‘Climate hawks’

In politics – perhaps especially in environmental politics – language and the framing of issues matters. Opponents of climate change action have had considerable success in describing carbon pricing as ‘a tax on everything’. The description misses the point, given that the whole idea of carbon pricing is to drive the emergence of an economy in which we can do everything we need and want to do without affecting the climate. Nonetheless, the ‘tax on everything’ message has been effective at building opposition to climate action, particularly given the level of economic anxiety being experienced by much of the population.

In that context, David Roberts’ adoption of the term ‘climate hawks’ to describe those who care about climate change and clean energy could be a smart move.

I like the term for a number of reasons. It is concise and comprehensible. It doesn’t seem too closely tied to any particular political philosophy. Just as somebody almost anywhere on the political spectrum can be a ‘deficit hawk’, it should be possible to be a serious supporter of action on climate change regardless of your other political beliefs. Finally, I think it could be useful that the term ‘hawk’ is normally applied to people who you wouldn’t think of as natural environmentalists. We need to be making the point that dealing with climate change is of interest to everybody; it is as much of an issue for someone concerned about the geopolitical stability of Southeast Asia as it is for someone who wants to preserve the beauty and biodiversity of Canada’s boreal forest.

Previously, I have expressed my hope that the increasing obviousness of climate change will discredit climate change deniers. Perhaps the same phenomenon could empower outspoken climate hawks – hopefully, before the worst effects of climate change become impossible to avoid.

[Update: 22 October 2010] The Oxford English Dictionary has a relevant definition for the word ‘hawk’:

In Politics, a person who advocates a hard-line or warlike policy, opp. to a dove

1548 HALL Chron., Edw. IV, 199b, If he might..allure the duke to his partie, that king Edward should be destitute of one of his best Hawkes. a1553 UDALL Royster D. III. iii. (Arb.) 48 Ye were take vp for haukes. a1700 B. E. Dict. Cant. Crew, Hawk, a Sharper. 1824 GEN. P. THOMPSON Exerc. (1842) III. 328 Men are hawks when they view their interests singly, and beetles when they are to lose in crowds. 1834 H. AINSWORTH Rookwood I. iii. (Farmer), The game’s spoiled this time..the hawks are upon us. 1843 LEVER J. Hinton ix. (1878) 56 He..ended by becoming a hawk, where he had begun as a pigeon. 1962, 1964 [see DOVE n. 2f]. 1965 Economist 25 Sept. 1189/2 President Ayub’s difficulties in curbing the ‘hawks’ in his country. 1966, 1967 [see DOVE n. 2f]. 1967 D. BOULTON Objection Overruled iii. 85 The committee seems to have become immersed immediately in a struggle between doves and hawks. 1969 Guardian 21 Feb. 10/2 The hawks at the Treasury..want to have one more hack at consumption.

I also like another of the definitions: “To pursue or attack on the wing, as a hawk does; to prey upon while flying.”

21 thoughts on “‘Climate hawks’

  1. .

    After a discussion with 226 of his green friends people formerly known as environmentalists, Dave has come up with a new name for his team: They’re not greens anymore, though green is good. They’re not environmentalist anymore, because while that’s mostly good, those darned local environmentalists keep opposing climate change boondoggles like wind turbine farms, solar farms, corn ethanol, and so on. And besides, the brand is tainted, and when Lisa Jackson gets done wreaking havoc on the economy under the banner of the Environmental Protection Agency, it’ll be more tainted yet. So the new term of art, Dave argues, is climate hawk.

  2. .

    I’m not an environmentalist, but I am a climate hawk
    October 22, 2010

    I don’t think “climate hawk” applies to my view of climate science, but rather my view of climate and energy policy. My view of climate science comes from having read much of the climate science literature of the last few years and having listened to many of the leading climate scientists (for a recent literature review, see “An illustrated guide to the latest climate science“). In that respect I sometimes call myself a “climate science realist.”

    Now one of the main points of ClimateProgress is that a full understanding of what climate science says pretty much tells you what the policy approach needs to be — very ‘hawkish’ — which is to say deploy every last bit of low-carbon technology we have today as fast as is humanly possible, to lower emissions (and bring them down the experience curve) as fast as possible, while also aggressively pursuing more R&D, in an effort to stay as far below 450 ppm as is possible, or, failing that, to go as little above 450 ppm for as short a time period as possible. Failure to hawkishly deploy fast and hard risks triggering the carbon cycle amplifying feedbacks that are poised to take us to 700 to 1000 ppm this century, which would lead with high likelihood to multiple, incalculably-destructive catastrophes.

