Thousands of books and scientific papers are being written about climate change all the time – but we are no closer to ‘solving’ the problem. So let’s stop trying!
Mike Hulme, professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia, is a leading world authority on climate change science. He delivered the annual CIBSE Lecture recently and told the audience that we should not be looking to science for the answers.
He believes that cultural perspectives, personal beliefs and social background have a huge influence on an individual’s attitude to the issue. “Our cultural priors influence how we approach the science and vested interests will obscure the truth.”
In other words, people will always find ways of making the science fit their own pre-conceived idea of what the problem/solution is. Some people consider it to be a financial problem – the “greatest market failure” that requires a re-shaping of financial markets to be more closely linked to the cost of carbon. Others see it as a technology issue – we have misused and abused our technology and now we need new ones to get us out of the mess.
A third group or ‘frame’ of reference, according to Professor Hulme, considers the problem from a social inequality perspective. The most powerful and affluent nations create the majority of the emissions, but inhabitants of poor countries bear the brunt of the impacts. We must sacrifice more to make up for this inequality. Similarly, in the fourth category, over-consumption is seen as the root cause and over-population the main generator of emissions. Therefore, condoms are the solution.
People who fall into the fifth of Professor Hulme’s frames see climate change as a natural phenomenon unrelated to manmade emissions. They say that society must adapt rather than seek to alter the process. And those in the sixth category regard climate change as the planet’s “tipping point” meaning we are about to fall into a time of massive and irreversible change with devastating impact on our ecology. People in this category call for massive, hugely costly geo-engineering projects to mitigate the effects, such as mirrors in space that reflect sunlight.
“The problem is that all these frames can draw inspiration from the science,” said Professor Hulme. “They relate to different views of the world, beliefs, values and attitudes…they are based on our culture of prior facts…we need to do something else.”
He believes we should stop trying to ‘solve’ climate change and focus on some of the symptoms. By tackling third world poverty, by restructuring financial markets and by making preparations to adapt to the future impacts of climate change, for example, we can make major progress without ever actually “solving” climate change, in his view.
People can be quite easily swayed by the scientific argument and accept there is a major problem, but that does not mean they will actually do anything about it.
So, for the future, we need to make behavioural change as easy as possible and that means creating systems that bring it about automatically. For the building services industry that means concentrating on easy to use, self adjusting systems that will adapt to changes around them – temperature, occupancy, patterns of use etc. – without the need for an intelligent user.