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Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

In the first of what may or may not be a regular ‘column’, I’d like to engage in a little bit of what humanities academics call ‘discourse analysis’: a close reading of a particular piece of text, in this case from yesterday’s leading article in The Times. The article is about the meeting of Nobel Laureates convened by the Prince of Wales to discuss solutions to climate change. The full text can be found here, but I am going to zoom in on a small part of it, take it apart and see what exactly is going on. Here goes:

We need our scientists to lay out, brutally if necessary, the scale of the problem. And we need them to apply all their ingenuity and inventiveness to the putative technological responses to the climate change. The best hope for man will be found in a laboratory, not on a soapbox.

But we also need economists. At present, it is too easy to see capitalism and environmentalism as natural enemies. Yet it is only by harnessing the power of capitalism, by finding a way of painting the age-old and inescapable laws of supply and demand green, that we will find sustainability. Man’s story is one of the pursuit of, and defence of, natural resources and riches. An economic template based solely on a self-denying frugality that goes against Man’s nature will not provide a lasting solution to the problem.

Now for the dissection. Let’s take it step by step.

1. “We need our scientists to lay out […] the scale of the problem.”
The leader author quite rightly says that scientists – climate experts – are the people with who should give us the diagnosis of the problem we face. This is, of course, what environmentalists have been saying for decades, and I completely agree. But the author of this article then makes a jump in logic: the unspoken assumption here is that if the diagnosis of the climate problem is scientific and thus requiring complicated things like computer models, weather satellites and paleoclimatological equipment in the Arctic, then the solution must also be scientific – which this author rather dubiously sees as synonymous with “technological” – and thus requiring complicated things like carbon capture and storage, ocean fertilization and so on. But the jump from the if to the then is not a clear one.

Imagine that you go to the doctor and you are told that you are overweight. You expect that because your doctor is a trained scientist she will be able to provide you with a scientifically tried and tested technology to alleviate your condition: a pill, perhaps, or an injection. Maybe even some good old-fashioned liposuction. But to your surprise, the doctor simply tells you to get more exercise, to lay off fatty, sugary and processed foods, and to eat more fruit and vegetables. There is, she says, no magic pill which will allow you to keep consuming at your current rate. Scientific diagnosis, yes, but no technological cure. Likewise, there is no technology that can fix climate change while allowing us to continue to live Western industrialised, consumer lifestyles. We have to detox and diet, and there is no way around that.

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