Toward a Politics of Responsibility: The Case of Climate Change
Kathryn Sikkink, Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School
Delivered on November 21, 2019
I'm really honored to have been asked to give the Warren and Anita Manshel Lecture, and I'm particularly pleased to have members of the Manshel family here, David and Sandy here in the audience, as well as other friends and colleagues.
Now as you heard, the Manshel Lectures are lectures on American foreign policy and in the honor of Warren and Anita Manshel. And so for me, this presented a bit of a dilemma. I work on—this is a lecture on American foreign policy and I work on climate change—or I'm working on climate change.
And so I wrestled with how to deal with this dilemma, and Melani and I had a few conversations about it, and I said, I can stand in front of you and tell you what the Trump administration is not doing to mitigate climate change or is doing to undermine efforts by other actors. But I think most people in this audience know that, and so I wouldn't be telling you anything new.
I could decide to do one of those kind of forward-looking situations where I offer a plan for a new US administration that may or may not come into power in January of 2021.
OK. Now. So since we're filming this, let's pretend I'm beginning here. Let's see. So today I'm going to be speaking about material from my forthcoming book, which is The Hidden Face of Rights: Toward a Politics of Responsibility. And I'm very happy because literally the first copy of the book arrived in my office yesterday. So you are the first people ever to see the new book, and this book is based on what we call the Castle Lectures that I gave at Yale almost two years ago.
And so the topic of the book is a broader book about how to combine rights and responsibilities. And climate change is just one of about five topics I talked about in that book, but it's a particularly useful case to make the main point of the book, and that is that it's not enough in these days to talk about rights. We have a big gap in implementation with rights. And in order to implement rights more fully, we have to think simultaneously about rights and responsibilities.
And that when we think of responsibilities, it's not enough to think just about state responsibilities. Of course, and of course with climate change, we want to think about state responsibilities for mitigating climate change, we want to think about corporate responsibilities. But we also want to think about responses of other nonstate actors. And in that I include—I include not just corporations for nonstate actors, but also NGOs, also universities, also individuals.
And now some of you who may be familiar with my previous work or listening to Melani's description of my previous work, you may say, so why is Kathryn Sikkink, who's an IR scholar of human rights, transitional justice, and norm theory all of the sudden talking about climate change? And it is true that I'm new to this issue. But I'm talking about it for a couple of reasons. One reason is that climate activists themselves are beginning to use human rights as a frame to think about climate.
And so for example, here are the young plaintiffs in a lawsuit in Juliana v. US which is asking the US government to recognize the rights of future generations and step up and do more on climate change. There is a similar case in Colombia that the young plaintiffs have won their case in the Colombian Constitutional Court, and the Constitutional Court is requiring the Colombian government to meet with the young plaintiffs and other communities to form an intergenerational climate pact, and especially around deforestation. Colombia, to meet its Paris Agreement goals, has promised [to stop] deforestation. And so it focuses on how Colombia can do a better job on that.
So the—Greta Thunberg is working with fifteen other children to bring a case to the United Nations. Here she's bringing the case to the UN committee that oversees the Convention on the Rights of the Child—the Human Rights of the Child, and she's saying that states have violated the human rights of children and the future generations of children by failing to address climate change.
But even more—I'm going to say, even more kind of far-fetched arguments—rights arguments are being made in this area. So there's arguments of the rights of trees. This comes from Christopher Stone's book, but also a very well-cited law review article on the rights of trees.
People are making arguments about getting rights for rivers, and here, Colorado River was trying to join other rivers of the world, including the Ganges River, which are already recognized as bearers of rights.
And perhaps the biggest example is the Earth herself is being seen as having rights. So Pachamama is the Earth goddess in some Andean indigenous cultures, and in both Ecuador and Bolivia, the constitutions talk about rights of Pachamama. So it's not so much that I'm moving to climate change, it's that the climate change people have come to my realm, the realm of human rights.
But the—and I am not at all opposed to these rights claims, I'm not opposed to the notion that rivers, trees, or Pachamama herself should have rights. And I'm, in fact, particularly enthusiastic about the idea of thinking about rights of future generations. But it illustrates my broader point in this book, and that is: rights only get us so far. And if we do not combine our concern with rights with a robust understanding of responsibilities, responsibilities of states and nonstate actors, we will not be able to implement these rights.
Now the—so the other reason I'm kind of following through on thinking about climate change is that the—this is in my rights and responsibilities framework—the scholars who have been—IR scholars who've dedicated themselves much more to climate change—in this case, Robert Keohane who spoke here two years ago—are starting to write in a way that really leaves a door open for people who do my kind of work.
So here's Keohane and Oppenheimer and they're saying, climate change is not going to be solved at the level of international negotiations, right? It will depend much on domestic and transnational politics. And—and I really love this part—the Paris Agreement accomplishes little, but it opens what was a locked door. That door is now a little bit ajar, pushing hard to carry us through to a better outcome. But nothing will be accomplished at the international coalition level alone.
So the question before us is, how—the door is open by Paris, how do we push through that door? And I'm going to argue that some of the work that I've done in my whole lifetime on transnational social movements, on norm change, on norm entrepreneurs, on how do you—how do you move from having norm entrepreneurs to having social movements that can bring about dramatic change in the world is now relevant to this climate change area.
So in some of the earlier books that Melani mentioned, Activist beyond Borders or The Justice Cascade, I studied historical and current norms campaigns. I went all the way back—I have a chapter that looks at the antislavery movement, looks at women's suffrage, it looks at—one of my favorite cases was the issue of ending foot-binding in China, for example. And then I looked at the ways in which human rights entered into first international relations, international law, and then into American foreign policy.
OK, now it is—of course we think human rights is part of foreign policy. Henry Kissinger wrote in 1976 that human rights had no place in foreign policy. So things change, and they change because of the kinds of people that I call norm entrepreneurs. In other words, they change from the bottom-up. Usually the changes do not happen from the top-down. Governments don't offer individuals their rights on a platter. People demand their rights, they organize campaigns, and they bring about change.
And so for example in the case of my—the antislavery activists that I looked at, it was antislavery activists—originally Quakers, tiny groups of Quakers, right? Who first put forward this idea—what a crazy idea at the time—that slavery was social sin and must be ended. Eventually they were able to elect—they were able to elect members to the US Parliament—excuse me, to the UK Parliament into the US Congress.
And those—I don't know if anyone's seen the book—the movie Amazing Grace, but it tells the story of Wilbur Wilberforce who was one of the abolitionists elected to the Parliament—the UK Parliament. They called them the Saints. There weren't very many of them, but they were the swing votes in the US Parliament—in the UK Parliament. And they were the ones who insisted on abolition as part of the price of their membership in the coalition, and that's what led the British to push for abolition of slavery.
And so these social movements do not have to become—they do not become majoritarian movements, but they learn how to wield some power to bring about change. So the thing that happens with these norm entrepreneurs is they take ideas that at the time—when you go back and study the history, at the time were unimaginable, and they turn them into things that are eventually taken for granted. And sometimes that takes centuries. And sometimes it moves a lot faster than that.
So for example, in my book The Justice Cascade here, I studied this new trend of how you move from it being unimaginable to hold state officials criminally accountable for mass atrocity. Up until—except for Nuremberg and Tokyo trials. Up until about 1973, it was unimaginable that state officials would be held accountable for human rights violations committed during their terms. And yet now today we have an International Criminal Court capable and in the process of prosecuting official state officials for mass atrocity—I'm actually very pleased to have in the room my friend and colleague, the founding prosecutor of the ICC, Luis Moreno Ocampo.
