Climate change and climate policy may be the most important, yet controversial, environmental issues we face; perhaps EcoTypes can help us understand the ideas underlying climate that make it such a difficult topic to successfully address. Below you’ll find an overview suggesting theme relevance, sample related axes, and an opportunity to take sides on this topic.
It’s hard to think of a more prominent, important, and heavily debated environmental issue today than climate change. Most of us don’t know a lot of details about climate change, so it’s hard for us to answer these kinds of questions based on specific evidence. But we do do have a variety of broad ideas that come from what we have and haven’t experienced, and these are the sorts of things covered by EcoTypes. Hopefully, by considering more deeply how EcoTypes axes and themes apply to climate, we’ll be able to better understand the controversy and possible next steps.
Let’s consider how climate relates to the three EcoTypes themes. The first theme is Place, considering the place of humans and nonhumans on this Earth. Like sustainability (but unlike, say, conservation) most discussions about climate change and climate policy are primarily concerned with impacts on humans. Some worry that that future generations of people, people inhabiting low-lying areas, and others may not find the earth to be a friendly—perhaps even habitable—place as a result of climate change. What about nonhumans? Certainly conservation organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund are worried about habitat and species loss, and some scientists claim that climate change is becoming the top threat to biodiversity, surpassing habitat modification, species exploitation, and other longstanding threats. Overall, however, evidence suggests that climate mixes the human and nonhuman poles of Place with a much stronger emphasis on humans, perhaps given serious potential economic impacts, threats of dislocation, and other tangible effects on human well-being.
The second theme, Knowledge, plays an important role in climate given the complexity of the phenomenon and the crucial role played by scientists. Since state of the art climate modeling is central to helping us understand possible futures, it seems that the new (vs. old) Knowledge pole is getting the most emphasis. But there has been important emphasis on wisdom traditions and alternative knowledge claims as well: for instance, the organization Interfaith Power & Light has published dozens of statements by major world religions on how their faith traditions speak to climate change. And climate change has provoked sympathy for spiritual leaders like Thomas Berry, for whom environmental problems arose from modernity and its endless quest for progress. We may want to view the old/new Knowledge mix in climate as one in which both poles play a role, though the new pole predominates.
The Action theme is also highly relevant, of course: on the big pole, entities like the UNFCCC facilitate global negotiations over climate solutions, and scientific research on climate change and climate policy involves global collaborations such as the IPCC. Yet, given the concerns people have about what they can do, there has been a preponderance of resources supporting Small pole actions, such as what individuals and households can do to make a difference. Many people may say that both big and small actions are needed, yet this is both obvious and vague; overall, both do, however, seem significant in climate discussions.
In sum, climate change and policy tend to invoke the human pole of Place, the new pole of Knowledge, and both the big and small poles of Action. How these tendencies play out in climate discussions and debates will be elaborated below.
Different takes on environmental topics may reflect differing takes on more fundamental environmental ideas. Below are a few of the EcoTypes axes related to this topic; these and other axes contribute to the larger theme-based patterns summarized above.
Perhaps no current global issue has generated as much fear of future crisis as has climate change: just Google “climate crisis,” and the roughly half-million results will paint a rather gloomy picture of our future. But many commentators on climate change speak of the future as possibility as well: one example is the recent publication Climate of Hope, “…an optimistic conversation about climate change and real solutions.”
The distinction between alternative and mainstream views of science is clear in the case of climate: whereas those who trust institutions of mainstream science such as the IPCC take its climate warnings seriously, others follow alternative views that dispute these “facts” as a hoax perpetrated by some sort of conspiracy. Alternative science as ancient wisdom is evident in climate conversations, too, but tends to complement vs. oppose mainstream science.
Can individual-scale action make a climate difference? Or should we devote our efforts to changing key cultural, economic, and political institutions contributing to climate change? The answers out there range from do-your-part “10 Ways to Stop Global Warming” lists to tear-down-the-machine manifestos such as Endgame: The Problem of Civilization. Ultimately, climate change may challenge our assumptions about social scale as we consider action.
Technology has long been central to discussions over climate change policy; yet our perennial ambivalence is evident in broad popular support for clean-energy solutions such as solar energy, versus what some view as Frankenstein-like solutions such as geoengineering. These examples suggest that people often mix technophobia and technophilia in their views on technology and climate change.
Take sides on this topic! It’s best if you are randomly assigned to a side, or pick a side you disagree with, as the point here is to try on a different approach than you may have, and to consider how differing takes on EcoTypes axes and themes may result in differing positions on environmental topics.
Following this tab are three positions—by no means comprehensive, but this gets us beyond the back-and-forth of a pro/con two-position debate. The first position is the default one, in some ways supporting what those interested in environmental issues have learned as the best way to approach this topic. Then there are two more positions that challenge this default position and/or each other. In each case you’ll find some details to get you started, and guidance on how each position may relate to EcoTypes axes and themes (do review the general material above, and feel free to explore other connections not noted here). The last tab lists all publications cited in the position summaries.
You could approach these three positions as a traditional debate, with each side attempting to win. Or, you could approach these three positions as starting points for environmental engagement around their creative tensions, hopefully to get to deeper, more meaningful, possibly complementary disagreement.
Have fun! Remember to fully try on your position, whether or not you personally agree with it. It is easy to say “Each has a point,” and indeed each position presented here is worth serious consideration. But as you’ll discover there are important differences, and you have the opportunity and responsibility to make up your own mind in light of these differences.