University of Sussex
Shaw,_Christopher_James.pdf (3.78 MB)

Choosing a dangerous limit for climate change: an investigation into how the decision making process is constructed in public discourses

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:19 authored by Christopher James Shaw
International climate change policy is predicated on the claim that climate change is a phenomenon with a single, global dangerous limit of two degrees of warming above the pre-industrial average. However, climate science does not provide sufficient empirical evidence to determine such an exact limit. In addition, a single limit incorrectly assumes that social and physical vulnerabilities to climate change are uniformly distributed in space and time. Public commentaries play an important role in shaping public engagement with an abstract concept such as climate change. This research project examines how public discourses construct the dangerous limits to climate change decision making process. My analysis draws on elite theory to argue that the two degree limit is a discourse which constructs climate change as a problem solvable within existing value systems and patterns of social activity. A comparison of primary and secondary data drawn from diverse sources is used to chart the key historical, social and cultural elements present in the construction and reproduction of the two degree dangerous limit discourse. The historical dimension of my analysis shows that public commentaries have ‘black boxed’ the genesis of the two degree dangerous limit idea. I demonstrate how claims of a consensus amongst elite policy and science actors are central to developing a dangerous limit ideology amongst influential public audiences. The two degree discourse elevates the idea of a single dangerous limit to the status of fact, and in so doing marginalises egalitarian and ecological perspectives. I conclude that the two degree limit is a construct which makes possible an international environmental regime safe for the interests of elite actors


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University of Sussex

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