So my point here is we need norm entrepreneurs, and guess what? We've got them. The young people are stepping forward to be the norm entrepreneurs. This is a photo I took at the climate march—the climate strike in Boston. They're skipping their lessons to teach us one.
Well the lesson—so we've got the norm entrepreneurs, but now we have to figure out how are we going to take responsibility to begin to use to support, sustain, disagree, but generally be part of this coalition that these norm entrepreneurs are trying to form. And so to—so to think about responsibility, then sent me back to realize, what do we mean? What do we really mean by responsibility? It's one of those ordinary words we use a lot.
But when I started to use it in casual conversation, I started to get a lot of pushback. People don't like the word "responsibility," and they really don't like the word "duty," which is how we used to talk about it, and obligations. And so I started to feel like there was something interesting, because when I brought up responsibility and especially nonstate responsibility, I started to get a lot of pushback. And one reason why climate change is a good case is that people are willing to stay with me longer when I start talking about responsibility.
Now I drew on—in thinking about responsibility, I drew very much on political theorists, Iris Marion Young. This is her beautiful posthumous book called Responsibility for Justice. And Young makes an argument that I think helps us understand why people don't like responsibility. Because mainly when we say responsibility, we mean what Young calls the liability model. We mean, who's to blame? Who can we sue, who can we punish? And that's what she calls backward-looking responsibility. And the main model, we have a responsibility in the world is actually a backward-looking blame model.
And this is partly driven by lawyers. So lawyers, that's their job, blaming people, find out who to sue and who to punish. But it means that sometimes we are too backward-looking. Now as you gathered from my previous slide, I'm in favor of punishment for some rights issues, OK? I believe that state leaders deserved to be held criminally responsible for mass atrocity. But for most human rights issues and also for climate change, punishment doesn't get you very far. You need to have forward-looking responsibility. Instead of saying who's to blame, you need to say also, what can we do—what can we do together in order to bring about change as we move forward?
And that's how Young helped me. She has this—what she calls a social connection model of responsibility. So instead of being backward-looking, it's forward-looking, and it says all the actors who are socially connected to a structural injustice and able to act must take action. And I think that we've reached the point with climate change where that's exactly correct. All the actors socially connected to the structural injustice of climate change and able to act need to step forward, take responsibility, and act together.
Now Young—now, first have to say—and to the lawyers present—that I'm not talking about legal responsibility here. This forward-looking specifically is not legal responsibly. I'm not talking about writing a new treaty for legal responsibility. I'm talking about ethical and political responsibility. And so if it's ethical and political, then the question that Young asks is, how do we reason about it? How do we reason about forward-looking ethical and political responsibility?
And Young gives us what she calls four parameters to reason about one's own actions and those of others. And those four parameters are power, privilege, collective ability, and interest. And I'm going to focus today on power and privilege. And the reason I'm doing that is because we know from the data on emissions and especially on—these are what so-called lifestyle consumption emissions, that about 10 percent of the world's wealthiest people produce 49 percent, almost 50 percent of global lifestyle emissions. And that the poorest 50 percent are only responsible for 10 percent of total lifestyle emissions. So it means it's really important to think about power and privilege.
But as soon as I say 10 percent, most of us in the room—and this would be myself included initially, I said, oh yeah, those wealthy 10 percent out there, those people who travel by plane every day to London or whatever. And then I started gathering the data—who are the most—the 10 percent most wealthy people in the world? And it turns out—I have two different sources, I'm sure there's debate—something between $68,000 and $100,000 in assets puts you in the 10% wealthiest people in the world.
So to my—so I can say, with regard to my colleagues at the Kennedy School, for example, that my faculty colleagues and I are in the 10 percent wealthiest people in the world. I'm not going to make any generalizations about the audience, right? But my colleagues and I at the Kennedy School are there. And what that means is we can't keep saying, oh the responsibility, it's those wealthy 10 percent out there. We have say, no, we—we need—if we're concerned about people with power and privilege taking action, that needs to include us, me and my colleagues at the Kennedy School.
So OK, so this idea, though, of responsibility is starting to catch on. This is a survey that was done in August this year, 2019. It's not a huge survey, it's only a little over 1,000 people, so it's only suggestive, right? But it suggests that US citizens are beginning to think about responsibility in more diverse ways.
So that while of course they are most concerned—and correctly so—about responsibility of corporations, US federal government, and developed or industrialized countries outside of the US, they recognize that individual people as well as—as well as your local government officials—so people in cities, local people in cities—are people who also have a great deal or some responsibility. So 79 percent of people in this survey think that 50—excuse me, think that individuals have a great deal of—or some responsibility for climate change.
Now I'm going to—I'm going to move us to talk about the—about Harvard. So sometimes I think—talking responsibility—it's good to start close to home. And Harvard's close to home, and I've been following this issue for a while. And not—so I want to talk about Harvard—not because I think Harvard is by itself such an important actor, but I think Harvard can tell us about what universities are doing and can do, and also because I think Harvard is a privileged actor in the sense of people take us really seriously and we can set agendas for other actors.
So this is Harvard's sustainability principles. We've had a sustainability plan since 2014. We have a new presidential committee on sustainability, and that committee is set very ambitious goals for us, including a goal that we should be carbon fuel-neutral by 2026 and carbon—fossil fuel-free by 2050.
So it's going to—that's a very ambitious agenda. And we've made here at Harvard good progress and looking at things like recycling and like buildings emissions, but we have—what the committee has done, we have new challenges—we have new frontiers, and those frontiers are food, travel, investment.
When my colleague—I have a colleague at the Kennedy School, Bill Clark, he's on the Harvard—he's on one of these Harvard committees on sustainability. He came to talk to the Kennedy School faculty and he said, we've got new frontiers, folks. We've got food, travel, investment. And then he said, and I know telling Harvard faculty that you might try to take away their travel. It's like telling gun-owners that you're going to take away their guns. And everyone laughed, and he was right.
So first let me clarify, I'm not here to take away your travel, nor is the plan to do that. But there is a plan to start two things. So here, let me just—so this is a time to start thinking about travel. But before I get there, let me talk about—we said food, investment, travel. OK, let's talk about investment. That's what most people are talking about on campus right now. And there is university—divestment is a big issue. One hundred and fifty universities around the world have divested, about fifty of those in the United States, and some of them are institutions that Harvard would consider peer institutions.
Most of those are doing partial divestment—coal and tar sands. So that's Stanford, Columbia, that list you have over here. But some are doing full divestment, and just recently, the University of California system in its entirety announced full divestment from fossil fuels. Announced it with confidence that they didn't think was going to affect their financial situation.
As you know, this is something that's not happening at Harvard yet, that Harvard has not said that we're willing to divest. And I just want to say, I think this is something we see from these universities that are already doing it, this is something that universities can and should do, and I believe that Harvard should divest, I think we should start with coal and sand tar, and I think we should move to full divestment.
Having said that, I don't think divestment should be the only discussion in the room. And too often at university, divestment is the only discussion. As if we're not divesting, why should anybody do anything else. There's reason to believe that this travel issue I want to talk about is as important, if not more important, than divestment, but people don't want to talk about it. Because—and it's a good question, why is that? I think divestment's easy. It's something that those folks at the top—at the finance offices of university have to do, but that doesn't affect us, right? Where travel starts being what affects us, too.
So at the Kennedy School, we're starting to research. We're finding this, for example, that we worked really hard on our remodel building at the Kennedy School. We have solar panels and all sorts of cool stuff, and we got a LEED Platinum award. Is that right, Dan? That was the award, right?
