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The Third Way on Climate Change

Anthony Giddens spoke at the conference called “The politics of climate change : from economic crisis to business revolution” on Friday 5th June 2009.

For someone who is normally so high-falutin’ in his academic contortions, he was remarkably pragmatic.

“I think we need a revolution in our thinking about Climate Change conferences”, he made his opening gambit. And I bet everyone was thinking, “what ? Is he suggesting holding more jamborees and junkets like today’s one ? What for, precisely ?”

“We must all wish Copenhagen success”. Ah, he meant the United Nations Climate Change conferences. “It’s very important on a world level that it’s seen to be a success. The problem [with the treaty that comes out of Copenhagen] will be the implementation. There are no sanctions to enforce [the measures in the treaty].”

He sounded a note of concern, “Only a handful of countries are going to meet their Kyoto commitments [and these were very small]. Let’s put the spotlight back on the industrialised countries. Let’s ask “Where’s the beef ?” “How far are you going to deliver on your leadership position ?” ”

He spoke of aims and targets. “We need not just lofty goals and ambitions. The politics of Climate Change has to deal with “How far can I stretch ?”. The mainstream public opinion is miles away from accepting Climate Change as a major problem to be confronted now.”

Anthony Giddens propounded what he calls his “Giddens Paradox” : “Climate Change is a completely different problem from everything else we’ve had to deal with. By the time it does intrude into day-to-day lives it will be too late to intervene.” I seem to recall other people putting forward the same idea. George Monbiot, for example. Thus Anthony Giddens proves himself quite capable of purloining, sorry, appropriating, good ideas.

He warned against alarmism as a tactic, “We’re not going to get far by scaring people. There are loads of scares. [Climate Change becomes] just another catastrophe scenario. We need a switch. We have to develop a positive story. We need to focus not just on costs, but on benefits. We need some vision of what kind of society [we want].”

Anthony Giddens went on to compare British politics with that of the United States. “[Team] Obama. A visionary approach, lack[ing] in Europe, [where the approach is] strictly regulatory, [and there is] nothing to inspire people. The Emissions Trading Scheme – we find it hard to grapple with.”

He then went on to be inclusive about profit-making organisations : taking his concept of the public-private Third Way to the overarching threat of Climate Change : “we need Business to be on board for this story. And not just to offer [them] subsidies. [We need to keep saying that] only those companies which are progressive will succeed. [Look, by comparison, at the] American car manufacturers. It’s up to entrepreneurs to spot the opportunities. [Their] survival depends [on it].”

I think he didn’t go into this with sufficient depth. He could have spelled it out just a little more clearly, along the lines of “BP and Shell, if they don’t diversify out of Carbon, their days are numbered”, but he didn’t take that risk.

He moved onto the political culture, “we have to [correlate] Climate Change policy [across the political parties]. Climate Change is often seen as a Left-Right issue. [But, for example] in Italy, Climate Change is not a Left-Right issue. It affects everybody. We have to get some kind of consensus. [We have to drop the idea that] the [political] Left has a special obligation for [or ownership of] Climate Change. No more talk of “Green being the new Red” “.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity intellectually”, he claimed, “we cannot have a Low Carbon society without new forms of consciousness. We are living in an unsustainable civilisation.”

He referred to Francis Fukuyama, “we’re at the “End of History”. We must see another kind of society. We must create such a thing. It’s an inspirational task, not one just driven by negatives.”

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