to hitch their own favored agendas (e.g., species preservation, Bush Administration bashing, etc. etc.) to the climate issue, but these seem to be the most significant.

Those who Suffer Climate Impacts. There is an extremely large group of people (and species, ecosystems, etc.) that actually experience the effects of climate in their everyday lives. Too often they are used as symbols (or as potential material witnesses in lawsuits) by one of the groups listed above without real concern for their plight. The hundred of millions of people who suffer the impacts of climate have a real political stake in climate policies and with a few notable exceptions (e.g., see the 2002 Delhi Declaration) have little voice in how climate policy is evolving. (See also this recent paper.)

Undoubtedly there are more camps in this complex tapestry, but further discussion will have to continue another time. I’m off to class.