Depending on which account you wish to believe the ancient city of Rome was decimated (it was actually more than a tenth of the city that was
destroyed) by fire in July of 64 CE. As legend has it (always disputed,always fluid) the then Emperor, Nero, did little to stop the spread of
the blaze. Nor, for that matter, did the Christians, which is another story all together. The long and the short of the story is that "Nero
fiddled while Rome burned". Whether or not he played a fiddle, and regardless of what he did or didn't do to put out the fire, this short
euphemism is a way of saying that he didn't do enough on his watch. I intend here to make a similar criticism of the those involved in
contributing to climate change policy.
Recent television coverage of the reaction of people to the earth quake in China provide a case in point. I recall a particularly vivid image of
the moment when one of the after-shocks struck in which a mother took immediate action to protect her child from danger. It was an instinctive
response, one that she had no training for, one that came from a knowing deep within. We humans know what to do without the need for thinking and
analysing. We don't need theories and discourses and theories of discourses to know how to respond to an emergency. We simply do what is
So it was with great annoyance and frustration I read Schipper (2007), a scholar who wants to see something done about the horrible mess of
climate change but who, in my view, simply becomes part of the problem. My agitation comes from the bickering she highlights between scholars
developing theories about adaptation to climate change and climate change policy makers. A preponderance of often conflicting,
self-aggrandising (my words not Schipper's) definitions produced by scholars become too confusing and too complex for those attempting to
put together some form of policy framework to deal with the problem.
Rather than producing a bias for action, as is expected from leaders in a time of crisis, this constant theorising and over-analysis produces
little more than elegant theory. For those watching from the sidelines it's a source of great frustration.
Unlike the mothers protecting their young in China scholars, policy makers, and leaders are only too happy to fiddle while the world, not
the city, burns.
Schipper, E. (2007). Climate change adaptation and development: Exploring the linkages: Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
Retrieved May 20. 2008, from http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/publications/working_papers/