August 2, 20127 Comments

A response to Tony Juniper

There are two questions I would like to put to the proponents of Values Modes or
Cultural Dynamics (CD).

Firstly, is systemic change necessary? In other words: in order to minimise the speed and impact of climate change, do we need to alter any of the fundamental workings of the institutions and machinery of our society so that they, collectively, produce markedly different environmental outcomes? If your answer is no, that things are basically fine and some of the outputs just need tweaking, then we can stop right here as we’ve found the point of real and absolute difference with the Common Cause approach that supersedes everything below. I’d suggest people use this difference to judge which of the two more suits them.

If, however, we do think systemic change is necessary, then that requires us to examine certain facts. Firstly, that the global political economy is built in large part around corporate consumerist values of wealth, status and power. As opposed to, say, beauty, equality or caring for loved ones. Countries must acquire ever more material wealth (or GDP growth); individuals are encouraged hundreds or thousands of times every day to dress in a certain way to be attractive, watch TV to be entertained, look younger, drive better cars, go on foreign holidays, and so on. We must look at the fact that to drive these behaviours, consumers – as we've become known – must actually want them; that demand is required. To create demand, peoples' desire for (that is, the degree to which they value) their own wealth, power and status are commonly appealed to. We must circle back round to the fact that to satisfy the demand that they have spent large budgets and endless amounts of human creativity to stimulate, the vast majority of economic actors – what can credibly be called the bulk of the system – use methods of production and distribution that are directly and significantly implicated in changing the climate. Which brings us irrevocably back round to the intense focus we place on the values that drive this type of economic activity. And finally, we must accept that the intensity and self-perpetuating nature of that focus, must, at some level, be addressed if we are interested in anything but treating symptoms. Read more

March 15, 2012No Comments

Applying Common Cause To EU Climate Jargon

This is a post from Eivind Hoff, who has been bringing together Common Cause conversations in Brussels.

What values do typical texts on EU climate change-motivated policy activate and how can we change them? That was the focus of the second Common Cause Brussels meeting on 7 March.

Most of us working with EU affairs in Brussels draft and edit texts trying to convince policy-makers to do this or that. At our meeting, we took one such draft text I had received that called for ambitious EU policies for decarbonising the power sector. What had struck me was how such texts – even with the most climate-friendly intentions - are permeated by appeals to “competitiveness”, “economic growth” and “energy security”. Read more

December 14, 20111 Comment

Talks on carbon emissions not enough: governments must lead a shift in values, says new report

The transition to a sustainable economy will require governments to understand how policy and rhetoric impact public concern about environment and development issues, according to a report from think tank ResPublica published today.

The 56-page report is being launched to coincide with soul-searching in the aftermath of the Durban Climate Change Conference. It addresses the crucial question: how can governments work to create greater political space for proportional responses to environmental problems?

Supported by WWF-UK and Oxfam, the report argues that past and present political objectives have not succeeded in deepening public concern about climate change and poverty. Without such concern, technical policy interventions will never enjoy the public support and momentum that they need.

The report, Different Politics, Same Planet: Values for sustainable development beyond left and right, written by David Boyle, Tom Crompton, Martin Kirk and Guy Shrubsole, is highly critical of current approaches to environmental policy, saying that these often crowded out ordinary people.

It calls for a radically different approach to policy making in the future, one that taps into the cultural values of people and their communities in determining responses to today’s profound social, humanitarian and environmental challenges.

Writing in the Foreword, Phillip Blond argues: “The left has vacated the space that previously valued the inherent beauty and intrinsic value of the natural order, prioritising instead extrinsic values such as material wealth or a utilitarian calculus of leisure and utility.

“The right similarly appealed to extrinsic values through its adoption of market-driven strategies. The natural became a commodity that was to be addressed in a purely instrumentalist manner, with some advocating its protection not in terms of inherent worth or transcendent value, but on purely economic grounds.”

The report dismisses criticisms that such values lack support and are the pursuit of a small minority.  Rather, it points to evidence from psychology that these values are there in all of us – if politicians only found the courage to appeal to them.

Martin Kirk, Head of UK Campaigns at Oxfam, says: “The environment and development movements are energised by a concern for others, which psychologists have shown to be virtually universal. And yet, too often, governments have run scared of speaking to these values, preferring to ‘sell’ concern for the environment and poverty on the grounds of narrow self-interest. This is profoundly counterproductive.”

David Norman, Director of Campaigns at WWF-UK, says: “Public support for government action on the environment is built upon much the same values that underpin public concern for the NHS or universal education. We must begin to situate people’s natural concern for the environment on a bigger political canvas.”

