Nearly every week for the last four years, the issue of climate change has been taken to the senate floor by Sheldon Whitehouse. There are many who assume that climate change is a partisan issue and fail to look behind it. Talking to republican senators about climate change, is like talking to prisoners about escape (Whitehouse, 2016). Obama had called climate change to be the biggest threat to our generation yet there are still parties who reject the legitimacy of climate change. (Obama, 2015). The purpose of this essay is to illustrate that climate change is not just a hoax that has been created by the Chinese as Trump may say, it is a real-life threat that threatens to damage our future resources and the life of many. I will argue that it not only effects the developing countries alone, but also has major gendered impacts on women and refuting the definition of rational choice when it is applied to governmental institutions.
Rational choice is a school of thought which assumes that an individual/party will choose an action that best suits their personal preferences. It is best explained to help economists understand better the behaviour of a society in terms of rationality. Though it has been formed as a theory to better understand the economy, it is increasingly applied to various other fields such as political science, warfare, and evolutionary theory. Gordon Tullock (1974) proposed that in studying politics one assumes, that “the representative or the average individual acts on the basis of the same over-all value scale when he participates in market activity and in political activity. Tullock (1967) had affirmed this when he said that “Voters and customers are essentially the same people.”
When one thinks of the individual, for example, a manager of a company, it is believed that this individual will maximise their benefits whilst reducing costs as much as possible, and will choose the outcome that enhances that the most. Thus, a manager is thought to profit maximise, where they are generating the most amount of profit, whilst minimising their costs as much as possible. However, in the case of the government, some say that rational choice theory does not apply to the government because they are not profit maximisers, they instead are there to maximise the benefits to society as opposed to the costs their decisions may or may not yield, but sometimes the benefit to the public may not be in the best interests of the government due to many reasons despite the role they play in society. In regard to the situation of climate change, many political leaders may actually hesitate to take the issue to parliament. Reasons being, governments make decisions based on cost benefit analysis, and if the benefits outweigh the cost to society, then they are more likely to implement it rather than take any risks. In the case of climate change, governments are short term thinkers, and they may not pass laws that seek benefits in the future as they are trying to maximise their party votes as they are aware that most voters are myopic and ultimately view the benefits they can yield in the short term. Thus, rational choice theory in terms of climate change may have a negative impact to the public if the government base their policies on short term concepts. Although climate change is seen as a phenomenon that effects all, it is disproportionately effecting women much more than men, in particular those in developing countries (Macgregor, 2010). Very few research has been focused on the impact of climate change on women and has neglected to emphasise the gendered power relations. One thing that is very interesting in this case, is how the gender dimensions of climate change have actually been neglected by policy makers. They have cast climate change as a human crisis in which gender has no relevance but research proves otherwise.
On the notion that climate change is not gender neutral, women will be more severely impacted than men. GED scholars have been claiming for decades that women are more effected due to their social roles as providers and carers (Buckingham-Hatfield, 2000; Mellor, 1997; Jackson, 1994) and they tend to be at the bottom of the social hierarchy system, alongside children. Research has shown that they are fourteen times more likely than men to die as a result of natural disasters (Nelson et al., 2002) and there has also been evidence that women tend to starve themselves so that their children can eat, which adds more health implications to them. (Buckingham-Hatfield, 2000). Due to their low social status, it makes it less likely that women will be involved in decision making, not only in low developed countries, but the rising of social conflicts such as internalised misogyny against women, this can also be the case for women in developed countries. It is often misjudged that climate change is a problem for developing countries and not for the developed, but it equally effects all as it is a global crisis, and the reasons why developing countries are much more effected is due to the lack of resources they have access to, to enable them a better quality of life. According to 2011 data compiled by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, China and the US are the top two nations which emit the most Carbon dioxide, resulting in the obvious trend that the total carbon footprints are much higher in the developed world as they tend to import tertiary goods which take up a lot of finite resources such as oil.
However, addressing the problem of climate change also involves the ownership of problems which is certainly the case in climate. For example, meteorologists believe from extensive scientific evidence that the dominant cause of rapid change in climate is human-induced increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases, and believe it is basically a scientific problem. Whereas philosophers believe it is a moral problem and Economists then believe it is an economic problem, and to some extent, it is all of those problems mentioned together. But the fact that it is an institutional problem, is often overlooked. As we would expect, because climate change is a scientific problem, countries have an incentive to free ride the problem as opposed to directly changing it, why? Due to the lack of ownership of the climate change problem, countries may rely on others to deal with it applying politically viable policies to their own countries, thus, some have no incentive to work together internationally to tackle the problem of climate change. However, policies can be introduced to tackle this, but has both positives and negatives. For example, a policy such as a tariff; by increasing the costs of production, firms may reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and this argument may make sense, as companies who produce more, evidently should pay more in tariffs, but applying a tariff to all producers can be problematic as not all production is ‘dirty’ as some may have invested in cleaner technology to produce their goods. If government policy includes this idea of taxing producers the bigger their output, this may produce negative impacts on their votes during elections as of course, the individual seeks to maximise their own benefits, thus ruining the incentive of governments to include tackling climate change in their policies as political leaders will be rational in this case and would not want to pass any policies which could hinder them from gaining more votes, or losing the support that they already have.
At the moment, it is very hard to predict what will be done about climate change policies.
Climate politics has been shaped to alienate women and their concerns as it has been reported that climate change is a techno-scientific problem requiring technical solutions so the fact that the root of the problem lies institutionally is often overlooked. It is also not in the aggregate national interest of countries like England, America, to reduce its carbon emissions to a satisfactory globally efficient level. (Brennan, 2009). Given that scientists are right, countries ought to be planning for a climatically different future, thus involving a range of policy initiatives, as science can’t settle what should be done about climate change, and the debate of climate change needs to become more political and less scientific. The question is in economic terms, how much should we discount the future and at what rate? The action that the government will take, revolves around how much less we actually value future public goods and finite resources relative to their value today. There are many arguments on how we should allocate climate change to markets, whether it is pricing the environment as a good and service, or whether it is the role of national governments to take action. Thus, there is no clear answer as to what the solution should be, but a start would be that politics should take centre on the issue of climate change, and not science, and it is a matter of the institution to take preventative measures on the outcomes of climate change.