The Climate Onion

I have been thinking about the standard model of institutional climate action. I know I am simplifying things drastically, but one of the key organizing principles of the standard model is as a nested decision making problem with multiple levels running from individuals to communities and businesses to states, nations and the global political system as a whole. 

In this systems view, each level has its own actors - often called stakeholders - and negotiations peculiar to that level with differential incentives informing how individual stakeholders will either use their stake as a knife or as a plank. A classic in this genre is Graham Allison’s study of the Cuban Missile Crisis, “The Essence of Decision.”

Let’s call it the onion model of change

I think the onion model underlies a lot of neoliberal thinking about climate change, but it’s reach extends well beyond the World Bank or the Gates Foundation or other neoliberal strongholds. For example, if you like the onion model, you are likely to find carbon pricing and COP21 to be the natural venues for climate action. I don’t subscribe to this managerial-economistic systems view of change in the slightest, but I want to give it the best possible formulation before I criticize it**. 

With that in mind, I am going to read a few onion blockbusters - papers and books that I consider masterpieces of the onion view of the world and try to represent their argument as faithfully as possible. And then refute their argument, of course :) First on the list: George Marshall’s “Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change.” 

**It’s a standard method in Indian philosophy called Purvapaksha - you want to portray your opponent in the strongest possible terms before taking them down.




Aryt Alasti's picture

Folks may find of interest

Folks may find of interest the newly-implemented "carbon charge" at Yale:

The incentivizing scheme is different than would be the case for carbon pricing which is in effect for a whole economy, in that it's facility administrators who will have their budgets affected, while building occupants who won't be paying or benefiting directly will have to be motivated by other means. Maybe staffers can throw a big party at the end of the fiscal year with the proceeds from the fee pool.

In some types of facilities - such as labs and data processing centers - emissions reductions beyond those of the norm will be much more difficult to achieve, which seems not fair. I was advised by the former manager of Harvard's Center for Government and International Studies that the small data center there used more electricity than the entirety of the two main CGIS buildings. 

Managers will not be able to avail themselves of carbon-credit purchases, which are a big factor in the total of reductions about which Harvard congratulates itself. Those are a primary component of the cap-and-trade schemes which are much more prevalent out in the real world than are carbon taxes.


Aryt Alasti's picture

Yale obviously is not yet

Yale obviously is not yet taking "fugitive emissions" into account.

Apparently their sustainability program is aiming for a "Scope 3" emissions-reduction commitment by 2020, however, which should factor in gas leakages if done properly. What that might mean for their power supply - or their calculations of "carbon charges" - remains to be seen.