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In order to tackle climate change, we need a new social contract between scientists and society, moving away from a hands-off view of just giving the facts about global warming, towards deeper engagement with communication and policy, according to a discussion paper from the RSA think tank.

  • ‘Seven Dimensions’ through which we can tackle climate change including a new social contract between science and society.

  • RSA debates on climate change – this week a ‘Question Time’ with Lord Stern and others.

Published today in partnership with the Climate Outreach and Information Network, The Seven Dimensions of Climate Change: Introducing a new way to think, talk and act concluded that a new social contract would represent a commitment on the part of all scientists to devote their energies and talents to the most pressing problems of the day, with new societal institutions enabling a place for the science and politics of climate change to co-exist.

The report argued that with 2014 breaking both national and global temperature records, it’s time to go beyond endless ‘generic calls for action’, and move towards developing more purposeful solutions to the problem.

The report identified ‘seven dimensions’ through which climate change should be tackled - Science, Behaviour, Technology, Culture, Law, Economy and Democracy. The report said that this approach would allow people (who might otherwise be disengaged from the challenge) to see themselves in it, and identify their scope for action within that domain, rather than be daunted by ‘climate change’ as a whole.

The RSA concluded that climate change is not only (or even mostly) about ‘the environment’. The environmental framing is unhelpful, the report said, because the psychological, social and economic phenomena driving fossil fuel production are ‘obscured by debates about the killing of badgers, the dredging of rivers and the protection of otters’.

Instead there needs to be a vision that helps people connect with the deep roots on the problem in fossil fuel production, rather than a disproportionate emphasis on energy efficiency and environmental concerns. The seven dimensions of climate change identified by the report include:

  • In Science we need a new social contract between scientists and society; moving away from a hands off view of just giving the facts towards deeper engagement with communication and policy.

  • With Behaviour we need to face up to 'stealth denial' - the fact that the majority of those who understand the problem intellectually don't live as though they do.

  • From Technology we need deep decarbonisation at scale - we need more and better tools to decarbonise energy, and as quickly as possible.

  • Our Democracy needs to overcome the governance trap - people expect the government to act but government thinks people don't care about the issue enough; and collective action problems generally prevail.

  • Our Economy needs to invest in the future; which is mostly about sending money away from fossil fuels towards renewables, but may also be about rethinking economic growth models.

  • In Law we need a constraint on extraction at a global level i.e. a legal mechanism to keep fossil fuels in the ground, but we need to be mindful of the financial impact of that ('carbon bubble').

  • Throughout our Culture: we need to break 'climate silence' and normalise discussions on the issue; moving away from whether it's happening to what we're doing about it.

Commenting on the report, Director of the RSA Social Brain Centre, Dr Jonathan Rowson said:

“We need to reimagine the world’s toughest problem. This means seeing the full range of opportunities and constraints on climate change, holistically and systemically, and working on multiple fronts simultaneously, while communicating clearly and intelligently. An ambitious goal!  But perhaps the reason climate change seems so hard is that we don’t realise just how hard it really is.”

Climate Change Question Time: Wednesday 11th February 2015 at 18:00 RSA House, London: RSVP:

In a bid to generate a new dialogue about climate change, the RSA has partnered with COIN to embark on a series of climate change debates over the coming months. For the second event in the series, the RSA is adopting a 'Question Time' format, gathering expert representatives in each of the seven dimensions of the climate problem. The panel will provide expert insights into the competing priorities, responsibility voids and overlapping areas of jurisdiction that make climate change such a difficult issue to resolve. Panellists include:

  1. Economist, LSE, Lord Nicholas Stern;

  2. Climate scientist, UCL, Chris Rapley CBE;

  3. Green Party member of the London Assembly, Baroness Jenny Jones;

  4. Co-founder, Futerra, Solitaire Townsend;

  5. Green-energy entrepreneur and founder of Solarcentury, Jeremy Leggett;

  6. Psychoanalytic psychotherapist, Rosemary Randall;

  7. Environmental lawyer, Friends of the Earth, Jake White.


Notes to editors 

  1. For more information contact or call 020 7451 6893 or 07799 737 970
  2. Applying the Seven Dimensions to the subject of Fracking: Consider ‘fracking’ (technology) – which may yet be the defining climate change-related issue of the 2015 UK general election (democracy). Unlike the US, where geographical circumstance, cultural norms around extractive industries (culture) and federal-level legislation (law) have conspired to produce a highly un-regulated market, attempts to frack beneath the surface of the UK’s green and pleasant lands (or, indeed, under people’s houses) are likely to provoke significant controversy. Like the rolling ‘Blockadia’ called for by Naomi Klein in response to continued fossil fuel extraction, grassroots activism (democracy, culture) is likely to be supplemented by a spirited defence of existing planning laws (law), predicted on evidence about the health of fracking wells (science). Proponents, though, will point to the economic imperative of fracking (economics), and question whether without it, we would collectively be willing to reduce our energy demand (behaviour) to deal with the shortfall in energy.



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