Academic journal article Knowledge Cultures

Climate Change Mitigation in Fantasy and Reality

Academic journal article Knowledge Cultures

Climate Change Mitigation in Fantasy and Reality

Article excerpt

1. Climate Change and Climate Change Mitigation

One important milestone in the discovery of climate change, or so we are told on page 5 of Spencer R. Weart's (2003) The Discovery of Global Warming, is that of the invention of the greenhouse gas hypothesis, credited to Svante Arrhenius of the year 1894. More atmospheric carbon dioxide, caused perhaps by increases in volcanic activity, would result in an (on average) warmer Earth. If, however, the amount of atmospheric CO2 were to be cut in half, this might result in a new ice age. As Weart depicts it, though, the idea that climate change could be human-caused was to come much later.

Today the theory of anthropogenic climate change has become established fact, one that has climate scientists thinking of a disastrous age of 'climate departure' (Mora et al.) in which ecosystems are unable to adapt to sudden changes in both climate and weather. But what of climate change mitigation? If, presumably, climate change in this era is caused by extra carbon dioxide pushed into the atmosphere by human industry (as of January 2016 this increase amounted to an additional 2.5 parts per million per year ('Earth System Research Laboratory')), then if we wished to avoid ecological disaster, we would find some way of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide pushed into the atmosphere each year. This, then, is the idea behind climate change mitigation.

The puzzle of all of this is that the world society which created climate change must now mitigate it. But what sort of understanding of world society would reveal its potential for climate change mitigation? A historical approach to climate change mitigation, incorporating a critique of society, will reveal the relationship between human world-society and climate change, as well as putting the need for climate change mitigation in historical context.

Here's how such a historical approach might proceed: throughout the vast majority of years of human historical time, climate change wasn't recognized as the sort of immediate problem that we see in it today. Thus it can be observed that the world-society of those times (up to, say, 1983, when the National Academy of Sciences released a report on climate change; see Weart 209) was not of such a form that would register concern about immediate and drastic changes in climate. In late-capitalist, industrial world society, however, climate change and climate change mitigation have indeed become 'going concerns,' especially after the Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro.

Late-capitalist world society doesn't, however, know how to carry out climate change mitigation, not in the sense in which climate change mitigation would actually mean a reversal of the primary trends indicating climate change (increasing atmospheric CO2 to the extent of 2.6 ppm/year, rising and acidifying oceans, the simplification of both oceanic and land-based ecosystems, the ongoing release of methane clathrates from permafrost and from ocean floors, increasing weather disruption, increasing average temperatures and so on). For the purposes of this essay, such imagined reversals, when taken all together, will be called 'physical climate change mitigation. '

But the above definition of climate change mitigation is merely physical climate change mitigation. Another standard use of the term invites us to imagine 'climate change mitigation' as merely 'doing something green' with the implicit notion that late-capitalist industrial world-society, having caused the problem through its day-to-day operations, will add up all the nice green things that were done and magically produce physical climate change mitigation. In its simplest form, one sees this approach in the UNEP webpage on climate change mitigation (UNEP): there, readers are told that climate change mitigation 'can mean using new technologies and renewable energies, making older equipment more energy efficient, or changing management practices or consumer behavior. …

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