But then we started looking at our travel, and we found that faculty travel and travel of guests that we invite to the Kennedy School dwarfs what we've done with our building. And so if we don't come to grips with travel, we're going to have trouble coming to grips with other issues. So we have put in—we've started to collect data about it, and we've started to suggest we should have a voluntary pledge program by faculty. And that the voluntary plan should look like something like saying, I pledge, which is what I personally have done, to try to give up one international trip a year.
Now I've got some slides here later to show you why it is that I think one international trip is so important. Those slides suggest that the most impactful thing we can do is go car-free in terms of our individual consumption. The second most impactful thing we can do is cancel one transatlantic plane trip. And then—later on we can do a plant-free diet, it's a little bit down below.
So you got like, give up a car, cancel one transatlantic plane trip, or go have a plant—excuse me—have a plant-based diet in that order. And it means that travel is way more important than most of us think. And it's not say—it's like go car-free. It doesn't say go airplane-free, it says give up one trip, all right? So we're working on this pledge program right now.
Now I want to include a slide here from—on offsets, but I want to call out the people who actually did this slide, because two of my students in the room with my global governance class, and they were part of a task force on offsets—we asked them to do a task force to what the Kennedy School should do on offsets. So this is Dan and Yuki here, and I'm using your slide without your permission, but I knew you were going to be here, so I hoped you would agree as long as I attribute.
So carbon offsets, they had a whole nice set of slides—I just gave you one here. But they're recommending the Harvard Kennedy School could use offsets not as a substitute for—not as a substitute for reduction in travel, but as a complement to our reduction in travel. That when we can't reduce our travel, that we consider offsetting our travel, and they recommended a sort of vacation organization called Gold Standard—called Gold Standard that's already checking out these different offset organizations.
There's a lot of problems with offsets, there's a lot of people claiming new offsets that aren't doing a good job and that may be not fully truthful. And so that we have certified organizations that are certifying offset programs, and you can work with Gold Standard to know that you're choosing as a certifiable offset program.
OK, so transportation decisions, people go, why transportation decisions? That the US economy, the US economy—in 2016, emissions from transportation surpassed those from electricity generation. So once again, we think it's all in electricity generation or fossil fuel companies, but it turns out it's a lot about individual choices about transportation. And cars and trucks make up most of this choice, but for people at places like Harvard, flying makes up a lot of it. So transportation decisions are a very important part of the agenda here in the US and elsewhere.
This is the chart I mentioned earlier. This is a study Wynes and Nicholas are doing kind of a macro analysis. They're actually surveying about thirty to forty articles that involve 140 scenarios to try to say what is the most impactful way that you could make individual actions around climate? And the first one here—I don't know if you can read this very well—is have one fewer child.
And that's been a very controversial part of this study because it's called—people are saying it's a category error, right? It's like, do my emissions get charged to my mom and dad? And then my kid's emissions get charged to me? And it's complicated how we do that. And so I'm going to just set that aside, though most people working on climate change do believe that children and education for women, for example, and girls is an important part of climate change policy.
But the next ones I said is live car-free, avoid one transatlantic flight, then buy green energy, buy a more efficient car, switch electric car to car-free, and then the last green is a plant-based diet. All the greens here are high impact. Those are high impact choices in kind of an order their impact. The blue is moderate impact and the yellow is low impact.
And what you see is we often spend too much time on the low impact or the moderate impact and not enough time on the high impact. Which is not saying you shouldn't recycle, you shouldn't—people should recycle. I'm not going to stop recycling just because it's listed as moderate impact, but you shouldn't sort of pat yourself on the back because you're recycling and think you've done all that you can do.
So we have some guidance about what works and what's impactful. And I think is not enough just to take responsibility, it's important to think about effective responsibility. And in the book, I actually returned to Max Weber and his article, "Politics as Vacation." And Max Weber has a very interesting argument about responsibility in what he calls an ethic of responsibility. He contrasts an ethic of responsibility with an ethic of intention.
He says, the ethic of intention is you want to—people just want to have the pure flame of their intention apparent to all, but they're not concerned about whether it actually works. The ethic—an ethic of responsibility makes you think about consequences. Are the choices I'm making actually going to lead to the outcome I'm seeking? And so this book not only argued in favor of responsibility, but it argues in favor of an ethic of responsibility, if they bury an ethic responsibly to think about effectiveness.
And to think about effectiveness, we get to engage social science, which I think is something that we scholars can make a contribution saying, there is social science about what works. The—OK, conclusions. So these are some more photos from—that I took at the climate strike. A couple of things I like about this one is I like that the students are also reminding us that if you want to take responsibility for climate change, you need to take responsibility to vote, also.
And that fits nice with me because the central chapters of this book are about responsibility to vote, and they're actually about student voting, and they're about student voting at Harvard. And the—what—and I, again, use Harvard because it's close to home, but it's a really good study of how you can move from no norm entrepreneurs to norm entrepreneurs and what difference it makes.
So students voted the lowest number of any group in this country. In the 2014 elections, Harvard students—22 percent of—2014 midterm elections, 22 percent of eligible Harvard students voted. And after 2014, a series of things began to happen on campus. We're very proud at the Kennedy School, some of our students invented something called TurboVote, which is the biggest platform now for people to be able to handle a voting registration online.
But then the university decided to incorporate TurboVote into its voter registration efforts, and eventually the university decided, with a lot of pressure from students, that when you register for classes at Harvard, you get bumped—at the college and at the Kennedy School, but not everywhere else, you get bumped into a voter registration pane. So you'd register for classes and then it says, do you want to register to vote? And you click yes and it pops you into TurboVote.
Now that—that apparently—that reform plus the student activism increased our voting in the next election by 9 percent, it went up 9 percent. We just got the data in for 2018 midterms. And by the way, this is really good data. This is not exit poll data, this is working with NSLVE which is a voting group at Tufts, and this is actual—Harvard signs a deal—1,000 universities have signed deals with and Tufts NSLVE, and our actual voting data, cleaned of any identify things, gets crossed with national data of every place in the country. So it's not just our students who are in Massachusetts, it's our students wherever they vote.
In 2018, 48 percent of Harvard-eligible students. In other words, we more than doubled between the two midterm elections, and in 2018, we matched—in a midterm, we matched the student voting level in the 2012 presidential elections. And so what—and what it showed was that this kind of organizing activism could produce dramatic change. And what—we know something about what increases student voting, campus climate is very important. And we know that faculty and administrators can make a big difference for campus climate, as do students.
And so I'm happy to admit that we political scientists can really relate to this. And I know there's political scientists in the room saying, we came late to this issue, but luckily I think people are on board now and realizing that talking about responsibly to vote is something that we do in political science classes.
And telling people how to vote—not who to vote for, how to vote—is part of political science. And so I did focus groups with Harvard undergrads in spring of 2018. As people really said, it is so—it's hard to tell, it's confusing to vote. We don't always have information about how to do it. And not only that, we're busy. We have problem sets to do, we've got lots of other stuff, maybe we're too busy to vote. And anyway, where do you find stamps?
It turns out that stamps—I mean, I'm sure I have some Millennials, I think, but stamps are a big issue for absentee voting, right? And so I'm doing this focus group and I'm like saying, you guys are some of the smartest young people in the country. If you can't figure out the vote—if you could figure out how to get to Harvard, you can figure out how to vote. And then I realized, everyone helps them get into Harvard. Their high school teachers or high school counselors, their families, all the neighbors, the tutors that their families hire for them, et cetera.
And you know what? No one helps them vote. We're not helping young people in our society vote. Young people don't help not one another, neighbors don't ask, they ask—if you got into Yale, they don't ask, you are you registered to vote? And so it's a cultural change that needs to happen, of people saying, no, a responsibility to vote and a responsibility to help others vote, especially young people, who are challenged because they're mobile. And voting suppression in this country in some states is a conscious policy, and voter encouragement has to be no less conscious.
