Climate Mitigation Alternatives – Sorting Them Out

Naomi Klein’s book THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING has provoked a wide spectrum of reviewer reaction by arguing that fighting back capitalism is the only real climate change solution.

Especially interesting has been the criticism by those that agree with Klein that climate change is an emergency requiring urgent action but view the path to needed mitigation much differently.

The reaction to Klein’s book and argument is mirrored at the more liberal section of the political spectrum by a Paul Krugman column based upon a New Climate Economy Project report, and a working paper from the International Monetary Fund – we can easily solve climate change in BAU with a little tweaking.

Dr. Krugman’s climate mitigation path was then critically lampooned by climate hawks such as Richard Heinberg and David Roberts. ( Sam Bliss has pointed out the the NCEP report mandate is all about getting the most emission reduction in BAU, not emission reduction of a scale necessary.)

Even if you have agreement that climate change is happening, even if there is agreement on emission reduction targets such as 2C and concerning the carbon budget calculations to stay under 2C, there remains fundamental worldview disagreement about possible mitigation paths and their efficacy.

ENERGY ALTERNATIVES – Surveying the Alternatives (PDF) points out that there is no shortage of alternatives but no real evaluation framework:

What They Might Mean for Action
Tables 1-3 should shame into thoughtful silence all who have ever challenged a critic of fossil-fuelled energy systems with the dismissive question “What’s the alternative?”, and induce in them a contrite resolve never to ask such a question again. As the tables show, there is no shortage of detailed, creative, even inspiring initiatives for moving away from fossil fuels.

But as the tables also show, the questions that these initiatives ask, the assumptions they make, and the interests they seek to serve are bewilderingly diverse. There may not be a lack of alternatives, but there is clearly a lack of a framework to make sense of them and discuss them in a democratic way. If the many divergent conversations about “energy alternatives” being carried on globally are to be brought together, analytically or politically, their points of difference and conflict as well as their possible areas of synergy must be recognized and mapped. To support uncritically any and all initiatives that describe themselves as “energy alternatives” would be to invite chaos and unending conflict – as well as making impossible a livable energy future.

Don’t you think it would be useful to have a serious exercise in presenting alternatives in a transparent process where all the questions can get asked instead of factions just claiming that my tax or my electric car or my governance innovation is the only climate change alternative? Instead of, don’t worry, we’ve got offsets and the oilsands are Canada’s prime economic engine?

In my last op- ed I modeled such a process, first with a techno-optimist, ecosocialist, wartime mobilization style emergency government advocate and free range local nurturer as partakers and then with celebrity participation:

“(Y)ou might imagine the protagonists as Naomi Klein, Amory Lovins, Jim Hansen, David Spratt, Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, Roger Peilke Jr. or some such, and then the possibilities get interesting.

The facilitated discussion would be an iteration of written submissions with maybe meetings (real or online) when needed….

This level of discussion/dialogue/policy making should be bottom line given climate’s probable catastrophic dangers and our responsibility for our (societies) use of fossil fuels today. Presently policy formation excludes meaningful debate on real paths to climate solution because all policy formation is dominated by fossil fuel controlled bodies, by ‘dominant advocacy coalitions’ in governments and organizations themselves mostly completely captured by fossil fuel and other related business interests.”

All it would take is an enlightened, reputable organization to facilitate. Transparently online. Develop the platform and solicit representative opinions.

Presentations of real paths to climate change mitigation in a process where all the hard questions will need to be answered, where criticism from other worldviews can be incorporated usefully. Where we quickly dispatch paths that promise but cannot deliver the emission reduction mitigation necessary.