26 September 2007

Mitigation, Adaptation, or Manipulation?

The official version of the agenda resulting from climate change is that we must have 'adaptation' and 'mitigation'. Mitigation means changing the way we do things so that we don't make the problem worse; adaptation means building the best defences we can to protect ourselves against the negative effects of past behaviour.

For the discourse analyst this is an interesting turn of events. We are being encouraged to think that there are just two options, limiting the political space and the territory over which we make claims. This is the strategy proposed by Supernanny when she offers the child the blue jumper or the red one, neatly avoiding the fact that s/he really wanted to carry on watching TV in pyjamas.

Essentially the debate becomes framed in terms of balancing spending between flood defences and renewable energy, or between changing travel methods and making our homes capable of withstanding higher-strength winds. The framing of the debate in this way rules the big questions out of the debate. Questions like what it is about our economic system that has ended us up in this mess. And what a sustainable economy might look like.

Academics refer to this discourse move as 'ecological modernisation': the suggestion that we can come up with an appropriate response to climate change without fundamentally changing social and economic structures. This is why, instead of moving towards low-impact rural development, the governments approach to eco-building is to push the concept of 'zero-carbon homes' and hand the problem on to the private sector, in spite of considerable evidence that they have neither the expertise nor the flexibility to respond in time.

In the days before The Ecologist was edited by a prospective Tory MP it's tagline was 'Challenging Basic Assumptions', something I can recommend you practice daily. When offered a simple choice in a tight spot always remember Supernanny.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm! Raising the issue of adaptation has its dangers. I recognise this. There will be those who use the mere mention of adaptation as an excuse for not addressing the fundamentals.

    I think however this is not an either or situation. Maximum efforts to mitigate must be maintained. But at the same time we know global warming is under way and there is momentum in the system. So, for instance, sea levels are rising and will continue to do so. This has consequences and we will need to adapt.

    I'm starting to weave the idea of RELOCATING LONDON into my conversations. It kind of gets the attention!

    Early measures will include, preparing land in the Thames Estuary to be used as buffers against the rising sea levels and tidal surges. These may subsequently be surrendered to the sea. A complete ban on any big developments including infrastructure is necessary. These should have life spans of hundreds of years but will be under threat from rising sea levels. So no Olympics site, no CrossRail, no Thames Gateway, and so on.

    Difficult decisions will need to be taken as to how long to defend essential existing infrastructure before abandoning it. Where are the vulnerable electricity sub-stations? How far above sea level are the entrances to the tube system?

    It's going to be wild - hold on tight!

    Douglas Coker