So the one issue I want to end on, because I know you're going to ask this, so I want to get us started on this discussion, you will say, but how can individual efforts make any difference, right? How can they make any difference? How can—and the answer is, of course, that norm entrepreneurs do not intend to just stick with their individual actions. Norm entrepreneurs start with their individual actions in order to build a collective action in order to build change. And that's his bottom-up movement towards change that is the pattern of how change happens, all right?
But they—at the same time, most of these norm entrepreneurs always connect personal action to their collective action into their collective goals. So like the antislavery activists I talked about at the beginning, they, of course, always either did not have slaves or freed their slaves, of course. But they also did things like they didn't wear cotton, because cotton was produced by slavery, of course.
My favorite was—remember the foot-binding activist I told you about? The foot-binding activists formed anti-foot-binding societies where they agreed to not buy bind the feet of their daughters and only marry their sons to women with unbound feet. Because they realized that as long as you had to bind your feet in order to get married, you would no longer—you couldn't stop the practice.
And so climate change has that decentralized quality to it, and that is there's a lot that needs to be done, personal action that activists needs to take as part of an effort to build a collective movement. There's some fear that if we—there's some—people call it crowding out. They say, if you do one thing, you won't do the other. If you're worried about recycling, you obviously won't lobby your government to change its climate policies.
So there's not good evidence on the crowding-out hypothesis. Many people raise the crowding-out hypothesis, I've not seen good evidence for it with regard to movement politics. But there's an alternative hypothesis, which is my hypothesis that people who do more—take individual action, who do more to learn about how to make personal change are more effective in bringing about collective change. They ask better questions, they are better lobbyists when they talk to their government leaders, or they're more persuasive when they meet with their friends and colleagues.
And so I'm going to put out that hypothesis, we can talk about it during the Q&A period, that there's not a—not like or personal or political structural change, but that these are two parts, two sides of one coin. So I want to end on that note, I want to point to—again, I love this slide, there is hope. I think it's important to end in this age of climate despair or even climate grief.
Just this last week in two articles, one in the Boston Globe and one in the New York Times about climate despair, climate grief that people are experiencing. And so this kind of action is also I think important for climate despair and grief. So in order, though, to enact hope, we have to take concerted effort. All of us connected to the problem of climate change and able to act need to step forward and act. Thank you.
We're going to do questions. If people could move the mic for the filming purposes. They wouldn't supply the hand-held mic. There's a shortage of MTS staff. It had to go to [INAUDIBLE].
Or I would repeat questions if you want to. If people can't or don't want to get up, and we'll have me repeat your question.
And also, could you stand behind the podium and pick up the mic there?
Yeah. I myself am already breaking the rules, yeah.
OK. Questions, comments? Christy, I knew—I see your hand, I could see it going up, yes?
—walk over to the microphone.
OK. Thank you, this is really an inspirational talk. Both at the personal level and as a scholar, I agree with Melani about the possibility of engaging in public interest as well as studying. So with that preface, I have to ask, is there a possibility—is there a need for a responsibility to protect on climate change?
So this August as we all watched in horror as the Amazon rainforest was burning, President Macron made a rather controversial statement about whether there was an international obligation sometimes to intervene to protect a common heritage if a country was engaging in irresponsible actions over a world resource.
And so as the leading scholar of human rights who has studied the evolution of the responsibility to protect against humanitarian atrocities, what are your thoughts about the risks and promise of moving forward international law to think of a responsibility for such circumstances, and what conditions should we take for intervening?
Right. So first, thanks for the great question. For people in the room who may be less familiar, responsibility to protect is a doctrine and it has three pillars. It's soft law, not hard law, and the three pillars are first that a government has responsibility to protect its own citizens. Second, if a government fails in its responsibility or is having trouble medians responsibility to protecting its own citizens, other members in our community shouldn't step forward and figure out how to help that government meet its obligations to protect its own citizens.
And the third pillar is if despite all your efforts to help a government protect its own citizens—it continues to abuse the rights of its citizens, that in a last instance, the UN Security Council could vote to intervene—to use a coercive diplomacy, use Chapter 7 of the UN Charter to intervene to protect the citizens.
So I actually have written about this in my book Evidence for Hope because most people misunderstand R2P, they think it means unilateral military intervention to protect human rights, and nowhere is that written in the actual doctrine. So it's actually been misinterpreted. And as a result, R2P has lost influence. If you seen the—kind of norm charting stuff, you'll see R2P has declined in influence because people perceive it as being about unilateral military—I think, because people perceive it to be about unilateral military intervention and they don't support that often.
And my position as a human rights scholar on R2P is it's almost never improves human rights to—military invasion almost never improves human rights. Why is that? Because the biggest correlation, when you look at the causes of repression, the single biggest correlation—all of these regressions—is between war—especially civil war, but also international war—and core human rights violations. In other words, war is the biggest cause of human rights violations. It's very tricky to use it as a cure for human rights violations, and I think often it should not be seen as something that's going to work to actually improve things.
Having said that, I like the doctrine of R2P because it reframes sovereignty as responsibility. And sometimes sovereignty means, oh, it's nobody—it's no one else's business what happens in a country. And I think reframing sovereignty as responsibility, that if you're sovereign, you have responsibility for your citizens is a really important move.
And so I think thinking about R2P and especially pillars one and two more around climate change would make sense. And even maybe thinking about empowering the Security Council, for example, to think about a grave climate change crisis might be a threat to international peace and security. That the Security Council has changed its understanding of what constitutes a threat to international peace and security, and they could choose to do so as well with regard to a climate crisis.
Have you studied the results in, say, New Zealand where a river is now treated as a person? Does that reflect your own—what you're trying to articulate here in terms of the process of change?
OK, so the question is, have I studied the situation like in New Zealand, or as I said, India with the Ganges River where a river is granted rights, does that change things. And no, I haven't studied it closely. But my somewhat more distant notion is that just giving a river rights is only a starting place. And it can—it would work in the context of human mobilization of the kind we've been talking about in this talk, right?
So giving a river right is just—rights is just a way to be able to litigate somewhat differently, right? But that litigation may not succeed or that litigation may not be able to be enforced if there's not also the belief in human responsibilities to make sure that that litigation is enforced.
So I would say—I would say it doesn't run contrary to the argument making that we still have to turn to rights and responsibilities and not just rights. Sometimes I say the most important part of the title of the book is the and. Because seriously, this—I already—I promise you I'll be interpreted that somehow I'm backing away from rights and I'm talking only about responsibilities. And so I want to stress here that it's about rights and responsibilities. Yes?
I wonder, how do [INAUDIBLE] change the—how can we change the strategy—
OK, so Sarah is frowning at me. She really does want me to ask you to talk in the mic. So we—the people listening to this will want to hear your voice—your voice, not—and your question.
Hi. I'm just wondering, how do the civil society, the third sector here in the US change their strategy of activism after the—that the Trump administration? And how—do they interpret rights and responsibility differently now versus before? I don't know if—your reception to this area.
—for example, with regard responsibility to vote, I think there's no doubt that the Trump administration has been one factor that has contributed to a changing perception of responsibly to vote. In the sense that many young people thought they had a right to vote—many people in this country, not just young people, though. They had a right to vote and a right not to vote. And that one could participate in many different ways. And if you didn't want to vote, you can participate in other ways. And I think really didn't take seriously either their right to vote and certainly not their responsibility to vote.
And so there is this reframing. We've got to get away from thinking, I have a right to vote and a right not to vote—you actually don't have a right not to vote. This is a little controversial. You have a choice not to vote for which you will not be penalized. But there's no evidence in our constitution or elsewhere that you have a right not to vote. And in fact, the other great duties of citizenship, right? Which would be jury duty, paying taxes, and military service—or—now it's no longer services—registration, registration for selective service.
