Things I’m Thinking About Today:

  • Theda Skocpol’s “Naming the Problem: What Will it Take to Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight Against Global Warming?”
  • Microwind power in coastal areas – in particular, offshore …

I’ve had Skocpol’s article on my bedside table for some time now and today was the day to make time to read it. Although it’s somewhat peripheral to my immediate focus right now – The Dissertation – it does fall into my “Sunday reading” category (i.e. relevant and interesting perspectives on cool stuff with renewable energies and technologies and adaptation opportunities in various parts of the world … like the potential for turning the Soder Torn in Stockholm into a “Strawscraper” that I wrote about a few weeks ago …).

Skocpol’s analysis is comprehensive – but I was particularly interested in the section titled “The Politics Next Time,” so that’s the focus of my perspective here. More than anything, her perspective brought to mind some really specific policy analysis questions regarding public adoption of widespread, consistent climate change adaptation measures. Some of the policy analysis questions that came to mind were:

  • What types of broad, popular (and consistent and strong) mobilization can policy analysts offer to the variety of environmental/renewable energy/ climate change advocacy groups in the US?
  • What does change in policy offer average/ordinary citizens in local and state constituencies?

Skocpol articulates two imperatives for what “the politics next time” ought to accomplish:

  • broad, popular, consistent, and strong public mobilization
  • balancing federal mandates/ laws with serious attention to local organization representing public/non-scientists’ opinions

Regarding the first point, broad, popular, and strong public mobilization: I couldn’t help but think of the absolute plethora of public organizations that represent extremely similar perspectives … meaning that support for similar causes is completely disparate and not as cohesive or strong as it may be if fewer organizations collaborated to refine the interests, values, and missions of the constituents that they represent … something to think about.

Regarding the second point, as Skocpol explains, in the U.S., “lawmaking power is divided between the executive branch and a sovereign Congress run by disparate committees … and legislators often respond to local and interest group pressures more readily than to their own party’s leaders …” which I see as THE strategy for creating and implementing climate change adaptations … LOCAL values that determine the traction of climate change adaptation strategies. If a particular “public” or localized group (knowledge collective) can agree on the iteration of climate change adaptation that works best for their particular region – and one that meshes with their particular ideology – then adaptation strategies seem much more realistic and manageable, albeit in various iterations and NOT universally homogeneous. In this way, a top-down plan that doesn’t allow for “transparent legislation [or] deliver concrete benefits to millions of regular American citizens” (Skocpol p. 130) neglects to provide challenge appraisals that incite the type of deep creativity that is necessary in order for localized groups to develop adaptation strategies that work best for the nuanced conditions and challenges of particular regions and value preferences.

My thoughts about microwind power are motivated by James Stafford’s “Real Pragmatism for Real Climate Change: Interview with Dr. John Abraham,” but also because of my recent delegation to the Netherlands, where I saw a tremendous number of wind turbines first-hand … and of course, began to think about whether or not wind energy is a viable technology for Florida … or better yet, particular parts of the Florida coast. More on that in a moment.

I initially found Stafford’s article because of dissertation research … and I was immediately interested because of Abraham’s “pragmatic” position. In the article, though, I was confused about whether his position is in fact pragmatic … or whether it was more of an “economically pragmatic” ideology (if ‘economically pragmatic’ is even a category) because of this comment:

“One outcome of being pragmatic is that I search for efficient and low-cost solutions to our problems. If someone were to show me that adaptation would be cheaper than mitigation, I would support adaptation. If someone were to show me that the “solutions” to climate change are more expensive than just ignoring it, I would opt for ignoring it …”

Abraham continues to argue that he does, in fact, support adaptation, however his extreme pragmatism – economic pragmatism – is focused exclusively on economic cost/benefit; it is not an approach that values “the practical” over idealism, more broadly, or experience over reasoning … and again, although this comment is certainly not representative of his entire interview/response, it is still troubling. It’s troubling to me because it perpetuates what Stafford refers to as the “camp” element of climate change communications. Climate change adaptations aren’t going to be negotiated on one camp’s agenda – we all know this – but our words, our responses, and our arguments don’t always reflect the fact that we know this. When our responses spout facts and accusations about the human impact (i.e. “the human impact was likely about 8-10 inches of the storm surge … Sandy took an unusual turn westward because of pressure zones caused by the loss of Arctic ice, so were it not for humans, Sandy may never have hit the US at all!”) they further polarize the camps and work against what Skocpol suggests is the way out of climate change contentions: collaboration of inside-outside links that coalesce around different strategies that ultimately push broadly in the same direction. The important question, though, is the subsequent question: how? How can policy analysis and political scientists like Skocpol provide strategies and tools for enabling this sort of collaboration? That’s a question I intend to take up in my dissertation .. however, I think a lot of it has to do with parsing the “adaptation” agenda into localized, meta-adaptation plans that relate with meta-publics’ priorities and interests. For instance, if Tampa, Florida residents were largely resistant to offshore microwind power, for instance, what other creative and equally effective alternatives are they willing to consider? Maybe residents of St. Petersburg Beach, nearby the Tampa area, are keen to offshore wind farms? Maybe no one is –  but the point is that the values of meta-publics (I intend to think of an easier + better way to articulate this …) ought to determine the types of adaptations they adopt. We don’t know what these may look like yet, but we haven’t taken this approach yet, so it may be worth some serious consideration and experimentation. In the end, I’m suggesting that we become flexible enough to take into serious consideration the variety of creative adaptation solutions that may be appealing to diverse publics and start to determine what those solutions look like by fist eliminating undesirable possibilities, in order to determine the values and proclivities of particular groups. Then, we can respond by isolating and communicating solutions that more accurately match the values and ideologies of the constituents who will be adopting them … so that ultimately, we can strategically provide attractive solutions that work collectively toward the larger/national/international goal of addressing climate change in a genuinely meaningful and substantial – sustainable- way.



About klangbehn

Doctoral Candidate: Rhetoric of Science University of South Florida 4202 E. Fowler Avenue Tampa, FL 33620-5550 View all posts by klangbehn

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