This blog was originally posted at Identity Campaigning.
Yesterday, Lord May, the former UK Government chief scientific advisor, highlighted the limitations of appeals to self-interest in the course of tackling climate change.
Bemoaning the lack of international co-operation on climate change, he said that no country was prepared to take the lead and a “punisher” was needed to make sure the rules of co-operation were not broken. God, he said, may provide that ‘punisher’. Religion “makes for rigid, doctrinaire societies, but it makes for co-operation.”
What Lord May seems to be recognising is the need for the debate about climate change to move beyond a focus on self-interest. In a world governed through the pre-eminence of self-interest, it will always be in an individual’s (or a nation’s) interests to leave action to others.
It’s the broader point that interests me. There’s need for a moral imperative: whether or not that is derived from religious conviction, and whether or not it requires the invocation of a ‘punisher’ ex machina.
Personally, I don’t find the threat of divine retribution a particularly compelling basis for establishing a moral sensibility. But, that aside, this seems to point to an important recognition: if we are to tackle climate change, then we need to sponsor wide public debate about collective interest, and the need, at times, to subjugate short-term self-interest to the pursuit of the greater common good.
Our current preoccupation with self-interest (promulgated through today’s dominant political debate, public policy trajectories, business culture, and infatuation with celebrity) cannot deliver public demand for the changes that are needed.