All of those, you don't have a right not to do them. Try having a right not to pay taxes, right? And so we have these civic duties, three of them you could be penalized with fines or even prison by not performing them. It's not—it doesn't make sense that we'd have that forth right to vote and we'd also have a right not to vote. So I think it's important to say you have a choice not to vote, you don't have a right not to vote. And you have a responsibility to vote.
So that, I think, has changed under Trump. Whether the organizing of the climate movement has changed, I'm sure there's got some people in the room here who may have ideas about that and maybe I'll invite you to—if anyone has an idea about answering that question, maybe you can go to the mic and share your beliefs. And I'm looking at Dan here because I think he might answer.
So I'm—what I can tell you is that I think it's more the sense of urgency that's changed things. I think—a number of years, people would have gone, we have to keep the focus on the state. If you focus on individual responsibility, it's letting the state off the hook. You know we can't let the state off the hook, this is a structural problem, we can't let corporations off the hook, we're not going to talk about anything else. Just states, corporations, period.
And I think that great, great urgency of—that we perceive in climate change today has led us to say, everything's got to be in play, and individual—and individual responsibility is the responsibility of all nonstate actors have to be part of the solution. And so all I can say is climate change is people permit me to go further talking about responsibility on this issue than they will on any other human rights issue. Yeah, Michael. You're good.
So I have a question I'm struggling with on divestment. And so I'm actually, for example, I'm on the board of a public company, I'm the head of the governance committee. And if someone—there are some shareholder groups that say that—to the governance committee, if you're the chair and you don't have at least one woman on the board, we're going to vote against you as the chair and get you off the board, which is very powerful.
If someone says, you don't have any women on the board, you only have one woman on the board, we're just going to sell our shares, then it doesn't do much for me. So they divest, they feel good, but it hasn't changed my behavior. So similarly I wonder—I struggle with this, is it better to divest from fossil fuel companies or form a consortium of universities and demand that you're going to monitor methane emissions and you're going to improve them by 30% or we're going to vote the whole board out.
So that's—I'm struggling with whether divestment really does anything other than make the people feel good, and then somebody else owns the shares, and the governance of the company is like, I don't care who owns them, I'm still here.
That's my question.
By the way, Michael, the Chair of the Carr Center for Human Rights Advisory Board. That's a really good question, and I think the issue of how we think about effectiveness. So if the point is that our ethical responsibility has to say, I want to change the behavior of that firm, then your recommendation of staying in is probably the better one. But if what we want to do is we want to shift the legitimacy of the fossil fuel industry entirely, then I think that these move—that the divestment move is more a move about symbolic gestures of changing perceptions of legitimacy. That's what happened in the tobacco industry.
And the tobacco industry, it just became a pariah industry. The fossil fuel industry is not at all that. But I think that when we see what we need to do in order to meet the minimum needed for—just to increase 2 degrees Celsius, I think mass—that we've got to have a massive change in the way we think about the fossil fuel industry, and that's I think where divestment comes in. Yes?
Well, I'm going to jump into the mic here. Really, thank you so much for this is fascinating and inspirational despite climate despair. So I wonder if—you opened by saying you're not going to talk about American policy around this issue, and I think that's well justified because we know this story in broad terms even if we don't know the micro details, but I wonder if you could connect everything you've said to the national and global levels of governance and how—so you've outlined a lot of ways that individuals can mobilize as individuals and as members of organizations in potentially quite effective ways that have quantifiable impacts. What about the relationship between this individual and organizational subnational mobilization with global governance?
So let's say the US is out of the picture for the—at least the next couple years if not longer on these issues. Can this kind of more micro level organizing have an impact on the global governance stage, and how do you connect the sort of collective mobilization of this more micro level form of organization to other sites of lobbying or advocacy if the sort of—the US as an important global actor is either out of the picture or actively countering collective efforts to address this problem?
Right. So I thought you—OK, so in the human rights area, one way that people have approached this is saying, when our government won't ratify a treaty, that nonstate actors will say that they're going to ratify a treaty and they will start trying to comply with it. So they—for example, CEDAW, which is Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Women's Human Rights Convention the United States has not ratified, even though we mainly—we've done a lot to comply with that treaty, but we haven't ratified it.
But for example, the city of San Francisco has said, we want to ratify CEDAW. Now it's a symbolic gesture, they can't do it, but if enough subnational units stepped up and said, what would it take for us to comply with US commitments under Paris, they'd be really interesting. California is trying to do it as you know. And so what it means is that states may need to do a climate change foreign policy. And cities may need to do their part for climate change foreign policy.
Cambridge, by the way, did you see the third one there, it's clean energy Cambridge gives us a clean energy option, which I have chosen, and I get a little message in the mail every month telling me what I'm doing. So cities can do this clean energy issue that can be really important, can be very impactful.
So my thing would say is I think all these sub—both corporations themselves can do things for climate change. I don't think fossil fuel companies—I think the whole business model depends—are not going to, but I think there's a lot of other corporations that could step forward and could be very good corporate citizens around climate change.
Not only that, the one big corporate issue that might be made is hiring great help, hiring great staff, right? And young people that care about this issue. You want to attract and retain the best young talent, corporations should be putting a climate change policy right at the top of their agenda, because that's going to help them recruit and retain the best young staff people.
So I think if all of these nonstate actors and subnational units start thinking themselves as saying, while our government won't have a climate change foreign policy and has withdrawn from Paris, let's suppose under Paris, what would we need to do to do our share to help the US meet its goal under Paris? We have that goal, you know? And so—and we could break it down. We could break it down to what every unit needs to do to meet Paris and we should start doing that.
So when we have a return to Paris, which I think we will have, then we could have well underway a planning process thought out about what each piece of the United States would have to do to meet it. Something that was—has not been happening, you know? So that's what I would suggest. But Bruce, yeah?
Thank you very much, I enjoyed the presentation. And this is kind of a technical question, I don't know if you have the details with you, but I'm really struck by this thing about taking one fewer flight and conserving energy. And the reason I ask is because I think most other things up there, very, very believable that that's action we can take and we can reduce our carbon footprint. But I really have trouble understanding the flight aspects of it and what the math was that went into calculating, if you don't take one flight, we get so much credit.
Because OK, I was going to fly to—let's say I was going to fly to Honduras. Well, instead of flying to Honduras, I'll cancel that flight, but I'm going to drive to New York. And it's not like the world will come to a standstill, and it would seem to me that the pressure has to be on the airlines, just like it is on the auto industry, the pressure has to be on the airlines to come up with electric airplanes or some more efficient mode of air travel. I'm just trying to understand—I'd like to get behind it, but I can't. And so what's the detail or a little bit of the math that would make it more convincing?
OK, so first, I'm not the math person who will do it. But what I can tell you is that I've been doing my carbon footprint for many years on many different carbon footprint calculators—I used to do it for class I taught. And all of us in the class did carbon footprints, and I did mine, and the students put theirs up and they all look pretty good because student footprints are pretty good, and then I put mine up and it looked really bad. And I could watch my footprint as I plugged in my data. My data about my heating, about my car—my driving, about whatever.
And then I would put in—start putting in my flights, and you could just see it push. And it was very clear to me from 15 years ago that I personally, given my lifestyle, could not address climate change without addressing air travel. Now different people are a different way. Some people—many people in this country don't fly that much, obviously they've got other issues. So I'm speaking to a community that we live in, and I promise you, do your carbon footprint on any of these trackers and—who are using different math and have slightly different models behind them, OK? So it's not just one math model, there's lots of math models. And you're going to find that for most people living our kind of life.
