News about extreme weather events is increasing. But climate policy is taking a backseat to other crises. A worldview focused on climate change collides with concrete facts. Does greater pluralism of values help?
The year 2023 is likely to be the warmest year since temperature measurements began. Many countries have suffered heat waves, droughts or floods in recent months. The discs were pulverized. Climate researchers see their warnings about global warming confirmed.
However, surveys show that many people do not currently consider climate change to be one of the world’s most important problems. The political momentum to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is weakening somewhat. The Economist observes an international countermovement. Parties that have set out to protect the climate are suffering bitter defeats, whether in Switzerland or Germany. Parties that adhere to darker theories about climate change are winning votes.
How is that possible? Shouldn’t climate concerns at least be able to compete with other political concerns, especially in a year with weather events as severe as 2023? How should this continue?
Wars distract attention from the climate
There are certainly several reasons for the decline in voter interest in typical “climate protection parties.” Europe is directly or indirectly involved in the military conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. This diverts attention from the issue of climate change. Furthermore, the economy is not doing well. This has a very real impact on many people’s daily lives and influences their voting decisions.
But there are also deeper reasons. In the past, many of those who have committed to climate protection have relied on simplistic stories or narratives whose persuasive power is gradually weakening. More and more people believe that there are a series of problems on the planet that are more important than climate change. Old narratives are proving too one-sided.
Climate geographer Mike Hulme of the University of Cambridge has examined a central narrative. He has studied the widespread belief that human-caused climate change is the dominant explanation for all social, economic, and ecological phenomena on Earth. Hulme calls this belief “climatism.”
In his book “Climate Change Is Not Everything,” he describes the emergence and characteristics of this climate worldview. As a precaution, Hulme distances himself from the idea of wanting to trivialize the problem of climate change. He doesn’t want that. Rather, he wants to correct an undesirable fact.
The world perceived in black and white.
A typical feature of the myopic view of the global climate view, for example, is that the global average temperature becomes a fetish. This temperature does not adequately characterize the state of the climate; the climate is much more complex. However, the average temperature is often mentioned as if it were the perfect indicator of all the earth’s ills. Hulme compares temperature to gross domestic product, which can only describe the state of an economy to a limited extent.
If diseases such as West Nile fever increase, this is often attributed to the effects of climate change, which is also an indication of one-sidedness. Because climate is just one factor among many. Diseases are also influenced by economic changes, educational levels, and lifestyle changes.
The reasons for conflicts are interpreted unilaterally.
Even military conflicts are often viewed through ideological lenses. It is not unusual to read, for example, that the war in Syria was caused by a drought and that this in turn was caused by climate change. These analyzes largely ignore the complex political and social conditions of the Syrian war – especially the government of Bashar al-Assad.
The other way around, it also becomes a shoe: if a war breaks out somewhere, soon someone will wonder what effect it will have on the climate. “How the war between Israel and Hamas endangers action against global warming” was the title of a recent article in the New York Times. The newspaper didn’t seem to care that this might seem out of place at the moment.
In general, according to Hulme, representatives of the worldview he criticizes tend to use apocalyptic rhetoric. This does not allow gray tones. The world is clearly divided between good and evil.
The ideological reduction of the climate approach is a global phenomenon. There is much evidence in favor of Hulme’s thesis and yet it does not do justice to reality. Because the fixation on climate change is usually part of a broader ideological complex.
Just look at the German-speaking world, where climate commitment is closely linked to a retrograde naturalistic romanticism. Internationally connected climate activists have other ideological hobbyhorses: the range extends from rejection of capitalism to criticism of racism and colonialism to feminism. In such cases it is not always clear whether the weather plays the first role.
Does a mathematical concept from chaos theory help?
One of the scientific institutes that has been repeatedly criticized by critics like Hulme for its ideological worldview is the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. In this regard, it is worth taking a look at the recently published book by the German climate researcher Anders Levermann, who works at the institute in question.
In his work “The Folding of the World”, Levermann offers a concept with which he wants to help escape both the “climate crisis” and the “growth dilemma.” By growth dilemma, Levermann refers to the double-edged effect of economic growth: we need growth, according to the author, but it must be decoupled from the destruction of our planet.
On the surface, the book’s approach seems very scientific. The term “folding” in the book’s title comes from the mathematical field of chaos theory. Levermann tries to illustrate his concept with a table tennis ball: this ball always follows new trajectories in a clearly defined space and thus makes the most of the freedom it has at its disposal. The author attempts to demonstrate that a certain freedom of movement can be maintained even within predetermined limits.
The limits are now called “folding limits.”
However, the idea of using the folding concept to solve two global problems at once seems like a brainchild. When the book gets specific, no really new proposed solution is found. The mathematical term serves rather to give a new and elegant cover to already known concepts: to describe the CO2-To reduce emissions a price limit is needed; Economic growth must occur within certain limits. The only new thing about these proposals is that these limits are now called “folding limits.”
The physicist is not exactly one of those who paint the devil on the wall when it comes to the evolution of the climate. But even in it one can clearly recognize certain patterns of argumentation that Hulme describes as characteristic of climatism.
What is typical, for example, is the tendency to derive policy recommendations for action directly from climate science. The overemphasis on the danger that we are approaching tipping points in the climate is like the textbook climateism that Hulme lampooned. Levermann also blames climate change for negative events in the world. He ignores aspects of reality that also have a strong influence. For example, he naturally believes that the claim that climate change is responsible for the war in Syria is a coherent thesis. He doesn’t even talk about counterarguments.
Greater pluralism of values could be a solution
Only when the contradictions between common ideological concepts and reality become very clear, alternative concepts have their opportunity in the field of public opinion formation. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer. But what are the alternatives for those who see climate change as real and threatening but reject worldviews like climateism?
Hulme advocates political pragmatism and liberal value pluralism. Problems as wicked as climate change require clumsy solutions, he writes. You would like to know more about this. But unfortunately the British only explains these “clumsy solutions” in an abstract way.
The closest example to concrete examples is the one in which Hulme advocates a variety of objectives: those fighting against deforestation should combine this with the fight against global warming, and should also include health promotion and the fight against poverty by decarbonizing the energy system. . However, these suggestions are already part of the climate discourse. It has long been known that it makes sense to take into account the co-benefits of climate protection measures.
Hulme convincingly presents his concern that one should not become ideologically obsessed with climate change. But his proposed solution seems anemic and a bit unimaginative. More effort is needed to provide broad-based communication. This is especially true at a time overshadowed by other problems.