  3. .

    “Hawks” on both sides of the aisle sent American and allied soldiers to die over non-existent WMD “evidence”. Deficit (and Fiscal) Hawks are routinely shown to be shrieking hypocrites who refuse to go after things like military spending, while opposing deficit reducing measures like Health Care reform, all the while funneling pork back home and promoting tax cuts for the super-rich. [edited to add] Not to mention their ceaseless cries of “Wolf!” They promoted fiscal austerity in the face of a liquidity trap, FFS!

    Was there no more discredited a label that Dave could come up with? I mean, really. Why not Climate LaRouchite?

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  5. Tristan

    All the meanings of “hawk” seem to have something in common: advocating a policy without concern for its impact on human life. So, war hawks advocate war with no concern for those who suffer the atrocities. Deficit hawks advocate cutting the budget with no concern for the welfare of those who suffer when programs are cut. If “Climate Hawks” advocate the cutting of carbon emissions with no regard to how carbon emissions are a cause of injustice, while at the same time certain manners of cutting them can increase rather than decrease these injustices, I would in no way advocate anyone become a “climate hawk”.

    The relevant question is the rate at which the global north vs global south must cut its emissions. Those who believe the north must through economic and military force prevent the south from developing to allow it a longer transition to zero carbon might call themselves “climate hawks”, but they are in way worthy of respect. It is not enough to turn towards the issue of climate change, one must turn towards it in the right way.

  6. Pingback: The Climate Hawks are Circling! « Dystopian Present

  7. Tristan

    “Who said anything about preventing the south from developing”

    I can’t find the reference – but I believe you have yourself called for the potential use of military force against countries which refuse to comply with emissions reductions.

    It’s not entirely clear why countries which have been historically exploited as colonies and remain under developed, should ever be forced to reduce their emissions – why should first world countries not be forced to build huge and expensive C02 sequestering plants instead? The reparations owed are substantial – and military force is used against former colonies that dare to request them. I’m sure you’re well aware of Haiti’s experience with democracy and attempting to recover one portion of what is owed them by France in 2003-2004.

    But, you could dismiss such reparations and the simply implications they could have on climate policy “impractical”. And, after all, isn’t it so much more sensible to allow rich Countries substantially higher rights to emit on the basis that they already do it?

  8. Milan Post author

    The very poorest states have low per-capita and aggregate emissions, and they aren’t growing quickly. In those places, it doesn’t make sense for climate change mitigation to be a top priority. Indeed, the biggest role they are likely to play soon is as recipients of technology and hopefully adaptation funding.

    Fast-growing states like China – however – really do need to be part of the global deal. While it’s true that many western states got rich on the basis of fossil fuels, now we know how harmful they are. Some of them may also be running out. China and states like it need to choose a different development path. At the same time, rich states need to cut their emissions sharply. That’s the deal. Inaction is a suicide pact, and from all we can tell air capture is (a) more expensive than mitigation and (b) unlikely to be able to scale up to the level of emissions we are producing today.

  9. Tristan

    You can have an approach to global warming that ignores international justice issues. I don’t think it’s particularly respectable, but it’s something you could do. You could argue that Western states don’t owe a debt due to colonialism, due to the way they have used up the ability of the atmosphere to allow us to emit carbon. Or, you could argue that these claims of “justice” are pipe dreams, and that we should be “realistic” and pursue “serious” development (neo-colonialist) policies which implement the market-style reality of the future which serves, which always serves, the interests of the powerful. In fact, you could have an entire climate-politics analysis that remains totally orthogonal to issues of global justice, oppression, racism, genocide. No one needs to say this is impossible.

    Just don’t expect it to make you friends in the broad activist community – or for such an analysis to serve as the basis of the larger alliances that Greenpeace is calling on us to build. Those alliances are already being built – and they are being built by groups like Climate Justice Montreal, Environmental Action Toronto, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and by events like Cochabamba, the climate camps which have happened in the UK and Canada, and even events like the G20 People’s Summit which happened the week before Harper pushed a neo-liberal agenda during now famous instances of police brutality and criminalization of dissent (which continues for some unfortunate organizers).

    The alliances are not being built by liberals who are more interested in convincing (necessarily) corrupt politiciens of an argument than they are in the crimes being perpetrated by their state and their state’s strategic military and economic allies. The alliances are being built largely by those who experience no cognitive dissonance at statements like, “Our prime minister ought be hanged for war crimes and crimes against the planet”. Most importantly – the alliances are being built by those who do not dismiss other social justice campaigns in the name of the transcendental nature of climate change – they rather take climate change as the lens through which we see other struggles.