Now you're talking the substitution effect. So the plan is—so I would take a—I would take a drive to New York instead. The plan is, you reduce one flight and you replace it with a Zoom or—a Zoom or Skype lecture. You don't—but it's also OK to say like I just went to Princeton the other day, I took the train, right? Because we have charts as well that tell us, and the train is—the emissions are much lower. So if I have to go to Princeton, I have an option there with a train that's going to have fewer emissions. But ideally, the proposal is to stay home and to do it video. OK.
Now the issue I'm also making—so OK. I know what I'm going to do. I'm trying to do—I think there's a win-win here at Harvard, because guess what? Like if we stay home, we might like talk to our own colleagues more. We might talk to our students more. In other words, I think there—I think our quality of life is insane, and that we would improve—not only diminish our carbon footprint, but improve our quality of life by decreasing the number of trips.
But you want a—you still want it more technical, so keep going.
Again, it's just the matter of what does it take for one person not taking one flight to have an effect? Because in my mind—and I think in most people's minds—that flight still goes.
And so how do you—how would you come up with these—and I understand, you could take the emissions of a plane, divide by the number of people on that plane and come up with an emission per person or something like that and use that in your calculator, but when you're trying to convince—when you're trying to change a culture, it has to be something that can be understood. And I'm really having a hard time seeing how did you get to that number? And I accept all these other beneficial effects of not flying, but it's just very difficult for me to understand how you communicate that to the population at large. Thank you, and I—
No, it's a great—
There's other people here to ask—
—great question. Obviously in the short-term, the plane leaves. So yes, this model depends on supply and demand. It's a supply and demand model. In other words, it's not a radical thing, it's a basic economics supply and demand. The plane leaves, but there's a point where if one more person doesn't get on the plane, they cancel it. And so yes, this just shows how individual action has to coalesce into large enough collective action that planes, there's not as much demand for air travel and eventually the flights get canceled. I think that's very—I don't think that's math, I think that's an economic model that's well-accepted. There is a supply and demand in this area.
People should be identifying themselves. I know some of you, but yeah.
I'm Carly Brandt, I'm a doctoral student here and I study the legacy of nuclear testing in American empire and climate change in the Marshall Islands.
And I really appreciate your talk here today, I think it raises some wonderful questions about territorial sovereignty and what happens to small island nation-states if indeed they go underwater. The two questions that I would love to hear your thoughts on are about reparations around climate change, and what this framework says to the people living in small island nation-states about their ethical responsibilities.
I notice one of the charts you gave said that like 70-plus percent people think that those living in developing nations have a significant role to play in this, and so I was wondering if you could tell us more about what you see as that role. Thanks.
So one reason I use the Iris Young's parameters and talk about palm privilege is obviously I do think that more powerful and privileged actors have unique sets of responsibilities. But as an IR scholar, I think that Kyoto failed. We know Kyoto failed. And it failed in part because it didn't distinguish between small island states, really poor countries, and the emerging economies. And a solution that left China and India out was going nowhere.
And so I do think when we start thinking about how to—we need to really distinguish between categories of developing countries and realize that any solution that doesn't involve these large emerging economies is destined to failure. So reparations for climate change, I think in—right now we're in mitigation, then we're going to talk about adaptation, and then we're going to talk about these new schemes of shooting particles into the air to stop climate change. Geoengineering, right?
But right now I'm talking mitigation, and we're falling so short of mitigation that we're going to be arriving way too soon at the adaptation area, in which case we're going to talk seriously, seriously about reparations, some kind of—not just reparations, remedies more, and just what—where are people going to go, where are they going to live?
But I am not willing to give up on mitigation yet, put it that way. And I think it's—and I've got colleagues at the Kennedy School, it's like all—it's geoengineering, we're already there, that's what we're going to talk about. And I feel like there still is a moment here for serious, serious action on mitigation that I would like to have us [INAUDIBLE]—and right now in this country, that's where we want to put—I mean, we can't even get mitigation—we can't—there's so little we can do right now that to even—that we're not in a reparations place yet. I think ethically, reparations are needed. Politically, we can't get mitigation, which is our first—I believe our first responsibility.
Hi, I'm Eve, I'm an undergraduate associate at the Weatherhead Center, and I really liked your point about the way that people tend to bristle at this idea of responsibility, especially in the context of climate change and with the way you linked it to this liability model. But I was just wondering about this maybe additional piece about kind of—once you add climate change to the people's consciences, it feels like there's no end or there it's hard to know when enough is enough. And so I'm just wondering kind of how you would suggest that people grapple with this question of—it seems like with every moment in their lifestyle choices it comes up, and so kind of how to handle that without having it be overwhelming as—
Yeah. I mean, that's one reason why I popped up this slide. Because I do think that there are some people for whom to talk with—who are already doing a lot of that responsibility, and then they just feel completely overwhelmed and not even knowing where to start, how to make choices, what to do, what not to do, and we're all like running—rushing out and putting our clothes on the—drying our clothes.
So here it is. Hang-dry clothes. So if I had to make choices, I'm not going to run out and hand my wet clothes—hand clothes to dry, because given my lifestyle, I need to be up here. I gotta be up here, and I think—I particularly need to be on that airplane place.
So I do think that this—I think people should think about the ethic responsibility effectiveness, and that doesn't mean they should stop—I'm not advising people to stop recycling, for example. I've reached the point where I can't even—I can't put a glass bottle in the garbage, it just gives me the creeps. But I do think we should base our—on given who we are and what our carbon foot—what our footprint is, where can we be most effective?
And one thing—I didn't say this because it can be off-putting to people, but Iris Young says that ethical and political responsibilities are discretionary. And what she means by that is exactly what you said. It's too—there's too many responsibilities in the world, we can't all do everything. And if we think about all the responsibilities all the time, we almost are immobilized by it.
And so we can be discretionary, we can choose what do I—what's more effective, but also what do I care more about, what do I know more about, where do I feel most comfortable making a contribution. And the issue is not am I doing everything, the issue is, am I doing something, am I doing more?
Hi, I'm a graduate student associated in [INAUDIBLE] program in government and I study adaptation ancillary to engineering, so this—
OK, so but let me ask you a question—do you think we should give up on mitigation?
No, I don't think we should give up on mitigation. I mean, I worry, I guess about a lot of this stuff in terms of whether it's going to happen. And my question is kind of related to that. So one of the big challenges—and this links to some of the past questions as well is the attribution—both of historical responsibility and current responsibility.
So on the topic of airlines, easyJet has recently been unveiling a campaign where they're going to purchase offsets in their—as are a lot of other airlines. I think The Financial Times had found that it like covers like a fraction of their emissions—I mean, air travel technology is not—it has lagged way behind.
And similarly, I mean, you saw this in the failure of the Kyoto Accord, that—like a lot of these purchasing of offsets, and a lot of things that people were saying were helping the environment weren't. So how does that affect—I mean, I guess—to be [INAUDIBLE], the usefulness of the framework of responsibilities when it seems to also have led actors to not be fully transparent about what they're doing or the effectiveness of it or to lie about that.
Yeah. So again, it may help coming from the human rights realm, someone who does work researching human rights, right? And we know states ratify treaties, and then we know there's massive noncompliance. And there's hypocrisy. And in fact, norms theorists build hypocrisy into the model. So hypocrisy, the difference is what—like an activist, they like hypocrisy, because that's the tool you use to then start pushing harder, right? To get these hypocrites to—who said they're trying to do something, but we know they're not really doing it, to try to improve their practices.
