Giddens discusses climate change and politics
ABC Lateline 13/07/2009
Reporter: Leigh Sales
Lord Anthony Giddens, author of the Politics of Climate Change, joins Lateline to discuss issues raised by Al Gore's visit to Australia.
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: To discuss the issues raised by Al Gore's visit, we were joined a short time ago by Lord Anthony Giddens, from the London School of Economics. He's the author of The Politics of Climate Change, and is perhaps best-known for championing the centrist political philosophy, the ‘third way', embraced by both Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.
Lord Giddens, we just heard the view that people should have the pants scared off them on climate change to compel them to act. That's the exact opposite of your view, I believe?
ANTHONY GIDDENS, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Yes, I think we have to look for more climate change positives, ... certainly it's important to point out the risks, but we've also got to focus on clean energy and other things which people can relate to in a direct way which will have the same effect of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
LEIGH SALES: You basically argue in your book that the green movement shouldn't be allowed to take the lead on the climate change response. Why is that?
ANTHONY GIDDENS: ... The green movement started off essentially as an anti-political movement in Germany, and today, the key issue for climate change is to normalise it - is to bring it into the centre of everyday, ordinary democratic politics. ...
LEIGH SALES: You write that you're quite hostile to endeavours such as getting people to take individual action to reduce their carbon footprint. Why is that?
ANTHONY GIDDENS: I'm not hostile to people taking action
. We need to persuade citizens to change their lifestyle habits - I'm not hostile to that at all. But we have to combine that with large-scale investment
We're facing a problem of tremendous difficulty, because this is an oil-based, fossil fuel-based civilisation in which we live, and the amount of our dependence on those fuels is gigantic. So we have to have an extended revolution in energy, and that's going to mean big, big investment
. But it does have to go along with lifestyle change
. So, no, I'm not against people making changes in their lives which is going to be part and parcel of the whole package, certainly.
LEIGH SALES: But I think that, the way that I read it, you make the argument that it's unrealistic to assume that everyone is going to live like the most committed environmentalist and be motivated to act on climate change by embracing policies that are policies of deprivation, if you like.
ANTHONY GIDDENS: Well, we've got a long way to go before most citizens take on board the core issues. .... that's going to mean large-scale mobilisation by governments and hopefully by the international community too, and we need strong business leadership
- we need a lot of investment.
LEIGH SALES: I'll ask you about the so-called climate sceptics in a little more detail later. But if I could put one of their arguments to you, that there's a kind of a religious fervour on the believer side of the argument
. We've had Al Gore in Australia today, for example, training his climate-change disciples. Do you see any merit in their point?
ANTHONY GIDDENS: Well, I see merit in scepticism, because, after all, all of this is filtered through the findings of the scientific community. Science is about scepticism. We should always be probing the weak spots. We should be looking for uncertainties in arguments. But I don't think it's - no, not a quasi-religious issue, because you have the whole weight-of-the-world scientific community behind the finding that climate change is caused by human activity, that it is steeply accelerating because of the emissions in the air. We don't want that to become just a rigorous, undocumented orthodoxy, but it is very much backed up by a host of scientific findings.
LEIGH SALES: Do you believe that climate-change sceptics are motivated by the principles of the scientific method, as you just outlined them? Or is it more political?
ANTHONY GIDDENS: I think it's to some extent political, because the very unfortunate factor of the climate-change debate across the world is it tends to be locked into the Left/Right dimension, and people on the political Right tend to be more sceptical of climate change arguments. It's Right-of-centre newspapers and so on that publish the climate change sceptics. The left have seen itself, as it were, as the avant garde of climate change. One of my beliefs that I argue for in my book is that climate change is not a Left/Right issue at all. We have to try and get away from those kinds of divisions. We need mainstream support, which means collaboration between political parties. So I think, as far as possible, we have to act against that. But it is true that climate-change sceptics tend to be towards the political right.
LEIGH SALES: Why do you think the issue has become one of these cultural war type issues?
ANTHONY GIDDENS: Well, I think, you know, a major thing is what in my book I call "Giddens' paradox", that is, we're dealing with something we've never had to cope with before politically, which is abstract risk, largely located in the future, catastrophic in nature, but not visible in our day-to-day lives. And for that reason, it's not very tangible and that's why there are all these discussions and debates around it. There are no enemies either. People say Al Gore says we should mobilise like fighting a war, but in the case of climate change there are no enemies to mobilise against. So, it's very different from any political issue, I think, that we've ever had to confront as collective humanity before. So, it's not surprising that there's a swirl of controversy around it all.
LEIGH SALES: When we look at the overall body of scientific opinion on climate change, what weight do climate sceptics have
ANTHONY GIDDENS: Well in the scientific community, I think very little; probably only about one to two per cent of scientists working in the climate area are climate-change sceptics. Among the public, much larger
. I looked at lots of surveys across the industrial countries. In many of those countries over 40 per cent of the population are climate-change sceptics. That is, if you ask them, "Do scientists agree that climate change is dangerous and is caused by human activity, and that scientists agree about this?," about 40 per cent of the population will say, "No, that isn't the case," whereas in fact it is the case. So you've got a tremendous gap between the consensus of the scientific community and public opinion, which somehow has to be bridged in a relatively short period.
LEIGH SALES: And how do you account for that gap?
ANTHONY GIDDENS: Well, I think part of it is because the climate change sceptics, as I say, being locked into a wider confrontation of political parties, do tend to get quite a lot of attention. They represent, as it were, a kind of Rightist critique of climate-change policy. Plus the fact that it is something quite different from orthodox political issues anyway. So, we're all struggling to sort of cope with the immensity of the issue and you're bound to get a lot of continuing controversy. And I think insofar as I said before, scepticism is based on looking rationally at scientific findings - there is obviously a justification for that. The problem is when it shades over into a sort of illiterate demagoguery of its own.