It’s often hard to have a discussion about the climate change debate without recourse to language about ‘sides’.
We are certainly not the only ones to have argued that the conventional portrayal of the debate as a polarised one between warmers/alarmists and sceptics/deniers is counter-productive. Not only does it too easily translate into a battle between good and evil, but it is a misleading description of climate change debates.
Moreover, while such debates are principally about what to do – the politics – the existing categories relate to what is believed about the material reality – ‘the science’. For instance you could attract the label ‘denier’ (and many do) by arguing that there’s no urgent need for ‘drastic action’ to avoid climate change in spite of holding that CO2 is influencing the climate, and will cause problems, and that it would be a good idea to cut emissions in the longer term.
The polarisation of the political debate using scientific terms is an impediment to understanding the actual arguments being made. An individual’s views on the science aren’t always sufficient to explain the ‘side’ he ends up on, or which label is applied to him. To label someone in a way that relates to ‘science’ when their views are essentially political is like determining what football team someone supports according to how they dance. It might work in some more extreme cases if you’re armed with some cultural knowledge, but broadly speaking, it’s just silly.
How then, should we sensibly identify ‘sides’ in the debate? We think we have the germ of an answer.
It seems to us that there are two categories of people – the interested and the uninterested. The uninterested are not engaged with the debate. The interested are.
Then there are those who believe that what emerges from climate science constitutes moral imperatives that demand a special form of politics. This contrasts with those who may or may not recognise climate change as a problem, but who do not recognise the need for such special ‘eco’ politics. Their arguments are categorised as ‘orthodox’ and ‘unorthodox’ respectively.
These two opposing categories can be joined up:
||Somebody for whom climate change is central to their political perspective, and actively engages with the debate.||Somebody who does not engage with or challenge the debate but takes at face value the terms presented by politicians, the media, and instructions to recycle, etc.|
|Unorthodox||Somebody who does not believe that environmental problems demand a special form of politics, and who engages with the debate.||Somebody who does not engage with or challenge the debate, and who doesn’t pay much attention to what environmentalists tell them to do.|
We’ve included people who are not ‘in’ the debate as such, because we think that a lot of the debate is about them. For instance, how to get people in the Uninterested-Unorthodox category (which includes the vast majority of the human race) to change their lifestyles, is a major concern of those in the Interested-Orthodox category.