So I think anyone who studies kind of norm change realizes that if you think you set a model and then you get 100% compliance, it just doesn't work that way. But that people stating that they're committed to something can be a tool for what I used to call the—in Activist Beyond Borders, we talked about accountability politics and leverage politics. And accounting politics is using what easyJet says and then pushing them to really do something meaningful that way.
But obviously there's—if hypocrisy goes on for too long, then it's corrosive. Then it's corrosive. And so the offset issue has been—and this one—I really liked what my task force did, and maybe Daniel or Yuki want to say something about it, but there is a lot of critiques of offset and there's a lot of lousy offsets out there, but there's, what, four certification schemes now for offsets. So we have certifying bodies and we can ask, and anyone says, I offset, you say, who are you using this to certify that you're—there's a legitimate offsets?
And so that's global—we have global governance of offsets now, and like most global governance, it was moving from a very informal kind of thing to a more formal more, rule-bound, and more metrics to use. So we need to use those metrics to try to hold these actors accountable.
What about their responsibility historically or their responsibility associated with a certain disaster? I mean, it's hard physically to actually identify whether this was the cause of climate change or an individual event versus a trend. So is this—sorry.
Yeah, no. No, I'm just saying, I'm—this is why I think—I think right now that focusing too much on responsibility as liability, as who's to blame is not going to be able to mobilize the kinds—the kind of global movement that's required. Because then if you're not to blame, you say I'm off the hook, right? And we're past that point, the horse is out of the barn, you know? It's not enough to just have the people who are to blame.
It doesn't mean you shouldn't blame them, I think you shouldn't ask for reparations or remedies, but I think that the too much emphasis on only backward-looking responsibility is not the—is not going to give the energy that we need to this movement.
Hi. I'm Molly, I'm an undergrad here.
I guess I have two questions. First of all, it might be hard to determine this mathematically for this chart, but where does generalized material consumption fall into this?
Yeah. So there's—there are—I just put up one because I thought it was pretty new and I thought pretty good study. There are many different studies that are doing this, and there's very—there's different rankings, there's not a single ranking. There's the drawdown—have you ever seen drawdown? Which is thinking not about individuals, thinking more about more collective issues. But drawdown, its number one thing is like working on refrigerants, for example.
But its number three thing is thinking about food waste. And then there's this whole debate, right? FAO I think said if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world. And then someone said, you can't say that, you can't say if food waste were a country, it's just an absurd thing to say. But it still focuses the mind that one of the problems we have is just waste. And food waste is the first kind of waste and the most important, and something that, by the way, is another huge problem at Harvard, but then consumption waste in general, right?
And so there's a book, an inconvenient is it called? Inconspicuous Consumption, Tatiana Schlossberg just published a book. And she spends a lot of time on the fast fashion—is that it? Fast fashion?
Right? Fast fashion as being a big problem. Because it encourages—it has—and so we used to have like four seasons, now there are like twenty. Zara has like twenty-six seasons? It encourages the consumption—very rapid consumption and very rapid disposal of material goods. And so certainly that's—I think we do need to think about waste and the production of waste across the board, but there are some areas like food where waste is particularly prominent.
And I feel like the waste areas are kind of the win-win areas, you know? It's like really, if we could fix—the Kennedy School, by the way, it has a very casual thing, but is working. Every time we have one of these receptions and there's piles of food leftover, there's a network of people, of a faculty assistants and graduate students, they send out an email, it's like, food's there, everyone's gone, come and get it, and the food disappears. And we're really happy, because it means we're diminishing our food waste. There's no reason we couldn't have—
And so there's even an organized system now, because originally it was informal and they got worried that things would go bad, right? So now there's like an—they set a certain time limit on it and they put a little sign that says, this is for you to take. So when you walk past the table and you feel embarrassed because—it says, no—free food, take it.
And so there are ways to kind of get better systems to avoid this. Schlossberg's book also points out that our whole notion of expiration dates for food in this country is completely informal. I thought it was like the Food and Drug Administration really knew that my olives were going to go bad on the 29th of December, you know? Turns out that it's almost completely fictional.
And so either we need to have like good standards, which maybe we can or may we can't, or we need—I mean, we need to recognize no, don't throw something just because there's a bad date on it, you know? Use your own senses before you throw—smell something.
Don't open the can!
Yeah, exactly. So that's—so there are these systems, like we believe them like they're the God's truth, you know? An expiration date that turns out to not really be a good guidance.
Can I ask a follow-up question related to that? So I—like I—climate change is so urgent and so pervasive, but there's so many other environmental issues that I think there's a lot of focus on. Like energy and someone's said, like oh, an environmental issue is just like an engineering problem, we just have to take the carbon out of the air, and I'm like, well what about all the plastic in the ocean, what about the mercury, what about the soil degradation? There's like so many other environmental issues, so how can we ensure that our actions don't get fixated on climate change and don't get fixated on carbon and just the way in which we interact with the earth more generally? Like, how to encourage that sort of larger cultural shift?
I mean, Young would say that's what she means by being discretionary. Is that you—that people do get to say, this is what most moves me. This is what gets me up in the morning. But I also think we should be thinking the kind of overlap win-win situations. There's things that are simultaneously good for climate change and good for some of the other environmental issues that you're concerned about. And you might sort of say, can I find that overlap there and work particularly in that area that helps me address sort of two or three of my priorities? Yeah?
My question you just sort of touched on. I was trying to better understand when we were talking about political responsibility being discretionary and you could—if your skill is in getting the plastic out of the ocean and maybe you don't spend your time getting—taking care of food waste, that seemed to slip in to the risk of what you talked about earlier of the ethics of intention and how I can value signal—I'm doing something here to do my part to save the world, and so I can excuse myself from doing something else elsewhere, and if you don't look too closely at the math, I can get away with a lot more than I deserve.
And I think I'm just not understanding how you see that continuum and I'm hoping you can elaborate a little more on that.
Yeah. So when Weber talks with the ethics intention, he has this really great quote. I can't—I won't be able to do it word for word, but he basically says, there are people who just want to be the flame of pure intention, right? And we have tried—we've been—I've been there, all right? And we know people like that, right? It's not important what difference I make, it's important that I express my opposition, right? In a way that's most visible, that's I'm most passionate about.
I do not believe that Iris Young is saying that. But I can say that my contribution in some way is sort of adding Weber to Young. Which is funny, because they were way [INAUDIBLE]. But I'm saying, Young talks about discretion, I don't think she talks enough about effectiveness. And so by adding this ethic of—Weber's ethic of responsibility saying, we need to think about that things can be discretionary, but that doesn't mean we're going to give up on effectiveness. We need to think about having discretion and wanting to be effective.
And that's kind of the suggestion I was making. You have some discretion, but could you—couldn't you figure out a way to be effective by working on two areas that you're passionate about that would include climate change, right? And again, I feel—we are called as social scientists to this issue of effectiveness. There's actually a lot of good research out there, and so I sort of feel like we should be consulting the research, and when we make a decision to move on some issue, we should be doing our best job at consulting the research and doing—and thinking about what's the best thing that social science or science can tell us about what works?
I'm Fernando. I'm an affiliate of a visiting scholar at Harvard.
And my question is regarding the norm entrepreneurs. How do they appear, what's their role, and what's their potential in advocacy change?
Right. Really great question, Fernando, it's good to see you here, thanks for coming. So norm entrepreneurs, some of them are people who are victims, for example. So some of the norm entrepreneurs I have studied in places like Argentina during the dictatorship, right? Where people who didn't volunteer to be a norm entrepreneur—they lost a child, a child was disappeared, and they kind of stepped forward without any desire to be a norm entrepreneur and found themselves in that role just trying to find their child.
