Beyond Technical Solutions

Does climate change require a shift in our paradigm, or can we rely on technical solutions?

This think piece explores the various dimensions of climate change and seeks to go to the deepest leverage point - that of paradigm shifting.

Author:
Hersh Thaker
Publisher:
Date:
November 1, 2021

Overview

When we think about solutions to climate change, our instinct is to look external. We look at others. We wait for technology to be implemented by others or the government to enforce policies. We’re happy to see progress because we care but only as far as it doesn’t start to become too inconvenient for us. This piece explores how much we should be relying on technical solutions to solve the climate crises versus how much of a paradigm shift we all need to make in our relationship with the world around us.

The piece argues that for the ‘system of governance to tip in favour of prioritising climate-focused policies and solutions, it needs the governed (us) to shift our morality in such a way that we are happy to be inconvenienced and even have some of our freedoms curtailed to stabilise the climate.  I explore why domestic policies, international bodies such as the United Nations and standalone technology solutions such as electric vehicles or solar PV cannot suffice as solutions alone. The public must demand it in no uncertain terms but the reality is that we are not there yet, and this piece will shine a light on why we need to be.

Key Messages

1. Domestic Policy is alone is not a solution to climate change. Since the climate crisis is a tragedy of the commons and the climate is a shared common, successfully implementing domestic policy in one country is not good if those emissions are just being exported to another part of the world. So we need to look beyond domestic policy.

2. Okay, how about we look at international governance? I analyse the role of the UN and the outcome of the COP conferences over the years and conclude that although they are very important tools, they also cannot be relied upon as a solution. I pick the holes in the agreements to show why they are not robust, for example USA walking away from Paris 2015 shows that the UN framework is not robust enough for an issue of this importance.

3. I also explain that the answer is not technology alone. Deploying technology such as carbon capture needs government support and that support is not guaranteed.

4. I, therefore, explain that in order for the first three points to work, i.e. domestic policy, international agreements and technology deployment then we need to understand and play within the framework of the governance system. This system basically tells us that unless the policy is going to prolong the governments time in power – it will not be given the priority that an issue this important needs. This is where we as individuals come in to make sure we make it easy for the government to priority climate policies and difficult to de-prioritise.

Implications

I hope to explain, with evidence and thorough analysis, why our individual and collective opinions and voices on climate change matter more than we realise. I want to show through the framework of systems thinking that there is a direct relationship between us talking about the issue with our friends and going to the voting booth to what is happening at a national and international level. I’d like the reader to go away from this piece thinking “I already knew this, but it’s never been explained to be like this before”.

Footnotes

Hardin, Garrett, The Tragedy of the Commons, in, Science, New Series, Vol. 162, No. 3859 (American Association for the Advancement of Science: 1968)

Steiner, Achim, The UN role in climate change action: taking the lead towards a responsible future

Meadows, Donella, Thinking in systems book, P.163 (Chelsea Green Publishing: 2008)