Monday, February 25, 2008

Climate and the Social Contract

In his terrific article (Big Foot) in the Feb 25th edition of the New Yorker, Michael Specter quotes John Elkington of SustainAbility to the effect that climate change is going to force a change in what we think of as “democratic politics today”. It is an incredibly profound comment. Climate change is not just a scientific challenge but a political challenge. It poses a challenge to the responsiveness of our political institutions. Climate change is going to force a renegotiation of the social contract.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Climate and GATT

Current proposed climate legislation (Warner-Lieberman) includes a section that would allow the United States to impose import duties on countries that don't have carbon regulations. This turns out to be important for political reasons. Any US legislator supporting constraints on carbon et al will want to avoid condemnation as a sucker. Some sort of effort to penalize imports produced without comparable constraints needs to be in the bill for that reason. (Remember 25% of China's carbon output is export based.) And it needs to be (at least) prima facie plausible when it comes to passing muster qua international regulations. But that turns out to be MUCH harder than one might think because of WTO-GATT rules.Here is a fascinatng first stab at the problem:

Monday, February 11, 2008

Like Politics, All Climate Change is Local

Lorenzoni and Pidgeon in Climatic Change Vol 77 (July 2006), 73-96 provide a good reminder of the tried and true lesson that situating policy in the local terms of an audience's life has a much greater chance of being effective. The failure to do this is what results in the curious contrast - people rate concern for global warming high, yet rank it much lower than other concerns. They argue the reason is that those other concerns have greater salience in people's daily lives. Hence the need to render global warming on the same terms.

Monday, February 4, 2008

From Taxed to Socially Unacceptable

The NY Times reports (2/2/08) that when Ireland imposed a 33 cent per bag tax on plastic bags, usage dropped by 94%. But more interestingly, within a year "carrying them became socially unacceptable". This is a case of winning over a change in social behavior by engaging "moral emotions". We lack a very good understanding of how this comes about. If everyone else is doing it, we tend to do it as well even if we think it is bad to do. Once we make the leap to the other side, we are quick to judge others. But just how do the numbers come in to the picture? Two ways - we are less likely to make the leap if others are not doing so as well. But I also think we are less shy about judging others if most are also doing what we do. Here what is so interesting is that taxes (and hence self-interest) get the ball rolling but in the process manage to engage these much more complex psychological mechanisms.