Saturday, December 22, 2007

Climate Change: Systematic vs Technical Perspectives

There are many opposing economic and technological perspectives on climate change; at one end is the technical view at the other is the systematic critique. Many northern NGO's share the middle ground with significant differences between the US and the UK.

At its core the technical perspectives goes something like this:

"Climate change is huge challenge for society. It's cause is greenhouse gas emissions. In order to solve the problem we therefore need to make it economically rational to reduce emissions: we need a price for carbon. The best way to allocate capital is through a cap and trade scheme."
Other elements are typically pursued under the mantra of reduced carbon emissions:

"We must look at every option including nuclear power. Biofuels can help development in the south as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Afforestation is an affordable form of carbon sequestration. Forests must be protecting by compensating for lost profit from forestry and agriculture."

The systematic critique ties together issues that may superficially seem separate. At it's core the systemic critique says:

"Those of you interested in climate change are no doubt not interested in changing weather per se but in the consequences of this change; it is therefore dishonest of you to tackle climate change in isolation of other issues that lead to these same consequences. Furthermore, although these issues are of greatest concern to you we in the south have other issues to contend with that are as severe and urgent for us. Climate change is part of the issue of sustainability--reducing carbon emissions to save the coral, the rainforest, the arctic, will not make sense if overfishing destroys the coral ecosystems, deforestation takes the rainforest and pesticides render the arctic sterile. However, all of these issues are inextricably linked to equity; in a world of poverty, disease and injustice we cannot expect the environment to be cared for in the manner required for human kind to overcome this issue of sustainability. We have no future if we fail to recognise that sustainability is the challenge of our time and only fundamental changes to the global economic system offer the solution"

Common concerns arising from this systematic critique include:

"Considering all options is just fine but future generations who would be left with nuclear powers toxic legacy have no say in the decision, and we know to well how badly decisions are made when those effected are not consulted; also it's odd to talk about economic optimisation and subsidies in the same breath! Biofuels are generally grown by wealthy farmers with the involvement of multinational corporations: this is a power structure that we do not wish to strengthen. Biofuel production to date has involved land confiscations and displacement of farmers onto virgin forests, the advantages have been limited and where they exist these have been reaped by the wealthy. Afforestation has similar land rights issues to biofuels. Protecting ancient forests is a worthy cause, however in many nations of the south a few wealthy land lords own the vast majority of the land. Is this state of affairs going to be strengthened and the price paid by the newly unemployed foresters; surely the last thing we want is a wealthy elite living off the land by doing precisely nothing, while the rest struggle to get by."

I the battle between these perspectives on climate change continues at international climate talks, in national parliaments and in my head! I believe i have given the systematic critque a favourable rendering here, however, is some ways i havent been harsh enough on the technical approach and in others i tend to agree with its wisdom. The whole question of a given approaches wisdom is however only part of the story.

We start from here not from blank. It is not clear where to draw the line: replacing the economic system with something more equitable is a noble goal, and surely must be done, but in the shot time we have is this to be our primary approach? Alternatively are the NGOs right that a middle ground must be found and that some tasks must be carried out by those corporations currently in power and on there terms?

This is a interesting if not a simple area and Rising Tide North America (False Solutions Page), The Corner House and the Trans National Institute (Bali Essay) are amongst those working on it.


Climate Change Action

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At 9:47 AM, Blogger Friendly Ghost said...

Maybe we are going about this thing all wrong -- trying to attack the many arms of the Climate Change problem instead of going for its eye.

On the face of it, Climate Change is a problem of excess CO2 emissions. But analyse deeper, and one finds that it's a problem of overconsumption by all of us, individuals, corporates, government.

Analyse still deeper, and one finds that overconsumption is triggered by and funded by CREDIT. There is an overabundance of bank credit -- far out of proportion to actual earnings and savings -- that gives people the power to overspend and overconsume.

So this is where the cancerous tumour, so to speak, can be clearly isolated from human flesh. This is where we can start cutting away surgically, methodically, without hurting too many people.

CONSUMER CREDIT -- loans extended by banks for purchase of new vehicles and consumer appliances -- is a major artery feeding this tumour. Easy loans warp our purchasing decisions, making our desires seem like needs.

Two calls from an aggressive marketer of car loans is all I need to make me feel that I NEED to step up from my family car to an SUV.

CREDIT CARDS make one feel really wealthy, by enabling your to securely carry large amounts equivalent to many months' earnings in your wallet.

