Societies and Climate Change, Challenges for Education, Action, Governance
Recognising the “challenge” of climate change means expressing ambivalence. Indeed, although the notion of challenge may initially have a negative connotation, evoking adversity and hardship, it also conveys the possibility of development in innovation and solidarity.
Highlighting a “climate emergency” also seems complex: an injunction for political action, it also raises the question of society’s appropriation of the evolution of a problem concerning the common good, a hybrid and diffuse object, historically formulated in scientific terms.
Considering climate change in terms of temporalities
The objective of not exceeding a 2°C rise in temperature by 2100 erodes the boundaries between the present and the future: this far-off objective is supposed to determine the political action of societies in the short and medium terms. The question of the operability of a distant objective implies efforts to make abstract notions concrete, here and now.
Because it requires us to project ourselves into the future, the challenge of climate change constitutes an opportunity for a new form of utopia. But as philosophy has demonstrated, utopias can be considered on different scales of time: the scale of humanity or of the world. On the scale of humanity, the present becomes the norm and the objective for the future is to maintain the climate as we have always known it. This situation gives rise to a form of utopia that may be termed retrograde or backwards. But on the scale of the world, the present no longer prevails and the objective of reaching an ideal is replaced by the objective of necessary adaptation.
This question of the long term is found in the Anthropocene theory, according to which we are experiencing a geologic revolution characterised by the irreversible impact that humans have had on the Earth. For the proponents of this theory, the current environmental debate is suffering from an acute history deficit. A political history is needed to avoid an overly teleological vision of the history of technological choices.
The issue of climate change raises the ethical question of our “joint and differentiated” responsibility to current and future generations. Four lines of reasoning are proposed to establish this responsibility: absolute value responsibility (considering greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to the present); carbon intensity responsibility (considering CO2 emissions per unit of energy consumption); responsibility per person (integrating the size of the country); responsibility to the future (consisting of forgetting the past and pushing towards action on the part of those who have the means to do so). Each of these principles is valid, but insufficient when taken separately. Therefore, we must work towards balancing them to establish responsibilities for upcoming decisions.
A historic decision, the ruling against the Netherlands on June 24th, 2015, by the district court of The Hague, sets the stage for another type of climate responsibility: legal responsibility. Although regulations have always fallen within the jurisdiction of governments, it is civil society that is now bringing climate issues into the courts. This first legal decision paves the way for climate justice that will have to be explored in terms of administrative, civil and criminal liability. It also raises questions regarding relations between States and their justice systems.
=> Framing the issues in the long term, to avoid being constrained by the normative processes associated with the various temporalities at work.
Shedding light on unconscious representations
Social psychology has shown that the same practices and the same words can indicate different representations and attitudes from one individual to the next. This idea is significant for international negotiations on climate change. Indeed, it matters whether action is considered from moral, economic or political perspectives. The examples of China, Algeria, Brazil, Germany and France show significant differences of perception. More comparative studies between countries need to be conducted in order to shed light on these representations and improve understanding.
In education, it is also crucial to base lessons on students’ representations of climate change, in order to help them deconstruct their preconceived ideas and decipher the rhetoric. Several approaches now seem to be appreciated, the first of which is interdisciplinary methods and role play (raising awareness of negotiation).
Acontroversial subject, the climate debate also plays out in the arena of the media. Journalists, who have their own culture and tend to frame the news from a certain perspective, call attention to certain themes, events and controversies. They also introduce biases (indifference, doubt and mobilisation) that may go as far as activism, which must be identified.
=> Understanding the differences and dialoguing across cultures.
Transitioning from science to action
Climate change is now a certainty. It is thus urgent to consider the issue of climate change from the perspective of adaptation. Such a paradigm shift would lead not only to a switch from the global scale to the local scale, but also from climate science to a more multidisciplinary approach, bringing together scientists, experts, actors from the socio-economic world and citizens.
Models make the effects of climate change more concrete and visual. At present, the local aspect of adaptation is in need of less uncertain projections on the scale of regions and cities. Research must be carried out on models, so that they can become genuine tools to support the local-policy decision-making process.
Although climate negotiations are international, adaptation measures must be local. However, because it involves an irrational aspect of our relationship with the world around us, our ambivalent perspective of climate catastrophe may sometimes overwhelm us and prevent us from taking action. To overcome this paralysis caused by the fear of risk, we must put in place concrete frameworks for reflection, on a scale where action is feasible, and we must reconsider our representations on this scale, in order to imagine new utopias.
Dividing CO2 emissions by four by 2050, reducing fossil fuel use by 30% by 2030 and by 50% by 2050: Europe’s challenge in terms of energy transition is very ambitious. These stringent objectives also offer an opportunity for scientific and technological, but also organisational, political and social innovation. The examples of farming and water management prove both the importance of planning ahead and the potential of local action, which is within everyone’s reach. Many actors are involved at both global and local level: NGOs, companies, local areas, and more.
=> Moving past the global assessment and towards action at local level, to lower greenhouse gas emissions and adjust our ways of life.