Why do our politicians not act on IPCC advice?

Washington and Cook - Climate Change DenialI am hereby delighted to invite all my readers to indicate (by voting on a question [on the Survey Monkey website] that I have created) why they think our politicians continue to fail to respond effectively to the increasingly stark warnings (such as IPCC AR5 reports) from the scientific community? With reference to my response to a recent comment on my blog, the choice seems to me to be either: (a) they understand the risk of continuing inaction but believe taking action would be electorally suicidal; or (b) they discount the warnings because they choose to believe that technology alone will solve the problem. What do people think? Is there another explanation? Please vote at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TKNBN5P If you feel you must insert an alternative explanation (the survey question allows this but I would prefer that people choose from the above options), please feel free to comment below as well (or instead). N.B. This survey will close on the 13th of May and is not part of my PhD research.


About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Climate Science, Cognitive Dissonance, Confirmation Bias, Economics, Environment, Ethics, Intergenerational Injustice, IPCC, Politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Why do our politicians not act on IPCC advice?

  1. pendantry says:

    Unfortunately, I am unable to submit an answer to your poll because complying with your stated preference (ie “that people choose from the above options”) would make the result of your little poll meaningless; and your 200 character limit on option three (‘none of the above’) isn’t large enough to offer my opinion there… I don’t believe there is concensus on this by politicians. Some believe one thing, some another. It’s my belief that sufficient of them are subject to cognitive dissonance in one way or another so as to to perpetuate inertia. And as the concept of product inertia is anathema to the mechanism of the “invisible hand” of the free market, this is a further barrier to their realisation of their dissonance, as all our politicians are stuck in growthmania.


  2. Hi – an either or doesn’t really quite fit although both are likely possibilities. Ed perhaps would say that he and Labour were committed to dealing with AGW having introduced a legally binding Act of parliament. Osbourne would claim that exploiting shale gas will bridge us toward new technology whilst keeping us prosperous – because there is no point bankrupting the country! Cameron- has been to the N Pole, – blah blah, vague vague. all would believe they are doing the right thing – it is about timing, and some may think it won’t be that bad. perhaps you could send a questionnaire or rather seek a statement from all MPs.


    • Rick Altman says:

      As implied by my most recent Tweet (i.e. “Peer-reviewed science in #NationalClimateAssessment dismissed only by #Industry funded #MerchantsOfDoubt and #Denial” linking to Guardian article), I think that continuing inaction / inertia from politicians can only really be explained as a refusal to face reality or unjustified optimism in technology being able to avoid hydrocarbons becoming toxic assets comparable to sub-prime mortgages (i.e. as in Jermey Leggett’s ‘Energy of Nations’ – see my recent Geoscientists get all ethical about climate change post)


  3. David Hamilton says:

    Hi Rick, as usual the problem (of politicians not acting on climate change) is probably more complex than covered by your two questions. Certainly, I expect that the answer will vary from politician to politician, and very possibly for the same politician vary from day to day. Politicians may have to be better at living with cognitive dissonance than others (hmm – could there be a PhD in that question?), although I suspect that economists would do well in the cognitive dissonance stakes, since so much of neoclassical economics is clearly wrong. My answers to your very good question would start with the free market fundamentalism identified in The Merchants of Doubt, and that would cover a fair number of the right-wing politicians. In addition, I don’t think that we should discount the effect of group-think: people like the current Australian Prime Minister live in a bubble surrounded by like-minded people who simply don’t let alternative views of the world through without first smothering them with ridicule. In addition, I would not be at all surprised if vested interests did not seek to subtly influence the group-think by seeking to plant people in inner circles who can take on the role of thought police – in other words, the bubble may contain some deliberately manufactured components. I would like to think that an honest politician who fits in with your choice (a) would decide that making inaction on climate change electoral suicide would be a good political challenge, and would take it on, and for that reason wonder how many politicians (particularly those with well-developed egos) would fit into that category. A politician to whom (b) applies could well arrive there via fear. Even the most narrow politician should realise that properly addressing climate change would threaten business as usual, and many people, I think, would quickly blanch and look away, clinging onto the hope of a technological solution like a man dangling over a cliff desperately holding onto a small plant.


  4. catalanbrian says:

    Can I just add that David Hamilton makes a very good point about politicians living in a bubble. However that does not only apply to the Australian Prime Minister, but also to the leaders of the UK political parties and to those of most of the world. The big question is how do we change this, for that will bring us closer to a solution to the problem of inaction on climate change.


    • Rick Altman says:

      You can, Brian, and you did. Thank you. Once again, of course, I agree. However, sadly, I think it will take a few more sequential winters with 1-in-100 year flood events before the public pressure on politicians to act overcomes the fossil fuel lobby pressure not to act.


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