The example at hand is the Prins and Rayner paper in Nature last month laying out, in part, the argument for a fuller integration of adapation to climate change into the debate. At the risk of putting words into his mouth, Prins and Rayner are, I think, what David Roberts might characterize as part of the “extraordinarily complex” and multi-faceted face of the actual climate debate, in which people come down in different places on different questions. Here you have people who clearly think climate change is a serious problem, that greenhouse gas reductions are necessary, but that the present approach to achieving them is a failure and that, in the process, an ossified political debate has arisen that excludes the importance of adaptation to that portion of climate change which is inevitable.
Some people, at one end of the traditional linear structure of the debate, use adaptation as an argument against greenhouse gas reductions. People should adapt to climate change, the argument goes, rather than undertaking the economic expense of curbing greenhouse gas emissions. That is most explicitly not what Prins and Rayner are doing here.
Here’s what happens, then, when people like Prins and Rayner attempt to jump off the line, expressing a view that does not fit along the linear dichotomy. People try to push them back on the line!
In the comments to the Prometheus blog post above, John Quiggin immediately assumes that, by arguing for adaptation, they must be arguing against greenhouse gas reductions (“mitigation,” in the increasingly tortured argot of the debate): The adaptation argument is a problem, Quiggin argues, “when used to oppose action by rich countries to reduce their own emissions, and thereby the risk of even worse disasters like this in the future.” In fact, Prins and Rayner are making no such argument: “Mitigation and adaptation must go hand in hand,” they wrote.
But so ingrained is the linear nature of this debate that people like Quiggin seem bound and determined to push anyone who diverges back onto the path.
It’s worth noting that David Roberts has a nice counter-example to this dynamic in his discussion of Prins and Rayner. His piece recognizes the multi-dimensional nature of the issues being raised by Prins and Rayner rather than trying to shove them back into the linear model. Credit where credit is due, even if the guy does annoy the hell out of me sometimes.