Ideology and the New IPCC Report

It is partly true that the new IPCC Report on Climate Change is “scientific,” but we should be honest about the limitations of this. It is also an ideological document, covering up key causes and insulating powerful systems from critical scrutiny. In the crucial, most widely read version of the Report, the 41-page “Summary for Policymakers,” the word “human” appears 79 times; by contrast, the word “capitalism” occurs 0 times, the word “colonialism” occurs 0 times, the word “corporation” occurs 0 times, the word “business” occurs 0 times, the word “money” occurs 0 times, and the expression “fossil fuel” (or even just “fuel”) occurs 0 times.

In this case, as in so many others, the most ideological, political aspects of a text appear in the form of silences and omissions.

The IPCC Report goes to great pains to remain silent on the systemic causes of climate change, refusing to even mention capitalism or colonialism.

In the 150-page “Technical Summary,” the word “human” occurs 133 times, and all the other terms occur 0 times.

In the massive, nearly-4,000-page Full Report, which is fully read by hardly anyone, the word “human” occurs on 751 pages; the phrase “fossil fuel” occurs on 121 pages, but the word “capitalism” occurs only once, in a bibliographic entry; the word “colonialism” never occurs, the word “corporation” occurs on 12 pages, the word “money” never occurs, and the word “business” occurs on 11 pages, almost all of which are as part of the phrase “business as usual.”

We should welcome the Report, as an important source of scientific insight; but we should also view it critically, as an ideological device that in crucial ways obscures the systemic roots of climate change and therefore also obscures the need for a fierce struggle of working-class movements, including the crucial leadership of Indigenous peoples, against capitalism and the states that protect it.

6 thoughts on “Ideology and the New IPCC Report

  1. Speaking of ideological documents and devices, what you wrote above is a perfect example of both. Do you really think western countries would take the IPCC report more seriously if it pointed fingers at hypothetical ultimate causes like ‘capitalism’ or ‘colonialism’? Do you think this is a sound strategy for scientists to employ if they want to be taken seriously as reporting on the facts of climate change? Scientists of the IPCC are deliberately focusing on scientific aspects of clear proximate causes of climate change and providing a clear statement of the current and predicted outcomes of global greenhouse gas emissions.

    • What you call “serious” or “able to be taken seriously by governments” is exactly what I call “ideology”: the excommunication — exclusion from the discussion — of uncomfortable facts about the causes of climate change in a discourse that purports to be (and is, within limits) scientific.

      If one takes acceptability to governments as setting the outer limits of what we’re allowed to say or talk about, we have already (to that extent) shifted out of science and into ideology, adjusting our discourse to flatter the self-image of powerful institutions and systems, rather than telling the truth about what is happening and why.

      Moreover, you claim that scientists are pursuing a “strategy,” namely a political strategy, of communicating with the powerful. Again, this confirms my point: we’re not dealing here with a case of science being unable to trace back climate change to causal impacts of capitalism, etc., but a political strategy of calibrating what one says or refuses to say in order to avoid saying something that would make elites uncomfortable or cause them to ignore the IPCC. Of course, we both know that they will ignore the IPCC anyway. But my main point here is just that we should admit that the Reports aren’t only science, they’re also something else: a discourse that refrains from talking about key causal factors in climate change, in order not to say out loud something that is unmentionable in elite discourse.

  2. Our real fun game of Jeopardy. “For a chance to survive Ted, which way saves $20T – adapting to out-of-control global carbon buildup year on year until everything breaks, or cut off the root cause everyone knows by now: carbon combustion exhaust?

    I’m OK with counting word hits as a way to start out on a critical analysis. Please continue, you are not nearly done.

    This could help. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stern_Review
    Caution: using your ideology lens for this could lead to headache. Wishing all the best.

    • My lens is a scientific one, not an “ideology lens.” I’m noting that the IPCC report strays into ideology to the extent that it consigns certain causal factors to unmentionable silence, probably in the vain hope that it can purchase in this way “credibility” among policy-makers who are in fact almost entirely interested in protecting profit-maximizing corporations from challenges from various social movements. By the way, if you study the matter, you will discover that the Stern Report is also guilty of this type of ideological departure from scientific inquiry, adapting ‘cost-benefit’ ideologies from ‘the business world’ in a way that leads to a gross overstatement of the viability of a capitalism-compatible path to addressing climate change.

  3. Ummm……
    Of course “capitalism” is not there.
    This is a report of the science.
    The science doesn’t care if emissions are from a developing world workers’ co-op or from a transnational capitalist mega corporation.

    • I’m not sure what work “Ummm…” is supposed to be doing here, but it looks like a gesture of condescension, so I’ll just pass on to the next point.

      When you suggest that “science” isn’t interested in whether there is any difference (for example, in the likely quantities, or susceptibility to democratic control, and so on) between emissions produced by a worker’s co-operative in the Global South versus a “transnational mega-corporation,” I think you’re mistaking science for ideology. Science is interested in identifying causally relevant factors that affect important or interesting outcomes. If — as is in fact the case — capitalist mega-coporations are more likely to produce a substantial quantity of greenhouse gas emissions, and if this production of emissions is less susceptible to democratic accountability and control, then science should be and is interested in that. To the extent that, on the contrary, a discourse deems such a question to be off limits and unmentionable, it is not a scientific but an ideological discourse or (as in the case of IPCC) an ideological factor limiting the scope of what is in other respects a scientific inquiry.

      If (as is in fact the case) certain institutional factors play a crucial role in causing climate change, then no interdisciplinary discourse ostensibly studying the causes of climate change can be deemed fully scientific (scientific without qualification) if it excommunicates or consigns to unmentionable silence those institutional factors. It can be scientific to some degree or in some respects, but — as the original post says — we should be honest about how its claim to be scientific is limited by ideological factors that repress (consign to unmentionable silence) attentiveness to important causal influences.

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