"The Politics of Climate Change": a Lecture by Lord Anthony Giddens

Opening the lecture with the graphic example of Munch’s Scream, Lord Anthony Giddens introduced a new way of expressing our modern frustration with nature. According to him, there are generally three ways in which the contemporary individual perceives climate change. First, there are the skeptics who have little scientific credibility, but enormous political influence. They claim that contemporary climate change is not a result of human actions. Rather, it is a natural process which had happened in the past, is happening now, and will probably happen in the future.

Lord Anthony Giddens

Lord Anthony Giddens

A second point of view is provided by the mainstream scientists who are gathered by the United Nations to produce reports and slowly reach a conclusion. In this context, these scientist represent as much as 9% of the scientific reports on climate change and are getting as close to a consensus as possible. Their conclusions so far have produced a large set of scenarios (17) which differ in probability and destructiveness. According to the mainstream scientists, human actions should not be labeled as “saving the world.” More accurate would be the slogan of “saving a descent way of life.”

Lord Giddens pointed out that climate change cannot be isolated as a single problem. It is tightly connected to other global issues like poverty, inequality, division between the First and the Third World, etc. An example of an overlap of this kind can be the future prospective of the melting of ice over land. In this scenario, new land, and consequently, new resources are going to be revealed which might have political and economical implications.

Finally, a third point of view is provided by the so-called climate change radicals. Those scientists completely reject the skeptical point of view and criticize the mainstream one as being too moderate. Instead, the radicals paint an extremely negative and shocking picture of our future world. This picture includes the melting of the ice in Greenland and Antarctica, thus an extremely destructive increase of the sea level, enough to put underwater an enormous amount of land.

Which one of the above three statements should we believe? That nothing that we do can damage the Earth? That we are damaging it, but we can stop any time we want? Or that our planet is like a wild animal that we keep poking with sticks? Neither one seems probable; yet, we all can see that the climate is, indeed, changing. According to Lord Giddens, our civic “procrastination” can be justified by the fact that there is no clear enemy to fight. In fact, it can turn out that we are our own enemy since it is we that are damaging our environment. Still, it seems so easy to ignore the problem. Giddnes proposes that in civil terms, people should reach the gap between those disastrous scenarios and everyday life. Yet, it is the political elite, especially in economically stable states, that should make the first step.

In reality, our contemporary situation is one of considerable difficulty. Since the US is not eager to take any firm actions in reducing its emission, no other state would be able to change its policy. For example, the US lack of participation in Kyoto had let some countries to “get a deal out of it” rather than have serious intentions for change. On the other hand, the European Union is trying to take the lead in reducing emissions. However, it has no control over tax rising; therefore, it has little actual power.

According to Lord Giddens, the actual long-term problem is that no technology, with the exception of nuclear power, offers a substitute for oil or coal. In fact, he concluded his lecture with pointing out the need for new non-industrial politics. In addition, if this new way of measuring welfare is started by the US on a global scale, humanity may have a chance to fight the consequences of climate change.

Lord Giddens was educated at the University of Hull and the London School of Economics. He has taught at the University of Leicester and subsequently for many years at Cambridge, where he was Professor of Sociology. From 1997 to 2003 he was Director of the LSE. He is a Life Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge and founder and Chairman of Polity Press. He was made a peer in May 2004. He has honorary degrees or comparable awards from 15 universities and he is an honorary fellow of the American Academy of Science and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The BBC Reith Lecturer in 1999, Lord Giddens’ books have been translated into some forty languages.

The following books written by Lord Giddens are available in John Cabot University’s Frohring Library:

  • The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy (1999)
  • Conversations with Anthony Giddens : Making Sense of Modernity (1998)
  • Sociology (1997)
  • The Giddens Reader (1993)
  • Human Societies : An Introductory Reader in Sociology (1992)
  • Modernity and Self-Identity (1991)
  • The Consequences of Modernity (1990)
  • Sociology : A Brief But Critical Introduction (1986)
  • Durkheim (1978)

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