Climate politics, metaphors and the fractal carbon trap

Abstract

The international community has treated climate change as an emissions reduction challenge, drawing on the analytical metaphor of the global commons, and thus the politics of collective action and international cooperation. So far, these strategies have failed to produce an effective global response. We propose decarbonization as the defining challenge and a new guiding metaphor for the problem structure: the global fractal. This metaphor aptly describes the decarbonization challenge, capturing the multilevel and interdependent nature of carbon lock-in and the fractal carbon trap facing decarbonization efforts. It also provides a means to explore the range of diverse policies and practices that can potentially escape the fractal carbon trap and catalyse deep decarbonization.

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Fig. 1: Metaphors and climate politics.
Fig. 2: The fractal carbon trap.
Fig. 3: The double trap.

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Acknowledgements

The authors were supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. We thank N. Lemphers, A. Janzwood and M. Pedersen-Macnab for research assistance, and M. Paterson, B. Cashore, H. Millar, H. Bulkeley, M. Betsill, J. Green and D. Rosenbloom for comments on previous drafts.

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Correspondence to Steven Bernstein or Matthew Hoffmann.

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Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Elin Boasson, Navroz Dubash, Jonas Meckling and Leah Stokes for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Bernstein, S., Hoffmann, M. Climate politics, metaphors and the fractal carbon trap. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 919–925 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0618-2

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