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.

Different Politics, Same Planet

Different Politics, Same Planet

ResPublica | December 13, 2011

This report argues that governments, left and right, must lead a shift in values if we are to transition to a sustainable economy, adopting an approach to policy making that taps into the cultural values of people and their communities.

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

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  • Chris Church - December 15, 2011 reply

    Interesting but really: “The left has vacated the space that previously valued the inherent beauty and intrinsic value of the natural order…”  Did I miss something? is there really some huge all-encompassing ‘left’? – I always imagined that only existed in the minds of the neo-liberal right…

    The idea that environmental policy crowds out ordinary people: some of us have been pointing out the environmental movement (again, what’s that?) has failed to engage the wider public since the 1980s (yes, old and boring!). The idea that ‘environmental policy’ is crowding out may be the case – though that also crowds out most of the environmental movement, since the policy wonks (who understand words like extrinsic, transcendental, and ‘utilitarian calculus’) have never been great at building wider engagement.

    There’s a talk to be walked here on how this connects.  There’s also a real question about how current in-power policy makers with a focus on personal freedom, neo-liberal economics and a fast-shrinking state are going to give this house room.  The future is indeed collective if we are serious about80% and more emission cuts…

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