Web 2.0 and climate change: an interview with Lucie Crise

On April 1, 2010, Lucie Crise, a journalist for the French magazine Rue 89, wrote to me with the following questions about Coalition of the Willing. Answers were provided in writing. Francophones can read the published interview at Rue89.


– What do you see as the problem with the current politics of global warming?

Global warming not only presents us with a major ecological crisis but a global political crisis as well. It is clear from the failure of the Copenhagen talks that the international system of states is inadequate to enable a response to the challenge of global warming. Many people blame political leaders for the failure of the talks. But the problem is not the leaders (many of whom seem to be genuinely concerned to respond to global warming). The problem is the system of competing states, the inter-national system, which was born with the treaty of Westphalia in 1648, and which has come the define “the political” generally. The global capitalist system that we know today has grown up through competition and negotiation between states, facilitated by international law. But because the international system in premised on competition, it makes it difficult for coalitions of states to band together to address common problems. And that’s how things stand today.

Global warming calls for a new political ecology. This problem is like nothing the human race has faced before: it is global in scope and potentially cataclysmic in its effects. And the political system of competing states that we have at the moment prevents us from even responding to the problem. Our only hope is to transform the political. Fortunately, this is not as difficult as it sounds: the infrastructure that will enable this transformation is already in place and the process is underway. “Coalition of the Willing” is not so much a new idea for tackling global warming as it is an attempt to focus attention on how new internet technologies are already transforming the way that people all over the world understand themselves as empowered political agents. I think that in the next few years we will see global climate action networks start to play an increasingly powerful role in world affairs, as people come to appreciate the impotence of the international state system for tackling global warming. The way ahead lies in global grassroots action, coordinated through online platforms for participation. If we continue with politics as usual, there is no future. [Read more…]

The Copenhagen explosion

James Hansen is hoping that the Copenhagen talks fail. In an interview with the Guardian this week, Hansen – the scientist responsible for first bringing the threat of global warming to public attention – argued that the set of proposals currently ventured by world governments for dealing with climate change are so deeply flawed it would be better to go back to the drawing board than implement them. Hansen describes market-based cap-and trade systems as a “disaster track” that we should avoid setting out on. In Hansen’s view, “[t]he whole approach is so fundamentally wrong that it is better to reassess the situation.”

Hansen is right that “[w]e don’t have a leader who is able to grasp [the scale of the problem] and say what is really needed. Instead we are trying to continue business as usual.” Yet, given the clear and present danger of runaway climate change, we cannot afford to do nothing. Going back to the drawing board would be a disaster were it to result in another decade of inaction. Instead of downing tools and waiting for political culture to catch-up, we should push ahead in the awareness that carbon trading can be only part of the arsenal that we bring to bear in this struggle.

The Copenhagen conference should seek to facilitate the broadest possible set of approaches to combating climate change. As Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner (no relation) argued in 2007 in this article in Nature, we need a portfolio of approaches based on five key elements: targeting the big emitters, letting emissions markets evolve from the bottom up, putting public investment in energy research on a wartime footing, increasing spending on adaptation, and allowing countries to choose policies that suit their circumstances.

The Copenhagen agreement should also include plans to set up a global fund for seeding new approaches to climate change yet to be defined. The best thing that we could hope for out of this conference is the frank admission by all parties that we do not yet have the tools we need to confront this crisis. The strategies and technologies that we need to win the war on global warming have yet to be invented, or are only just being invented. It is time to get creative. Instead of talking up collapse at Copenhagen, we should pray the talks explode in all directions.