Public Deliberation with Climate Change: Theory, Practice and Lessons Learned from Alberta Climate Dialogue

Gwendolyn Blue & David Kahane


This chapter delves into the theory of public deliberation to identify key debates, and evaluate and highlight how these shaped ABCD. There's particular emphasis on how climate change poses challenges to deliberation, especially around framing, representation, and the politics of knowledge. . 

Chapter Takeaways:

  • Deliberative democracy is distinctive in its emphasis on representing the diversity of those affected; supporting participants in learning and weighing trade-offs; ensuring that processes have influence; and rooting deliberation in reflection on values.

  • The deficit in political action on climate change can’t be solved through better climate communication; rather, citizens need to be supported in collaboratively navigating the uncertainty and disagreement endemic to climate debates. So public deliberation is key to addressing climate change.

  • Diversity and inclusion are crucial if public deliberation is to identify effective responses to climate change: this means engaging with issues of hierarchy, inequality, and domination. While ABCD attended to these dynamics, it had mixed success in building deliberations that both reflected and included multiple forms of social diversity. ABCD sometimes fell into the trap of treating demographic diversity as a surrogate for differences of group-based power; yet addressing group-based power in deliberations requires a more comprehensive set of design responses.

  • Focusing public deliberation on policy and government decision-making sidelines certain ways of framing climate change. More radical understandings of the roots of the human behaviors that lead to climate change, and of appropriate solutions, were not shut out of ABCD’s deliberations, but they did tend to take a back seat to more mainstream and technical responses.


Related Resources:

  1. Powercube - A discussion of ‘claimed’ and ‘invited’ spaces of public participation, and a tool for exploring how to secure influence given power relations
  2. Finding the Spaces for Change: A Power Analysis - John Gaventa

  3. Resources on how to work with publics given uncertainty and debate surrounding climate change.

Advanced Resources:

  1. "Activist Challenges to Deliberative Democracy" - Iris Young discusses the relationship between activism and deliberative democracy. 
  2. “Five Assumptions Academics Make About Public Deliberation, And Why They Deserve Rethinking” - A critique, by Carolyn Lee, of how deliberative democrats think about their own practice.

 

 

 

There also is a tangled relationship between public deliberation and the challenges of climate change. Climate change can be framed in multiple ways, none of them innocent of power: this points to the importance of inclusive, collaborative approaches to the issue, but also to why such approaches are so fraught.
— Gwendolyn Blue & David Kahane