Climate Change and the
Language of Human
Des Gasper
International Institute of Social Studies,
Erasmus University Rotterdam
DSA Conference, London, 5 Nov. 2010
1. The (absence of) ethics of global environmental change …
2. The insufficiency of conventional economic languages
Stiglitz – ‘incentives matter’
Stern 2007 - public goods, market failure, & econ. cost-benefit analysis
Stern 2010 – economics as handmaiden: cost-effectiveness analysis
… But how to motivate action ?
3. Human security thinking
Emergence of a concept of human security
A discourse not just a concept
Roles of human security discourse
4. One language for transition ?
Requisites for transition
Human security thinking and the logos & pathos of global public goods
Human security thinking and the narrative imagination
Human security discourse and its partner languages
Degrees (phases?) of environmental concern
1. Phase of autism; mother (Earth) will tidy up after the
compulsive self-absorbed child (the economy).
2. Attempts to use market-derived economics reasoning
to assess ethical and policy implications of
environmental change. Inequitable; too impersonal to
motivate basic rethinking; & little attention to human meaning of
‘market failures’, including resulting anger, desperation &
3. Economic analysis used to identify ways for
preserving the environment efficiently, not for trading
environmental values against (other) monetized
values. Not inequitable but not sufficient. Preservation of
public goods requires a sense of public spirit; otherwise freeriding by self-interested participants can destroy a system.
4. Increased global human solidarity, and sense of
stewardship towards Nature.
Required value transitions
The Earth Charter and the SEI Great Transition project
(Raskin et al. 2002; Raskin 2006) identify three
required value shifts:
1. from a preoccupation with the acquisition and
consumption of commodities to a broader and
deeper picture of what gives quality of life;
2. from an overwhelming individualism to a human
solidarity, based indeed on respect for individuals;
3. from an attitude of mastery and domination of nature
to an attitude of stewardship for ‘Mother Earth’.
More on solidarity (& stewardship, & well-being):
standpoint choices for how we see ourselves
The motivation required for serious attention to ethics of
climate change depends on:
 How far do we see shared interests between people,
thanks to a perception of interdependence, so that
appeals to self-interest are also appeals to mutual
 How far do we value other people’s interests, so that
appeals to sympathy can be influential due to
interconnections in emotion?
 Identity: How far do we see ourselves and others as
members of a common humanity? (& biosphere)
Every transition in values and behaviour
needs a language or languages of transition: - that make vivid and meaningful what is at stake,
that unite and motivate groups committed to change,
and that persuade enough of those other groups who
could otherwise block change.
 - frameworks of thought that stimulate and channel
attention, interest & passionate energies amongst
leaders, opinion formers and wider publics.
 We see an intuitive untheorised recognition of this in
recent work by two former Chief Economists of the
World Bank—Stiglitz and Stern—but in their formal
analyses they remain limited to economics.
Stiglitz: Making Globalization Work
2007 – esp. chapter on climate change
 ‘The lesson here, as in much of the rest of this book,
is simple: incentives matter’ (p.210) & can be
 Incentives = carrots and sticks (p.176), not also…
 But: reshaped by whom? quis custodiet ipsos
custodes? how to ‘motivate political morality’
 Many of Stiglitz’s proposals assume and/or require
feelings of global moral community
He gradually starts to use ‘we’ language.
His belated final-page appeal: the ‘Declaration of
Independence does not say all Americans are created
equal, but all men are created equal’ (p.292)
Insufficiency of the main current languages
If we look at the value shifts identified as necessary, we
see that the languages of economics, of human
rights, and of capability / ‘development as freedom’,
while important, are not sufficient.
By themselves they are too potentially
individualistic and compatible with visions of
self-fulfilment through unlimited consumption
and exploitation of nature.
There are limitations and contradictions of seeking to
respond to climate change solely by using adapted
versions of forms of thinking that have fuelled it:
commodity orientation, self-interest, instrumentalism.
Enlightened self-interest arguments won’t suffice.
