Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Friday, September 20, 2013

Keep calm and jump out!

I am writing this post in a moment of pause of the 2013 Ottawa conference of the Club of Rome. As always, these conferences cover many themes, but there is an underlying one that is pervading the talks of this one: climate change.

We can say that climate change was one of the main factors of the scenarios of the report to the Club of Rome "The Limits to Growth" already from the 1972 version. At that time, it was not recognized as such but it appeared in the models as a parameter labeled "pollution". But, with time, it has become clear what we are facing. Today's presentation by David Wasdell at the meeting framed the problem in dramatic terms.

So, what kind of solutions can be proposed? The talks at the CoR meeting have been oscillating between two poles. One, that we can call the "soft" scenario, consists in trying to find a way out of the problem that won't hurt anyone. It is an attempt of creating a "win-win" situation in which citizens, companies, and organizations will gradually evolve in a bottom-up process into more efficient and emission conscious entities; saving money in the process. That should take the system into a "decoupled" state in which prosperity doesn't depend any more from the amount of energy consumed. In its most extreme form, this idea says that we shouldn't do anything; market forces will take care of all problems. In a more realistic approach, it says that the system should be gently nudged to take the right direction by such things as a carbon tax.

The other scenario, that we may call the "hard" one is based on declaring an emergency. The idea is that we don't have time to slowly steer the system while making sure that we don't hurt anyone's sensitivity (or wallet). Emergency management is not a win-win question. So, the concept is a top-down approach where specific targets are enacted worldwide after they have been agreed upon at the international level. Realistically, it would not possible (and not even advisable) to impose such measures by force, but it is known that society can react to an emergency by doing the right thing; with everybody accepting to make sacrifices for the common good. That has been done in the case of war or natural catastrophes - so it is possible, as long as we recognize that we face a true emergency.

The first scenario has the frog crawling out of the boiling pot and remaining warm and happy all the time. The second has the frog jumping out from the pot all of a sudden; maybe suffering a little for the heat shock, but reaching safety faster. In between these two extremes, there is space for intermediate solutions: keep calm and jump out!


  1. The first approach is easy enough to try but is absolutely certain not to work. The second approach is harder to try but is also not very likely to work, or to work in time. (and BTW has anyone come up with any credible specifics for the emergency response?...or will one follow later "in due course" once the strategic choice has been "fully agreed" and made?)

    Personally I like the intermediate solution since it is a balanced "middle path" on which consensus should be easy enough to find. Unfortunately I see no spaceship outside waiting to take me to Alpha Centurion in a first class cabin (or even a second class or a third class one, or even just in the hold) so I suppose I will just have to sit here and patiently wait to boil. However I may treat myself to some salt and pepper and other seasoning in the water so I will be a more tasty morsel for whoever gets to have me on his dinner plate later.

    1. Incidentally I think I also ought to mention here (legitimately) that I tried to spell out one possible approach to the second approach mentioned in this post (a variant of the emergency response) in two recent "Frog That Jumped Out " blog posts.... which however, for various reasons, I deemed myself to represent "a rather unreal reality". And I also explained why I thought it was "unreal" or unrealistic. (and I invited comments to help make it a) more realistic and b) more likely to be implemented, or to suggest something entirely different) (but to suggest SOMETHING)

      My two posts ended up being rather long and I probably could have tried to tighten them up much better before posting them. On the other hand I would simply like to note here that to date neither part of that two part post has received any comments. (to either suggest improvements, alternatives, criticisms or anything else)

      I hope the Club of Rome now (after this latest meeting) (in a countless series) will be able to (finally) publish a clearly stated workable way forward (on which there is at least some sort of preliminary international consensus ) and that also WILL subsequently solicit and receive more worldwide commentary so that it can be eventually fine-tuned and finalized and then perhaps actually implemented by the major actor groupings who can take action. (governments, companies, civil society, private sectors, public sectors and citizens and whoever actually can mobilize them and orient and harmonize their actions either bottom up or top down)

      If it does not do this, the next meeting of the Club of Rome surely still will be discussing what should be done and trying to articulate a properly articulated plan (or approach, or iterative process, or whatever it deems realistic and actually doable by the actor groups which need to be involved and mobilized to take action) to address the various problems faced by the current cohort of humanity on the planet. (namely limits to growth, climate change, peak resources, pollution, environmental degradation and all the other by now very well known problems already identified by the CoR and many other groups countless times before including also how to improve those variables that prevent or constrain action namely international, national and local governance, politics and political economy, special interests and etc. etc.) None of the problems are going to go away and neither are any of the constraints or obstacles to action. So I think the CoR needs to put on its thinking cap and recommend something comprehensive and practical that may actually even be implemented.

      My own partial and incomplete views based on the thinking of just one single thinking and reading individual (namely myself) (who is NOT a member of the Club or Rome or of any other such groups) are stated below.

      The Club of Rome which has access to (or certainly is able to mobilize) rather greater intellectual (and also financial) resources than I have, surely should be able to come up with something much better and publish it. I look forward to reading it and to commenting it if and when it is ever published and comments are solicited. And hopefully before we collectively breeze through many more so called tipping points as the talking and the thinking and the pondering (and the practical paralysis) continues.

      My own "unrealistic" thinking is here:

      Part I:

      Part II:

      regards, Max Iacono