To Sell Climate Change, Talk Energy Security


We annually hear the same news: This year is the hottest year on record.

Yet, climate concerns have never gathered sufficient political momentum to enact the required change, and we need to re-frame the way the issue is presented to governments by linking it with energy security.

David Ropeik wrote in The Huffington Post that the dangers of climate change are becoming more evident, and this will prompt increasing fear about the situation. He suggests that “associating climate change with more unpredictable and severe dangerous weather makes the threat more real and personal and urgent, and that’s likely to change minds.” Ropeik’s belief is that playing up the threat from climate change will push for change, but that is unlikely. The best way to gather political momentum for climate change is to promote it alongside energy security concerns.

Ropeik writes that the public believe that because climate change is an abstract risk that doesn’t threaten us directly or personally, and because its effects are delayed, there has been no strong push for the issue. However, surveys note that the global public perceive climate change as a real danger and believe that their governments are not doing enough, a fact even Ropeik acknowledges. The strong public consensus on a need to tackle climate change is reflected in a Yale poll conducted in May, where 66% of Americans surveyed endorsed signing an international treaty “that requires the United States to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide by 90% by the year 2050.” Playing up the fear of climate change won’t add much to pushing for reforms, because the public is already fearful of the threat and are willing to enact change.

It is more likely that reforms are stalled by governments. America has already been accused of negotiating in bad-faith in the current Durban climate talks. Politicking about carbon emissions hears the same arguments every summit: Why should less developed countries be forced to cut emissions and derail economic growth when the developed countries were allowed to pollute freely during their periods of industrialization? States are self-interested, but tying climate change to energy security can help reframe the issue to the interests of all states.

Investments in renewable, non-polluting sources of energy like solar and wind power can help reduce the carbon footprint of the world by weaning it off polluting sources of fossil fuels. This issue has so far not been strongly promoted with the energy security agenda although they are closely linked. If countries can produce enough sustainable energy on their own, there would be no need to seek energy from other nations. Countries can be incentivized to produce because those that over-produce can sell the energy to consumption-heavy ones. Concurrently, carbon emissions would also fall.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) recognized the greater political appeal of the “energy security” agenda. In an information paper on Policy Considerations for Deploying Renewables published on November 23, they rank energy security as the best reason for governments to increase investments in renewables. Economic development comes second, while climate change is third. The recommendation is to promote it as an affordable and secure energy source (in the long run).

The UK is demonstrating efforts at the rebranding exercise. Energy minister Chris Huhne sidelined global warming in a speech to the House of Commons in favor of the consumer, stating that “the decisions we make must ensure the consumer is protected as far as possible from rising prices.” He added that the UK would secure its energy “in the long term by steering us away from excessive reliance on fossil fuels and onto clean, green and secure energy”.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee also noted: “Given the difficulty in developing a new international treaty, this matter must be addressed in a way that strengthens our economy and bolsters our energy security.”

The climate change movement needs to speak the language of politicians to get political momentum behind it. It needs to rebrand itself in energy security and cost-efficient terms, and less on altruism and saving the planet.

Photo Credit: akeg