Deconstructing the Four Pillars of the Climate Change Debate: A Critical Review of the Scientific, Economic, Political, and Ethical Dimensions
Four major discourses within the climate change are identified and explored in this paper. First and foremost, there is the scientific discourse of climate change. The prevailing themes in this discourse are complexity, uncertainty, risk, and ultimately, the authority and legitimacy of science-based policy making. Secondly, there is the economic discourse, where the climate change issue is framed in terms of the relative costs and benefits of mitigation vs. adaptation, and command-and-control approaches are compared to free market approaches. Next, there is the political discourse, characterized by issues of cooperation between States, regime formation, and international law vis-à-vis climate change, where realist conceptions of power, based on military and economic strength, are challenged by post-structuralist theories, which stress the roles of knowledge, and persuasion in international politics. Lastly, there is the ethical discourse of climate change. Here, the issue is usually framed in terms of burden sharing, rights and responsibilities, historical accountability, and ability to pay. While it is possible to understand each of these discourses in isolation, the analysis undertaken here critically examines each of these discourses in detail and explores the connections between them. Two key findings emerge from the analysis. Firstly, there is the recognition that a purely objective analysis of the climate change issue is neither possible, nor desirable. Secondly, each of the four discourses are intimately connected to one another; thus, the science of climate change cannot be divorced from the political context in which it is deployed, just as economic analyses of the issue cannot be understood without also considering the ethical dimensions of the various assumptions involved in any such analyses.