Positive strategies for climate action

As my regular readers will know, I am a follower of RealClimate. A recent guest post there, from some Dutch climate scientists, described a new online experiment in fostering dialogue on climate change. It’s fair to say it copped some flack from the experts – deservedly, in my less-expert opinion – but the comments on it included some very positive suggestions for how we should really be trying to move the debate forward. Here are some I particularly liked; visit my source if you want more.


“Real hope, if it is to arise at all, will do so from a bare assessment of the scale of the challenge we now face.”
Anderson & Bows, ‘Beyond dangerous climate change’
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Jan 2011

… a final message of hope ..
“at every level the greatest obstacle to transforming the world is that we lack the clarity and imagination to conceive that it could be different.”
Roberto Unger




XX wrote: “To dodge the major impending climate catastrophe that we project today, harsh restrictions on energy use by all global citizens will be required”

YY responded: That is just plain false. Photovoltaic panels installed on all the flat commercial rooftops in the USA would generate more electricity than all the nuclear power plants in the country. Concentrating solar thermal power plants on just five percent of the USA’s deserts would generate more electricity than the entire country uses. The same is true of the wind energy resources of just four midwestern states.

And those examples represent just a small fraction of the USA’s vast solar and wind energy resources. According to a study by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, “At least three-fifths of the fifty states could meet all their internal electricity needs from renewable energy generated inside their borders.” The fact is that we have abundant, endless sources of energy, and we have the mature and powerful technologies needed to harvest those sources, and those technologies are getting more powerful and less expensive every day.

Moreover, because we waste so much energy, we have an enormous opportunity to get more utility out of the energy we consume simply by implementing the most obvious and lowest-cost efficiency measures.

I don’t know why you insist on pretending otherwise. Frankly, your comments often read like coal industry propaganda of the sort designed to discourage people from supporting action to reduce emissions by scaring them with “if we stop burning coal we’ll all have to shiver in the dark and live in caves” alarmism.


Donella Meadows, who held a PhD in Biophysics from Harvard mentions Thomas Kuhn’s  “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” in her paper titled ‘Leverage Points; Places to Intervene in a System’. I have a hunch she understood science, complex systems, and the social interactions of Great Apes. Here’s the reference:

“You could say paradigms are harder to change than anything else about a system, and therefore this item should be lowest on the list, not second. But there’s nothing physical or expensive or even slow in the process of paradigm change. In a single individual, it can happen in a millisecond. All it takes is a click in the mind, a falling of scales from the eyes, a new way of seeing. Whole societies are another matter—they resist challenges to their paradigms harder than they resist anything else.

So how do you change paradigms? Thomas Kuhn, who wrote the seminal book about the great paradigm shifts of science, has a lot to say about that: 

  • You keep pointing at the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm. 
  • You keep speaking and acting, loudly and with assurance, from the new one. 
  • You insert people with the new paradigm in places of public visibility and power.
  • You don’t waste time with reactionaries; rather, you work with active change agents and with the vast middle ground of people who are open-minded.”

(That last point, incidentally, corresponds exactly with the strategy advocated by Anna Rose at the Townsville launch of her book, Madlands.)

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