Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Geoengineering and the Liberal-Conservative Divide

It has often been noted that the debate over geoengineering can make for strange political bedfellows, with free-market conservatives and (some) liberal environmentalists joined together in support of research and possible deployment. A new paper from Yale Law School's Cultural Cognition Project suggests one mechanism by which geoengineering manages to bridge this divide. Its authors argue that strong social attachments to different cultural groupings can account for the occasional failure to agree on the meaning of otherwise uncontroversial facts. In the climate context, for example, the evidence produced by climate science would seem to speak for itself, yet it tends to trigger opposite reactions from "climate change deniers" as compared to those who accept that climate change is a problem that must be addressed. The reason is that culture can trump science when it comes to perceiving risk--conservative belief in the preeminence of markets encourages disregard for evidence of the need for robust government regulation, while liberal belief that the state exists for the good of the community dovetails nicely with the same empirical evidence.

However, the results of surveys conducted in the US and UK indicate that framing climate issues in terms of geoengineering can help overcome this barrier:

Geoengineering is consonant with a narrative that depicts human technological ingenuity as the principal means by which our species has succeeded in overcoming environmental constraints on its flourishing. Geoengineering permits climate change to be assimilated into this story and thus turns climate change from an indictment of hierarchical individualists' [i.e., conservatives] values into an occasion in which the forms of human excellence that such citizens prize can again be deployed for the advance of human welfare (p. 19).

In other words, because geoengineering accords well with conservative views on the importance of industry, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship, it can invoke agreement on the facts and support for action in ways that other modes of presenting climate change cannot. While these findings are preliminary and require additional investigation, they offer initial support to an intriguing explanation of why geoengineering has attracted backers from across the conventional political spectrum.

No comments:

Post a Comment