Dangerous limits, parts per million, annual emission cuts, percentage increase in proportion of energy from renewables, fuel efficiency; these are just some of the forms the language of targets takes in the climate change debate. This is what is called an instrumentalist approach. It assumes climate change is a technical problem, like all the other problems we face, and that it can be solved by accurate measurement and the correct technologies.
Describing climate change as a technical problem pushes questions of politics and values to one side. This is a mistake because climate change is an issue which forces us to ask - how do we want to live? See here for a fuller description of the problem with targets.
What should replace the language of targets? A positive language which highlights the benefits that will accrue from moving towards a more equal, less competitive and less acquisitive way of living. The work of the Equality Trust provides ample evidence that more equal societies are happier societies, healthier societies. Current Western ways of life are economically bankrupt. People have ceased getting happier since the 1970's. Communities are breaking down, families are torn apart by the need to work long hours, politically the world is becoming increasingly unstable. We have all the marvels of technology at our fingertips, and yet 'have we ever felt so impoverished and isolated? (Zerzan, 2002). Has the future ever seemed so precarious? Has the reason for optimism ever been so difficult to locate?
Now is the time to be brave, to imagine how our world could be better, how we might truly live in a way that honours our ancestors and offers hope and joy to the generations yet to come. Let us not ask how much of the modern world we can keep, and still avoid catastrophe. Let us ask how little we need to keep in order to be happy, and build a life worth living, that will be a testament to those who are to follow us.