The New Climate Narrative: Framing Climate Action as a Matter of Conscience
Of all the arguments for addressing climate change, the moral argument may be the most powerful of all – and it’s getting louder by the day. From universities to health institutions to the Vatican, voices are crying out for action to protect the most vulnerable among us from climate impacts. And last week, the Church of England became the latest major religious organization to divest from fossil fuels. Citing “moral responsibility,” the church divested £12 million from their investments in two of the most polluting fuels, thermal coal and tar sands.
As this Vox article points out, the divestment movement is important because it forces people and institutions to make a moral choice on climate. Inaction is no longer neutral – it’s unethical. This moral frame may finally give the climate issue the intensity and depth that’s needed to galvanize mainstream support.
David Roberts, contributor to Vox
The Pope plans on delivering an encyclical on climate change this summer, and it has American conservatives freaking out. The Heartland Institute, a leading anti-environmental “think tank,” has even dispatched a crack team of deniers to Rome to dissuade His Holiness.
Why the agita from the right? After all, similar statements of climate concern have been issued by virtually every major government, international development organization, and national science council in the world. It’s not like the Pope is spilling the beans on a well-kept secret.
But as Heartland clearly recognizes, the Pope’s statement carries unique significance for the simple reason that he has unquestioned moral authority for millions of people. He threatens to situate the fight against climate change as a deeply moral issue, a matter of God’s work on earth. Once it is so situated, it will slowly and inexorably drag culture and politics along in its wake.
The right, which is entirely comfortable deploying moral arguments, understands this better than the mainstream, center-left environmental establishment. Large swaths of the center-left establishment (especially among the foundations that fund things) are besotted with dreams of technocracy and bipartisan civility — so much so that in 2009 Matt Yglesias pleaded with greens to “put the plodding moralism back in.”
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