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July 13, 2007

global warming and citizen participation

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a leading environmentalist. On the basis of that conversation, I'm wondering whether many of his colleagues might be willing to endorse a statement that said something like this:

We believe that global warming is a profound challenge. Unless we reduce carbon emissions by two percent per year starting very soon, civilization is in danger. We trust scientists on this question, regardless of what democratically elected officials may say.

Yet we also believe that civic engagement and participation are crucial. Civic participation is not a luxury, something that you can worry about when life is going well and you face no fundamental threats. On the contrary, it is when threats are profound that we especially need the ideas and energies of all our citizens and institutions.

Despite our conviction that global warming is a serious problem caused by human action, we recognize that many aspects of the issue are unresolved and need public deliberation. In particular, the tools that should be used to mitigate the problem (such as cap-and-trade regulations) are by no means clear. A truly open, public discussion is needed.

Furthermore, we doubt that the government could solve this problem through command-and-control regulations, although regulation may play an important role. Other sectors, beyond the government, also need to change and innovate. Just as one example, colleges and universities can cut their own carbon emissions.

Not only big private institutions, but also individuals can and must address global warming. There are cultural and spiritual dimensions to the problem, which is profoundly connected to other social and human issues, such as poverty and over-consumption. Although we are confident about some facts (e.g., that human consumption of carbon causes global warming), no one has adequate solutions. Many perspectives are valid and useful; many people have the capacity to help.

July 13, 2007 11:28 AM | category: none


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