08 November 2011

Dreams not Nightmares

Some of the most fervent advocates for action on climate change spend a lot of time trying to stop things and telling policy makers what not to do. The battle over Keystone XL is just the latest example in a strategy focused on limits and saying "No!." The battle over cap and trade was much the same.

As Nordhaus and Shellenberger once wrote (PDF):
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream speech” is famous because it put forward an inspiring, positive vision that carried a critique of the current moment within it. Imagine how history would have turned out had King given an “I have a nightmare” speech instead.

In the absence of a bold vision and a reconsideration of the problem, environmental leaders are effectively giving the “I have a nightmare” speech, not just in our press interviews but also in the way that we make our proposals. The world’s most effective leaders are not issue-identified but rather vision and value-identified. These leaders distinguish themselves by inspiring hope against fear, love against injustice, and power against powerlessness.

A positive, transformative vision doesn’t just inspire, it also creates the cognitive space for assumptions to be challenged and new ideas to surface.
Of course, advocates for action on climate change may think that they are doing something important in trying to stop US approval for an oil pipeline from Canada, but unfortunately, they are not.  Michael Levi has more along these lines here.