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.