But other norm entrepreneurs are brought—I think it's kind of—it's a really interesting story, and the truth is, every time I start working on a new issue, I go back and try to find that early norm entrepreneurs. And they're A quirky group and there's no good explanation for them. Some are like—the thing that surprised me, of course, about abolition, most of the early abolitionists were brought by religion. Their religion, their particular religion, which was part of the Second Great Awakening—IT was kind of an evangelical movement this country—brought them to an understanding of social sin, and they were driven to work on—their religion drove them to work against slavery, which was social sin.
But it also drove them to work on prohibition. Slavery and—antislavery and prohibition activists were some of the same people. And alcohol was another social sin, right? And so we forget that we remember the abolitionists, we forget that they simultaneously believed in prohibition of alcohol, something that failed. So they did something that succeeded eventually, the abolition, and something that failed, prohibition.
So there's lots of stories about what brings people to it. And we could—I would ask, I would ask some of the young people in the room, young people for various reasons have really been brought to this issue. And I think it's partly they—and the signs. The signs on the climate strike, what gave this sense of you'll be dead, we'll be alive, right? There was a sense of mortality. That this was affecting their mortality, which doesn't really fit with any real timeline of climate change. So in some ways, some of the young activists have squished the timeline to make it a sense of their own mortality.
So I don't have a good—I don't have a good explanation of what brings people to it, but some people discovered that they have a temperament for it. And again, it takes temperament. Heaven forbid, you don't want to really have to be one yourself or live with one, because people are—a lot of norm entrepreneurs very, very single-minded people and very difficult people to live with, you know?
But about these young people, many of these young people are. Like—so the young people—the Friday—what's it called? Fridays for the Future people, you know? The German parents are at their wits ends, their kids are skipping school every Friday, they're missing their exams, they're not going to get into college, you know?
And my feeling is these parents have to start bargaining with their kids who are—or being norm afterwards, they have to say, OK, you go to school on Friday and I'll cancel a flight, so the world would be better off, you know? That would be a way of expressing responsibility. Instead they're just saying, you have to go to school, you have to take your exams, you can't go in front of the Bundestag every Friday, you know? That's not the way to help here. Some teachers are teaching classes right there in front of the Bundestag. I mean, some people are saying, OK, let's use climate change as a good example to study science, and I'll teach you class right there where you are.
But I'm sorry, I'm just—I'm digressing. The point being that there's no recipe for how to be a norm entrepreneur. Luis.
I think what you're presenting is the issue, I think the audience is presenting is how to move for individual action to the collective action. When I have to go to London next week, I'll have to go to London, I will take my flight, and I agree with the person who will say, OK, if I don't they my flight, the airplane will—in any case will go.
And you say, yeah, we'll be at tipping—a tipping point of the flight now, but it's difficult. So the [INAUDIBLE]. So being a lawyer, I think—I'd like to present one idea to you is, you're saying we don't need to see backward, but in fact, there's a combination between watching backward and then moving forward. And it's this idea—imagine you have it—you win a case in the court in New York against the company for emission gases. That [INAUDIBLE] your insurance problems. And insurance is a mechanism.
In one case and in a global insurance approach, the company had to pay for that. It is a case, there's a risk, and insurance is. Coming so my feeling is, to move—maybe the idea is to move—include incentives, not just individual moral. And move from national state control to type of corporate control where insurance companies are providing the control. So that's a lawyer idea.
Great. So first—I believe that we shouldn't get rid of backward-looking accountability or liability. I think the problem is that sometimes 100% of our thinking is backward-looking, you know? And so what I'm trying to argue is that we shift the percentage of thinking so that there's a little more forward-thinking and a little less backward-thinking. And so it's not saying you lawyers, give up your losses—I love some of these lawsuits. But I'm saying, that only gives us so far, we need to have more forward-looking accountability also. OK.
The one I want to talk about is incentives, not just morals. So there's two models of human behavior in the social sciences, right? One of them is people are motivated by incentives, and the other is people are motivated by norms. And this is the big debate between Kahneman and Tversky and between economists, and it's the reason why Kahneman and Tversky got the economic prize, right?
Because they said, no, humans are completely irrational all the time, and they're not motivated mainly by incentives, they're actually motivated by what other people around them are doing, what's neat, what's cool, what's the thing to do, right? And so I think I've got a lot of behavioral economics and psychology behind me, I'm not just a moralist. I'm saying people are social creatures. They want to do what everyone else is doing, right?
And we need to make these things the norm—the appropriate things to do, we need to make them fun, cool—I mean, voting, I promise you, lecturing students about voting is not going to work, but making voting fun, making it the—you students who are here, you are planning already parties, right? For the next—the elections, you plan parties, you organize your friends to go with you to the voting booth, that's what does it.
So I want to be interpreted correctly. I'm not about morality, I'm about norm change, with an understanding that humans are guide—are social creatures who conform to the norms of their society. I think this—how am I doing? Last? Last.
OK. Hi, my name's [INAUDIBLE] and I'm a student—a PhD student from UMass. I'm kind of curious to know whether you think there needs to be something of a change in the voting mechanics, because I kind of was surprised that in the US, you don't actually have a public holiday for election day. In a lot of countries like—India included, you actually have a public holiday on election day. So if you don't go to vote, there is literally no excuse at all.
And pretty much you know what hours a polling station has, if you're registered, pretty much you need to go there and do it, and if you don't go, it's pretty much like a case of shame on you, but over here, I realize that a lot of people, especially people in marginal jobs who are genuinely afraid of going and skipping a shift to vote because they'll end up getting fired or people who are simply too swamped with their work and their lives to actually go ahead and vote. So I'm just curious to know what you would think about something like that.
I'm on record on Twitter calling for a national holiday called Democracy Day, right? And I'm on record actually recommending that in Massachusetts we cancel Columbus Day and instead have Democracy Day on election day. So I completely agree with you, we need a holiday, most other countries do. It would be a good thing.
But the reason doing it is not just—again, not just make it practical, but to do—to celebrate, to celebrate our elections and make voting a thing that's fun and interesting. Yeah.
I just had one—I had one quick point. As someone who organizes academic conferences at Harvard, and we're talking about changing norms, I can tell you that I book hundreds of flights and order thousands of dollars of food to be delivered in, and I think that we could as a whole change our norm on how we run academic conferences. If we're looking at flights, I mean, it can all be done electronically and via Zoom. So it's something to think about on our norms, and—
Put it this way—this is a thing where Harvard students, staff, and faculty and administrators all have a super important role to play. And I complete—now, I don't think we're going to replace in-person stuff—there's something about in-person contact which all of us realize permit certain kinds of exchanges, but we could do a lot more with videoconferencing.
Bill Clark gave an example, he goes, I got invited to a one-day conference on climate change in Singapore. And this is the absurdity of it. No, you're flying people from all over the world for one day in Singapore to talk about climate change? And he goes, no, he says, I'll come in by—I'll do my presentation by Zoom. And they said, oh, they'll be at 2:00 in the morning. And he said, let's get this straight—you want me to fly 24 hours or I get up at 1:00 in the morning and talk you at 2:00? I'll choose that.
So yes. So we need to think—we need think together. And the food waste thing, I think there's a huge—I think there's a—
Harvard could arguably just feed everyone here without us all having to go out in order out, right? It could support a farm to like feed everyone. I mean really, the amount of money that each center, each seminar, each group pays to have lunch brought in or a dinner brought in, I mean, you could sustainably do it—anyway.
There's room for lots of creative thinking, and don't get me started on sugar, which is my other thing. No cookies, no more ordering cookies. I want to thank you, these are terrific, terrific questions and comments, I really appreciate your thoughts and your comments. So thank you very much.
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