And when you do that, you are potentially able to do all those wonderful, beautiful, generous things that you see in TV commercials like buying your wife a diamond solitaire, booking the Presidential suite for your wedding anniversary or surprising her with a couple of air-tickets to Paris.

Consumer credit and credit-cards are the hot air causing the great big Economic Growth balloon to go up... and up... and up.

Driven by this excessive consumer demand, a number of industries flourish, new corporates are created, and new factories get built, diversified, expanded, acquired... We aren't only borrowing economically, we are borrowing ecologically.

Suggested line of action: At an individual level, we should stop buying things with credit, and stop using our credit cards. It is worth cutting up our credit cards. Let us stop borrowing from the future.

And as a community of concerned citizens, let us lobby for a clampdown on consumer credit. Let us write to the government, to our Central Banks and to individual banks and bankers.

Let each person in the banking industry be targetted with this message: Cap and roll back. Let us ask for a freeze of consumer credit at current levels this year, and a 50% reduction in the amounts of credit given each year.

This would give the economy about three years to adjust to the changing scenario.

Three years is 36 months -- far more time than the economy and its stakeholders get for adjustment when the stock-markets crash. So why delay, postpone and vacillate?

Krishnaraj Rao

At 8:01 PM, Blogger Friendly Ghost said...

My fellow Indians & fellow world-citizens,

In the closing hours of 2007, I wish you a very Happy New Year. I sincerely pray that all of us find contentment and fulfilment in life… but there is a great deal of rethinking as to the nature of that contentment and fulfillment.

1) Let me tell you up front that I'm actively praying, in thought and action, that all our earnings and expenditures go into decline mode... and let mine be foremost in leading this trend. I do not wish PROSPERITY on any of us. Contentment, yes, but not prosperity, not richness... because each person's richness beggars hundreds of creatures, unknown to him.

2) I wish and pray that in the year to come, we shall learn to cease the endless quest of fulfilment through ever-higher incomes and conspicuous consumption, competition with our neighbours, colleagues etc. On a personal level and other levels -- social, professional, industry, national and global -- we shall seek NOT TO OUTDO each other, and also not to outdo our own past economic performances. Let us get off this treadmill for three reasons: (i) It is poisoning our planet to death, and causing a wave of mass extinction (ii) It is personally meaningless, unfulfilling, unrewarding and deeply immoral (iii) Another quest patiently awaits us: an infinitely more fulfilling inward-leading quest, an ancient, ageless quest of Magellanic dimensions.

3) I pray that our economic growth ceases and indeed, declines. I pray that this happens irrespective of what the citizens or governments of USA, Pakistan or other countries do or think with their economies. I hope that this happens with a minimum of suffering all around... but as suffering is an inevitable part of this scenario of necessary decline, I pray that my family and I are among the foremost and not the hindmost in swallowing this bitter pill and smiling through our tears.

4) At some level, I find myself hoping that our NEEDS, principally food and security, are met. However, there is a problem here: while need for food can be met rather cheaply, there is no end to our need for 'security'; it is a bottomless pit. My current savings, insurance, retirement annuities etc, may be sufficient to ensure that if I stop earning with immediate effect, my family has enough to get by for another decade or so until one of my two children to start earning a living to support our family. This is far more security than any animal would enjoy, more than EVEN ONE of my millions of ancestors may have ever enjoyed. So let my family, and yours, learn to be content with far lower levels of security; this I pray.

5) The nature of our economy and our civilization keeps us all on a perpetually moving treadmill. If we stop, we do so at risk of severe injury! Yet, in order to stop this infernal device that is poisonous to our planet, we must earnestly believe that there is indeed a life outside this treadmill. I pray for faith that is as monumental and more unshakeable than this infernal machine.

6) A word of caution: mere charity and altruism is not enough. Our love of the world must go beyond charity and philanthropy; it must manifest as something infinitely more meaningful than mere 'purse seva'. Our economies EXPLOIT our altruism as another need, and this includes our concern for a world ravaged by global warming. We are often given the impression that by some acts of charity or philanthropy, we can 'support' the greening of our planet. We are offered the comfort of thinking that if we are prepared to 'pay a tax for our sins' – such as a carbon tax, buying carbon credits, or paying to plant trees to 'offset' our carbon footprint -- we can continue to consume more, produce more, pursue economic growth etc. At the heart of such claims, one discerns a deep-seated cynicism and the same devices that make our economies perpetually grow. These charities and these economic devices milk us as surely as corporates manufacturing various goodies; in the end, they lull us to sleep, motivate us to grow some more, and consume the earth some more.

7) Please, I beg you, do not allow your conscience to be lulled back to sleep. