(The Center for Metropolitan Studies invited David Mazmanian, a public policy professor from USC, to talk this past Friday. These are some thoughts on his talk on civic engagement and climate policy, and what it might mean for Pitt)
The talk was put on by a division of GSPIA, and 90% of the attendance was one policy class (huge!). I’m curious about what the policy students normally get regarding climate change – the conclusions of this talk weren’t all that new to me, and I don’t think they’d be all that new to most people in the more activist-y side of environmentalism. So what were those conclusions?
Mazmanian looked at California’s new climate policy, and found that although it does a good job of affecting (or trying to affect) a lot of major sectors in terms of reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change (the effects of which will be felt in a very diffuse way everywhere), it does almost nothing about adaptation to the changes which will already come about, and which will hit much closer to home. Fine – interesting, even, that we’re so focused on mitigation and not on adaptation. Personally, I’m curious as to whether talking about adaptation would require more of an admission of a problem than we’re yet willing to do.
He further talked about the tragedy of the commons, and the idea of solving it through mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon (hooray democracy!). But his final conclusion was that in order to truly and fully tackle the problem, we need a giant shift in our values and ethics.
That’s the conclusion you get from hippies (no offense intended, hippies ). That’s not the conclusion I was expecting – I figured a policy person would have a different response from looking at different angles and approaches, and I was initially disappointed. But I realize that if someone like Mazmanian is coming to the conclusion that the only way to address climate change – both sufficient mitigation and any adaptation – then it should underline the severity and magnitude of the problem. Which is very depressing, because civic engagement and actively created value shifts are Hard. (Caveat: I don’t see Hard as a reason not to do something. But it should make us wary in how we approach it).
On how this relates to civic engagement: the CA plan had very little, and seems to be a pretty decent piece of legislation – insufficient, but interesting. And we probably don’t need more in the traditional sense of ‘call your legislators, right now!’. We do need more in the ‘talk to your neighbors, be interested in stuff, convince people of a different set of what’s important’ sense – and his particular theme was intergenerational. We have no real sense of obligation to our children – most of us, anyway – because they can’t do anything to make our lives worse. And we need to figure out a different logic to policymaking that puts long-term problems like climate change front and center. (Personal note: Rule #1: Children are Important) So we need a *lot* of civic engagement, because our two most promising policy approaches, of slow policy evolution and focusing on related problems such as energy security, probably won’t be enough.
On how this relates to Pittsburgh: How many people that are reading this blog post (which, by my estimates, is maybe 5 of you – though comment and convince me I’m wrong!) have looked at Pittsburgh’s Climate Action Plan? This question came up in relation to CA, but it’s true here too. Similarly, how many people could properly explain the science of global warming, or deal with some of the major myths? (I’m working on some aspects of this – there will be an event post in the next few days). The answer to both of these – and they’re not hard questions, really – is far-fewer-than-it-ought-to-be. So, while we worry about preaching to the choir, the choir probably should be educated on what our cities and municipalities are proposing, as well as being able to talk about why these problems are important. That way, when the questions come up, we’ve already got some ideas of new values figured out (here’s mine, from the summer of 2009, and they remain true), and some answers to people who simply haven’t been exposed to the truth of our environmental crisis.
I think I remain unimpressed by Mazmanian in a lot of ways – his talk was about twice as long as it needed to be, and could have used at least one picture in that hour and a half. But his conclusions, though common in activist circles, are more subtle than they appear because of who they come from, and probably hit an audience that doesn’t hear them all that often – and one which will be involved in policymaking in the future. “Our challenge is to discover a new logic for the basis of policy making”. True enough, sir, though I wish you’d had more guidance on how to do so.