Book Review by Kip Hansen


The Rightful Place of Science: CLIMATE PRAGMATISM
Edited by: Jason Lloyd, Daniel Sarewitz, Ted Nordhaus, Alex Trembath
129 pp. Paperback. CSPO $10.

“[T]he idea of climate pragmatism is kind of obvious: let’s do the things that provide broad benefits regardless of one’s particular set of commitments in the climate debate.”

The Climate Pragmatism project is a partnership between the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes (CSPO) at Arizona State University and the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, California. Together they organized a series of three workshops over three years bringing together diverse experts to explore new approaches to the climate change challenge. The workshops resulted in three reports (links here=[i]) that have been adapted to produce this volume which represents both a broad synopsis and an in-depth analysis of the prescriptions developed by the Climate Pragmatism project. This review presents some of these ideas with a few illustrative quotes.

“The power of the Climate Pragmatism vision lies in its ability to abandon long-held dogmatic views about the relationship between energy and climate change in favor of a well-founded faith in human ingenuity.”

“It offers a way forward that helps policymakers, researchers, and practitioners escape the false and stultifying dichotomies between economic growth and sustainability, between energy consumption and climate change, and between climate mitigation and adaptation.”

Our High Energy Planet

The starting point for Climate Pragmatism is the understanding that it is entirely wrong-headed to attempt to force civilization to transition from societies with high-energy access — cheap, plentiful, ubiquitous electricity and liquid fuels — to societies with reduced access and consumption. In the still-developing world, the key to successful and rapid human development is energy access — real energy access, not the nonsensical goals set by current UN and NGO programs that consider that “a household has achieved access to modern energy when consuming 50 to 100 kWh per person annually – less than the [consumption of] the average American’s cable television box”.

“Achieving negligible access thresholds with technologies like rooftop solar panels or cleaner cookstoves — rather than, for example, reliable grid connections leaves other human development goals far out of reach.” In part because these technologies “have little capacity for scaling up and meeting the expanding needs of economically productive, non-household activities like manufacturing, transportation, or commercial agriculture”.

The argument is put forward that the starting place for achieving basic human development goals is “an explicit commitment to the kind of energy equity that enables an escape from subsistence living and fosters the capacity to prosper, adapt, and innovate.” The Climate Pragmatism spoken of in this slim volume “combines a commitment to pragmatism — a clear-eyed focus on what works in practice, rather than what’s ideologically acceptable —…