Dissertation extract: structural barriers to climate change action

Today I saw a Twitter post with some text that governments cut from the Summary for Policymakers from the 6th Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

B6.4. Factors limiting ambitious transformation include structural barriers, an incremental rather than systemic approach, lack of coordination, inertia, lock-in to infrastructure and assets, and lock-in as a consequence of vested interests, regulatory inertia, and lack of technological capabilities and human resources. (high confidence) {1.5, 2.8, 5.5, 6.7, 13.8}

This accords with the section on structural barriers to climate action in my in-progress dissertation.

In response, I have released a draft section from my dissertation on the structural barriers that make controlling climate change so challenging. The barriers are essential for understanding why growing scientific alarm has not translated into adequate policy responses. It also raises questions for environmentalists working to control the problem, since part of the issue is their own opposition to fossil fuel alternatives.

3 thoughts on “Dissertation extract: structural barriers to climate change action”

  1. It was once hoped that as Americans started to experience global warming’s devastating effects they would become more accepting of climate science. But as Bruce and millions like him illustrate, this is not happening. After four years of warming-related tempests in the south-east and infernos out west, public opinion has hardly budged. Six in ten Americans think global warming is anthropogenic and already manifest, and want drastic cuts in fossil-fuel use. The rest, a group that represents a majority of Republican voters, say the opposite, come fire or high water.

    This capacity for motivated reasoning is losing its power to amaze. Every day brings reports of Trump voters denouncing covid-19 vaccines on their covid-19 deathbeds. By comparison, the complacency the same voters show towards the impacts of warming is almost rational. Bruce believes in hurricanes. He just doesn’t believe climate change is making them more frequent or fiercer; so why should a bad storm, or several, make him think differently? Especially—as covid-19 also shows—because people normalise extreme circumstances. In a seminal study of white conservatives in coastal Louisiana, the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild asked how they reconciled their loathing of environmental regulation with living in one of the most polluted areas of the country. Part of the explanation was that they grew used to the pollution. Unlike the maligned frog, which will try to flee a dangerously high temperature however gradually it has been raised, humans are liable to wallow and boil.

    Most obvious is how systematically one of the two governing parties has misled its voters on the issue. Until the mid-1990s, Republicans and Democrats worried about climate change equally. Voters on the right were then persuaded to quit worrying by a well-documented misinformation campaign, paid for by industrialists and executed by conservative think-tanks, politicians and media. The parties diverged so sharply on the issue that their respective positions—accepting climate science or rubbishing it—became a mark of political identity. That made them even more entrenched.

    There have always been Republicans arguing against the misinformation, including John McCain and in recent years lesser figures, such as the members of the newly formed Conservative Climate Caucus. Yet the sceptics hold sway because of how strongly their message is aligned with the party’s other main currents.


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