The report seeks to shift the centre of gravity of political debate. It calls for a shift in the way that politicians frame international development and environment policy, advocating that they appeal to – and help strengthen – people’s inherent sense of what is right for future generations and the global poor.

May 22, 20101 Comment

The Economics of Biodiversity – and why it matters

Today is the International Day for Biological Diversity, so attempts are being made to drum up public concern about biodiversity loss in time-honoured fashion – by asking: “how much is it worth?”

Well, the ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’ (TEEB) report for Business will be published in July, and – according to today’s Guardian – it is expected to conclude that biodiversity is worth an awful lot. Some of the approaches to putting a price on it seem a bit mad - like asking people how much they will pay to fly to see a bit of rainforest, as a means of calculating its value (if people ever care too much about biodiversity to want to fly anywhere, does that mean it becomes worthless?).

But, niggles notwithstanding, the TEEB Report for Business is being billed as doing for biodiversity what Stern did for the climate. The Stern Review, of course, pointed out that it is much better for economic growth, in the long run, to reduce emissions now rather than pay to adapt to climate change later on. Unfortunately, this wasn’t an argument that galvanised the world into forging a global agreement at Copenhagen, and, before the launch of “Stern for Nature”, it’s perhaps as well to ask why.

I’m going to offer two partial answers to this question, one economic, one psychological.

The economic problem with the Stern Review was this: having conceded that the case for climate change is most compelling when based upon cost-benefit analysis (CBA), this argument was left open to attack on the basis of the technicalities of how that analysis is to be conducted – in particular, what discounting rate to use.

So, for example the economist Richard Tol, happily accepting Stern’s rationale that decisions about whether or not to abate greenhouse gas emissions should be based on CBA, did his own number crunching and was led to conclude that it is uneconomic to try to contain atmospheric CO2 to less than 850ppm.

The problem is, that once you have conceded that the primary rationale for abating climate change is economic it is all too easy to become embroiled in arguments about what ‘economic’ really is.

Could we be heading the same way with biodiversity?

The signs aren’t good: whatever the aggregate costs of biodiversity loss, most companies don’t seem that worried. Also today, Price Waterhouse Coopers published some of the analysis they have done for the TEEB study. They find that “only two of the world’s largest 100 companies have identified biodiversity and ecosystem loss as a strategic issue” – this in the light of extinction rates estimated at up to 10,000 times background levels.

As one PWC partner says:

“Environmental destruction is not in most cases as a result of headline-grabbing man made disasters, but the steady erosion of biodiversity as a cost of economic development. But these costs to the productive capacity of the economy are not valued and not felt by any one company, so it’s easy to see why at this stage, the threat is less visible to business leaders."

Well, if it’s not something that individual companies are going to do much about in their own self-interest, maybe the economic arguments will nonetheless lead to ambitious and proportional intergovernmental action on biodiversity loss?

This is where the psychology comes in – and again, the parallel with climate change shouldn’t fill us with optimism. The problem is this: there is surely an economic case to be made for collective action on climate change in pursuit of economic benefits. But this requires individual nation states to subjugate their own short term economic interests (compromising competitiveness now) in order to enter an international agreement (leading, as Stern argues, to more jam tomorrow for everyone).

Many people have difficulty with this. Clemons and Schimmelbusch have characterised this difficulty, in an American context, as follows:

“If we [the US] clean up our environmental act and the Chinese don’t we all die anyway and their economy will outperform ours while we live. If we don’t clean up our act, we still all die, but at least we have a stronger economy until then”

Unfortunately, viewed psychologically, this attitude is all-too-predictable. Concern about financial interest and concern about common-interest are almost perfectly opposed. There are many pieces of work that point to this: Prime people’s awareness of money, and they become more selfish, less co-operative, less trusting, and less concerned about the environment. Simulations of managing forests find that people who are more concerned about money cut down more trees, for a quicker simulated financial return (although they make less money in the long-run). And these effects seem to be detectable at a national level: Tim Kasser has found that societies where more people are concerned about wealth tend to have higher footprints (even when controlling for per capita GDP).

Put another way, the Stern Review demanded that governments accepted both the importance of prioritising the common-good and the pre-eminence of economic cost-benefit analysis (as a mechanism for establishing where the common interest lies). And yet, it is psychologically difficult to hold these two things as important at the same time. TEEB, it seems, is heading in the same direction.

The alternative? Don’t ask how much it’s worth. Ask why it matters.

This blog was originally posted on Identity Campaigning.

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

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