Are climate campaigners doing it wrong? I review a book that answers ‘yes’
What if the problem with international climate negotiations is not this or that recalcitrant country but the very foundation the whole enterprise is built on? What if climate campaigners are fixated on a set of frames and strategies that are doomed to failure? Wouldn’t that suck?
Yes. Yes it would suck. Nonetheless, that’s the situation we’re in, according to scholar David Victor’s new book, Global Warming Gridlock: Creating More Effective Strategies for Saving the Planet. It’s a painstaking, soup-to-nuts critique of the strategies at the heart of the international climate movement, along with a fairly elaborate sketch of what a new approach might look like. This is not incremental stuff: Victor thinks we need to wipe the slate almost clean and start over. If that makes you feel slightly panicky, well, just wait ’til you’ve read the thing. Chipper it ain’t.
Anyway, I have a new essay-slash-book-review in the latest issue of The American Prospect — “A Way to Win the Climate Fight?” — that mostly focuses on Victor’s book, though it also touches on Eric Pooley’s The Climate War (which I reviewed in Grist).
I really, really encourage you to read this book review. Victor’s book is incredibly thought-provoking and dense. And if it’s right, climate hawks need to do some serious rethinking.
Here’s an excerpt from the review:
The quest for a grand solution follows a three-step process. First, scientists determine how much warming is too much and draw a “red line.” Today, that line is typically presented as 2 degrees Celsius warming above pre-industrial levels, the official target of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the G-8. Second, they determine the level of emission reductions necessary to avoid the red line. Third, diplomats bring the world’s countries together to sign a collective treaty pledging to achieve those reductions.
This top-down strategy is seductive, which is why it’s been central to international climate negotiations since the signing of the Rio Declaration in 1992. But as a practical matter, it’s not working. There have been summits, dialogues, symposia, and great, gushing torrents of talk, but climate-warming emissions have continued their inexorable upward trajectory. Climate diplomacy has yielded “the illusion of action but not much impact on the underlying problem,” Victor writes.