Value-added by human security discourse in
relation to human rights & human devt languages
 A stronger concern with felt experience
than in much of the legal-led work on human
rights and economics-led work on human
development  increases explanatory force
and motivating power.
 To more individualistic human rights thinking
it adds an emphasis on the human species
as a whole, and on our shared security,
insecurity and vulnerability.
2: The languages of economics
2a – Public goods: “Climate change is the
greatest market failure the world has ever seen” (Stern 2007)
The language of ‘public goods’/‘public bads’ and ‘market
failures’ is familiar, and useful in some aspects of
understanding, but:
 Is insufficient: public goods provision cannot be
merely a matter of calculation of self-interest, for
free-riding by self-interested participants can destroy
a system. Only shared norms and institutions
(including regulatory activities) can bring security
 Is not based on understanding of ‘public’, only on
ideas about what these goods are not (pg’s = goods for
which consumption is non-rivalrous and/or non-excludable)
 Is too impersonal to motivate basic rethinking and
societal reorientation.
[Let alone 2b: the language of cost-benefit analysis.]
2c – Cost-effectiveness economics:
Stern 2010’s Blueprint to Save the World
 More than a simplified version of his 2007 Review.
Now, in place of ECBA, a program to try to respect a
ceiling of 500 ppm CO2-equivt. [not the 2007 figure of
550 (we are already near 450)]—and even that won’t
prevent >2 deg. temp. rise
 Implicitly, we have to work far outside ECBA zone of
relevance; we need value-guidelines from outside
economics. Stern adopts 500 ppm not on the basis
of economic calculation but from a mix of
environmental, political and human rights
estimations; then takes 500 ppm as a parameter,
and uses cost-effectiveness analysis to look for
methods (including market-based) to fulfil it.
But: what will motivate action?
 Stiglitz, until his final page, and the 2007 Stern
Review, presume a wise and benevolent central
disposer, a God-like Benthamite authority, who will
receive and implement their technical advice; rather
than a real modern polity.
 Record of past two generations is of inertia.
Investment worldwide in energy research halved in
the 1980s & 90s, to 6% of value of energy subsidies
(Stern 2010: 113). Inaction rules when immediate
economic & political pressure are absent 
Giddens’ paradox: people will only act when
serious damage is undeniable & it is too late.
Motivation is more than ‘incentives’
 Stern’s chapter on ‘Policies to reduce
emissions’ ends with mention of institutions
and action coalitions to generate ideas and
commitment in national discussion fora and to
maintain pressure on governments for followup.
 A further system of sticks and carrots can be
then set up to induce action on commitments
made in such fora
 Yet, who will motivate the motivators?
Beyond carrots & sticks lie ‘sermons’ & dialogues:
- education, information-sharing, promotion of new
and old ideals and culture-change
 Following Stern 2010’s chs. 6 & 8 – the policy
blueprint chapters – come chs. 7, 9 & 10 on how to
motivate action
 E.g., by ‘the power of example’ (ch.7), ‘a spirit of
collaboration’, ‘commitment and communication’ =
Implicit shift of Stern’s model of persons and
public action
 Whereas in the Stern Review, attitude change
received just three pages out of 700, in the new book
after the details of carbon trading Stern (perhaps
incongruously, but revealingly) feels he must invoke
the spirit of Gandhi and Mandela (2010:182-3)!
Transition to global public good requires languages
of transition, not only a language of carrots/sticks for
selfish individuals
Self-interest(edness) is inadequate to defend selfinterest(s), because:
1. besides the high transaction costs of preparing
collective action in such a situation,
2. self-interest is typically myopic; and
3. behaviour is constrained by images of identity &
normality, & by felt needs to belong.
In contrast, public-spirit / concern for others motivates
attention to others 
 1. increases awareness of relevant connections, and
2. modifies notions of self and ‘we’; and
 3. concern for other people affects their reactions. 15
3: The ‘human security’ frame
– its familiar foreground features
1. a focus on the security of human
individuals not only on generalized
categories such as national income or
2. Security of basic-needs life-areas basic
rights claims
3. wider scope: (a) of life-areas considered
under ‘security’, and (b) in attention to
contributory factors, and hence (c) to possible
countermeasures to insecurity.
