Pragmatism is a silent killer when it comes to the climate problem

Published on
October 11, 2018

An interview with Prof. Esther Turnhout of the Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group.

While many of her colleagues are in search of pragmatic solutions for the climate problem, Esther Turnhout feels that the problem should be examined from a political perspective. “As long as we continue to focus on pragmatic solutions, the real problems will be hidden.” Turnhout is one of the speakers at the ‘Earth Futures’ symposium on 19 October.

What do you think of the theme ‘Earth Futures’?
“It occurs to me that we often look at technological solutions from a pragmatic viewpoint when we talk about climate change. We look at how to handle the consequences currently faced by us. For example, how to store excess atmospheric CO2 in the ground. I feel that we need to take a step back and ask ourselves why do we look at climate problems in these ways? And have we lost sight of certain alternatives?

Which approach should we take?
I think that we need to view matters from a political perspective. Don’t get me wrong, though. I know very well how the pragmatic approach began. Many political systems are currently set up in ways that make it difficult to take the necessary actions against climate changes. Therefore, it is very logical to focus on the consequences because these are non-debatable. But by doing so, we put aside the real problem: how do we distribute the suffering caused by climate change in as fair a way as possible? It is always the same vulnerable groups who have to bear the brunt of climate change problems. Third World inhabitants suffer the most currently, not to mention more suffering in future if global warming continues. I would try to pay more attention to this.

How should we tackle climate change in the future?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple answer for this very complex problem. However, I think that it is very important that we question this continually. I think that we have most to gain by engaging both political and technological solutions, and by blending these together. At the same time, we need to exclude the ‘silent killer’ pragmatism as much as possible. As long as we focus on the pragmatic approach, we will never see the real problems.

Why should people come to this symposium?
There will be people on the stage with differing scientific arguments, but who would want to engage in discussions with one another. I hope to see lively debates among the speakers. Let the sparks fly when this group of people from various backgrounds come together to look at this major problem.

‘Earth Futures’ will be held on 19 October. Scientists from within and outside the WUR will discuss changes in the global system from natural and social science perspectives. Click here for more information and registration.

This article has been translated from a Dutch article.