In Michele M. Betsill and Roger A. Pielke Jr.”s ‘Blurring the Boundaries: Domestic and International Ozone Politics and Lessons for Climate Change’ as well as Theda Skopcol”s ‘Naming the Problem: What it Will Take to Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight against Global Warming’, the authors emphatically argue for a re-thinking of ecological catastrophe caused by climate change to concrete political action and policy decisions. In essence, at the basis of both articles is the call to re-think ecological catastrophe, not primarily an environmental problem, but instead view it as a political problem.
In this regard, Betsill and Pielke Jr. argue in their text that ‘scientific consensus alone is insufficient to bring about international cooperation. We must also address political questions such as agreement on criteria for action, and establish a mechanism for linking science and policy.’ (168)The authors thus identify the problematic relationship at the root of the climate change problem. On the one hand, the empirical reality of climate change and the dangers it presents to the entire ecosystem are the result of scientific discovery. Science can also argue for the urgency of the problem itself, demonstrating the need to act. However, as the authors point out, science itself is not a dominant actor when it comes to the decision-making process and the effects of decision making. In the school of international relations, this is primarily the nation-state actor and the international forms of political bodies that have influence on questions. For the concerns which science presents us to be addressed in reality, a political solution is required. However, to the extent that politics, both on the level of state actors as well as international actors, such as the UN, do not stress the urgency of the problem, no change can be registered.

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Skocpol s article in this sense begins where the previous article ends. The author directly investigates the internal U.S. policies towards climate change and the failures to make progress in the area. The author traces this failure to antagonisms within the U.S. domestic political and policy structure itself, which for Skopcol is shown above all in the failure of ‘cap and trade’ agreements, which in turn revealed a deep division in U.S. politics, such that proposed policy solutions relied upon ‘misplaced hopes for bipartisan bargains and a failure to grasp that support from Republicans was not going ot be forthcoming.’ (132) However, Skopcol also argues that this is the structure of U.S. domestic politics itself, since she underscores the need for popular, citizen-based movements to resolve the problem. The political structure on the domestic level is, in other words, to divisive to realize the necessary political policy change to address climate change; accordingly, the hope lies in a popular movement that, expressing disatisfaction with the internal divisions of U.S. domestic politics, will be able to generate change through a form of democratic pressure on elected officials.

Both texts are entirely correct in identifying the problems of ecological catastrophe to political actors. Science can only do so much; it can only confirm a problem, show its potential effects, and propose solutions. But it lacks singificant power for social change, precisely because, as Betsill and Pielke, Jr underline, it is not, to paraphrase, plugged directly into the political system. Furthermore, these changes need to be made on domestic levels, because many nation-state actors see concessions made on environmental policy as possible concessions to political opponents of other nation-states. In other words, there appears to be a problem of an underlying realism in this case, whereby nation-states consider only their own interests in relation to other relevant political actors. The main problem which should be brought out from both articles is the key role of domestic politics or of individual nation-state actors in the global climate change problem. In one sense, it could be argued that such individual nation-state actors only see the problem from short-term strategy instead of long-term strategy. Slowing down industry, putting the brakes on production slows down economies. From this view, it restricts development. From the realist point of view, such development is key to maintaining power within the network of political actors that make up the world. The problem remains that the interests of individual political actors will not ever coincide with the global idealist vision and the long-term strategies and certain sacrifice of immediate intersts so as to resolve climate change.

  • Betsill, Michelle M. & Pielke, Jr., Roger A. ‘Blurring the Boundaries: Domestic and International Ozone Politics and Lessons for Climate Change.’ International Environmental Affairs. 1998. Vol. 10, No. 3. 147-172.
  • Skopcol, Theda. ‘Naming the Problem: What it Will Take to Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight against Global Warming.’ The Politics of America”s Fight Against Global Warming. Symposium Paper. February 14, 2013.