    This is not a question of “standing on principles”, but of looking at the problems before us, and the people around us, and seeing what kind of orientation it makes sense to take as we move through the world. Moral principles are not so much “starting points” within us, but perspectives, bearings by which we see the world around us – and they make it show up in this or that way. The question about principles is of course about effectivity (“what works”) – but not simply about what brings about a desired end, because the end is also posited, partially, as a result of the principle. It is about, then, not only achieving ends, but aiming at ends that one can live with – that are adequate to the moral foundation we’ve undergone, such that we can work towards a world whose existence we could/can affirm.

  10. Tristan

    “China and states like it need to choose a different development path. At the same time, rich states need to cut their emissions sharply.”

    One might ask – why do Canadians this year have a right to a higher per capital emissions than the Chinese? By what right, other than force and status-quo, does this proceed? Why do rich countries have a right to economic growth at all if reducing our emissions to third world levels today would require economic contraction? What right do we have not to pursue redistributive policies for wealth such that a contraction like this would lead to an increase, not decrease, in the average standard of living?

    Essentially – what right do the rich have to their power to bend the world in a way that benefits them, rather than others? The most basic principles of natural law, which date back hundreds of years, justify the authority of the sovereign only on the basis of its ability to bring about the common good – were these all thin veils of justification for the authority of the few over the many? Or, is there something essential to the idea of universality, human equality, and the intuitively negative senses of “imperialism” and “oppression”?

  11. Milan Post author

    If China has the right to develop now, knowing all we do about the harmful effects of greenhouse gases, it cannot be argued that Britain, the United States, and company didn’t have the right to develop using them before their globally harmful nature was known.

    Quite possibly, some compensation ought to be paid from developed states to developing ones. That being said, the critical thing is to assemble a global deal that will work, and do so quickly. One of the fairest ways to do that seems to be combining carbon pricing domestically with carbon tariffs at the border. The latter would effectively apply the carbon price to imports, and remove the incentive to shift production to unregulated locations.

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  13. Tristan

    “If China has the right to develop now, knowing all we do about the harmful effects of greenhouse gases, it cannot be argued that Britain, the United States, and company didn’t have the right to develop using them before their globally harmful nature was known.”

    Do you think this is a thoughtful response to anything I said? The serious question is whether China has a right, to gain as much wealth through the emitting of carbon as other states have. If so, then they are owed huge reparations. Perhaps rich countries should be forced to use their own funds to build carbon-neutral energy infrastructure in developing countries that rival in power and reach to the carbon heavy systems they built for themselves. Sidelining the question of reparations because “we need to act quickly” will assure that we don’t act at all, and insofar as we do act, we will only continue the injustices in the global system, rather than address them.

  14. Milan Post author

    The serious question is whether China has a right, to gain as much wealth through the emitting of carbon as other states have. If so, then they are owed huge reparations.

    I don’t think it is all that useful to think about ethics in terms of rights, but we can use that language here.

    China does not have a right to get wealthy by harming others. Western states didn’t have that right either, but they did so with some degree of ignorance and – after all – what’s done is done. Time machine ethics are not very useful.

    If China wants to become as rich as the West, it is going to have to learn how to do so in a low-carbon way. Similarly, if the West wants to remain as rich as it is, it is going to need to learn to decarbonize.

  15. Milan Post author

    Perhaps rich countries should be forced to use their own funds to build carbon-neutral energy infrastructure in developing countries that rival in power and reach to the carbon heavy systems they built for themselves.

    I did previously bring up a similar idea: Pay back the Joules

    I am not sure how strong the case for such a thing really is.

    Also related:

    There is a ‘historical responsibility’ category on my index page.

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  17. .

    Climate hawkery requires no particular position on climate science
    by David Roberts

    You probably suspected I would break my own pledge not to write about “climate hawks” any more, but I doubt even the most cynical among you thought I’d do it within 24 hours! Shows what you know.

    I want to correct one mistake people seem to be making about the climate hawk/dove spectrum. Being a climate hawk does not require any particular position on climate science. There is no scientific “litmus test.” In fact, one’s position on the hawk/dove spectrum is orthogonal to one’s position on climate science

    Point is: the hawk/dove spectrum implies nothing in particular about one’s scientific views. It is supposed to capture where you come out after weighing the risks, no matter what you think the respective risks are.

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