Thursday, February 01, 2007

Climate Change: The Nature of the Challenge

Bellow, an article intended to help elucidate some of the reasons why it is taking such an effort to get concerted action on climate change. Vested interests and inertia are but a superficial part of a complex problem.

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Climate Change: The Nature of the Challenge

There are certain problems that humans are not good at dealing with, aggregations of humans also tend to be bad at dealing with these same issues.

These problems tend to be issues where communal interests are pitted against personal interests. We are not alone in this, there are records of deer being introduced onto lush vegetated islands, only to consume and breed until beyond the carrying capacity of the land and then die out entirely on a barren lichen covered rock in the sea.

Typically described as “Tragedy of the Commons”, such situations are characterised by a penalty to any given individual at any given time if they act and a penalty leveled to all if they don't. .We can rightly see the climate change is a global tragedy of the commons, where Sir Nicholas stern tells us that apart from the social and environmental penalties that we will suffer due to climate change, we will all suffer economically. In many cases, however, individuals have to be altruistic to lower there carbon impact. This kind of problem is a huge political challenge and many societies with intelligent populations have failed to achieve the necessary governance and have failed, but others have succeeded.

Things are however worse. The second aspect of this problem that is difficult is not a matter of the type of challenge so much as the depth of the challenge. With the Montreal Protocol and the banning of cfc's the economic losses where tiny, the benefits huge, and the alternatives simple. Refrigeration with CFC's is not and has never been central to the global economy..

Human society has progressed through stone, iron and bronze ages, through a transition to sedentary agriculture, through the modern day agricultural and industrial revolutions that where so intimately connected and that where powered by mechanisation and increasing dependence on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels, for good or bad, have given humans the ability to carry out a huge amount of work—economic activity—and we currently exist in an economy expanded beyond all reckoning with productivity supported by consumption of fossil fuels. We are now required to cut emissions associated with these fossil fuels, and therefore with this economic miracle, by perhaps 70% globally by 2050 and 90% in the worlds strongest economies.

As E.F.Shumacker states that we have been deluded by the abundance of natural capital into believing that we have solved the problem of production. Forests, fresh water supplies, productive land and fossil fuels have been treated as infinite: cutting down forests, carrying out productive but degrading agricultural practices, depleting fossil fuels to power our lives, all have been counted as economic growth. We have been taking our house to pieces, selling the assets and claiming extraordinary wealth. Perhaps the most valuable of all assets was a low carbon concentration in the atmosphere, we have run down this good of the global commons and now we absolutely must—for reasons of economic stability, environmental viability, health, environmental justice and survival—deal with this!

So we have an unprecedented challenge, that is a typical 'Tragedy of the Commons' but is made exceptional by its centrality to our current society. We require a new revolution, a revolution of decarbonisation.

Unfortunately, it is worse. The reality of this whole situation is clouded by a layer of abstraction, a fifty year time offset between carbon emissions and there full impact. We have a problem that requires global communal action, that hits at the heart of current societal functioning, and that is hidden some time into our personal and collective future.

[UPDATE ARTICLE 2 OF 2] Climate Change: The Nature of the Solutions

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Climate Change Action

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