See the formulation of HS in 2009 Arab HDR.
…. and implied background features
(see O’Brien et al, Ethics, Climate Change & HS (CUP 2010)
 Sympathy, a motivating concern of ‘joined-up
feeling’, partnered by
 ‘Joined-up thinking’: wide-ranging attention to
human experience & transgressive / transdisciplinary interconnections.
 Awareness of fragility and vulnerability;
possible tipping-points and breaking-points.
Disputes over defining the HS concept (w.r.t.
what range of life-areas should be included)
become (intellectually) of minor importance
given these background ideas.
HS discourse’s value-focus on priority areas,
combined with a wide explanatory focus …
…help it to go deeper, to explore more about
what is distinctive and of priority in
 we are ‘encumbered subjects’, each with a
body, gender, emotions, identity, and a lifecycle
 how people seek/gain/lose security of various
sorts, physical, economic, and psychological
 the priority capacities and vulnerabilities that
form the grounds for basic rights.
4: Value-added by HS discourse relative to
current mainstream policy languages
 The transitions in human societies to move to
sustainable pathways require languages for transition,
not only cost-benefit calculations, ‘blueprints’, plans
for incentives, or even talk of respecting and
enhancing human rights and reasoned freedoms.
 While all are relevant in varying degrees, none of
these ways of talking and thinking contains an
adequate vision of humanity, humanity on Earth,
as pervasively interconnected and mutually
constitutive, causally, semiotically and affectively.
HS discourse promotes two essential qualities
1. the perception of an intensively interconnected
global ecosystem which we jointly live in and share;
2. ‘the capacity of narrative imagination’.
 Compared to the other languages mentioned here, it
adds therefore in terms of both logos and pathos to
understanding and preserving ‘global public goods’
 It favours the fundamental changes of perspective
that are needed in how people perceive shared
interests and shared humanity.
It promotes ‘the narrative imagination’ –
the ability to think what it might be like to be in the shoes of
a person different from oneself (and of oneself as different)
 Human security thinking involves attention to a
diverse, situation-specific set of interacting threats
and how they affect the lives of ordinary individuals,
especially the most vulnerable.
 The range of factors and of their interconnections
means that the type of assertive story-telling found in
conventional economics – ‘Íf we do X then Y will
follow’ – is unattainable.
 Instead a more self-aware storytelling: ‘Here’s what
might result from some current factors and their
possible linkages’; ‘Let’s consider another possible
future and what might lead to it’.
 Formalized in a scenarios approach.
 We see connections & possibilities that are
normally screened out by conventional mental
frames, routines & authority structures
 The Stern Report for example contains separate
chapters on economic costs of climate change in rich
countries and in poor countries, each based on an
accumulation across different sectors of quantitative
projections concerning impacts. This approach
underweights 1. the non-quantified effects such
as political instability, 2. the interactions between
sectors, such as the impacts of political
instability, especially when that exceeds routine
minor variation, and 3. the impacts on rich
countries of instability in poor countries, again
especially when outside the range that can be
projected by quantitative analysis of past variation.
Value-added, relative to HR & HD languages
A human security perspective helps to:
- better ground the human rights and human
development approaches in attention to the nature of
being and wellbeing, and to focus them on priorities;
- add a synthesizing approach in explanation and
- convey interdependence more than does human
rights language, and a realization of dangers,
vulnerability, and fragility; and
- connect to human subjectivity, which increases its
explanatory force and motivating potential.
Conclusion / hunch
The emphases that we saw as required for response
to climate chaos:
 prudence and enlightened self-interest;
 ecological interconnection that demands careful
 human solidarity, stability and prioritization; and
 sources of richer quality of life, felt security and
— are more fully present in human security
thinking, than in the other languages now relied on
by international organizations.
But the languages are not mutually exclusive, and partly
fit different policy levels and occasions.