Law in Contemporary Society
There's room to expand, subtract, etc. as you think appropriate. Basically, I tried to spell out all the assumptions and reasons I thought were floating around in the background to make the message (or what I thought the message was) as clear as possible.

Climate Change and the Importance of Creeds-End Fit

Creeds and the challenge of coordination

Thurman Arnold argues that creeds are “elements common to all social organizations, large and small, whatever their purpose.” 24. Creeds are ubiquitous because humans require them in order to sustain complex patterns of interaction over time. As he writes,” Society functions like an anthill. If we were compelled to plan each day how to get food into New York City and waste out of it, we would be lost and people would starve.” 26. For Arnold, then, successful organizations and movements necessarily have creeds that provide both a sense of cohesion to their members and a stage for coordinated action.

With respect to dealing with climate change, however, this requirement is complicated by the fact that the movement must sustain coordinated action across many disciplines and in many countries. Because those most responsible for climate change will not likely suffer strict regulation unless they must, there is real danger of production simply migrating to other countries if just a few nations impose, for example, limits on carbon emissions. Should that happen, global emissions will remain unchanged and we will have failed to deal effectively with climate change. Special attention must therefore be paid to the implications of environmental activists organizing themselves around one set of principles versus another. Creeds that do not help sustain the international coordination needed to solve the global problem of climate change must be de-emphasized.

A creed of short-term incentives can’t support a movement to resolve a long-term problem

This point becomes especially important as activists consider how to frame their message in a way that appeals to and motivates a broad array of audiences. In the United States, for example, there has been a tendency to shy away from appealing broadly to the people’s sense of justice. Instead, activists have chosen primarily to focus on incentives of immediate interest to Americans: energy security, clean energy jobs, avoiding an influx of climate refugees, etc. Such an incentives-based approach is perhaps good politics in the short term, but, assessed as a creed capable of undergirding a social movement necessarily seeking global change, it falls short.

It takes our eye off the ball

The idea that good politics is not good policy may seem like a truism, but one thing Arnold can teach us here is that environmental activists risk compromising their ultimate goal—building a sustainable future—if they even pretend to ground the movement in short-term incentives. Movements expand based on the message they project, and as they grow, the character of the movement will naturally change to reflect the motivations of its recruits. Thus, even against the better judgment of its leadership, the movement to prevent climate change is liable to become its poses. And, once creeds gel into an organizational psychology, they become difficult to change, even in the face of facts that obviously indicate a need for a different approach.

It goes without saying that activists risk compromising themselves as well. We are not purely rational beings, and creeds are comforting and seductive; they simplify a complex and anxious modernity. Whatever their best intentions may be, activists are every bit as likely as the rest to absorb--and be transformed by--a creed of short-term incentives.

It makes international mobilization more difficult

In this case, by adopting such a creed, the spirit of the movement is channeled nationally inwards. This potential transformation is dangerous because it undermines the goal of international cooperation as a matter of course. Many countries will suffer from climate change in more and different ways than the United States. When the impetus for policy change is historically selfish, the United States may become reluctant to pay for problems it doesn’t see as its own. Thus, even if we are able to shortcut national policy changes, mounting substantive, international initiatives—i.e., the changes that can actually make a difference—will become more difficult. At this point, the situation is too dire to suffer additional problems of mobilization.

It saps time and energy we could be spending more productively

Moreover, short-term incentives can fuel the movement only so long. For example, energy security can be no panacea because America is the Saudi Arabia of coal. This leaves activists continuously inventing new, more pressing reasons for changes to existing environmental policy, which in turn makes the movement more vulnerable to attack by its opposition. Instead of pursuing effective climate policy, the game becomes, as we have seen, a contest about the factual circumstances behind one short-term incentive or another. Emphasizing an ethical frame that expresses its goal as seeking justice, rather than optimizing incentives, may not be good near-term politics but at least it provides a means of motivating action when individual incentives run out.

The goal should be environmental justice

In the end, effective action requires sacrificing now for the benefits of people later—people whose interests rarely factor into contemporary calculations. According to contemporary economists, however, people do not act in ways that do not maximize their utility. Be that as it may, history offers examples of people who have selflessly dedicated themselves to pursuing justice. In American history, John Brown and Martin Luther King, Jr. come to mind. Another interesting example is Richard Stallman, who has steadfastly resisted the replacement of the free software movement's justice creed with the incentives creed of open source. These people who have struggled for justice rather than for their own gain can serve as examples for a climate movement organized around a justice-based creed.


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r18 - 13 Jan 2012 - 23:34:21 - IanSullivan
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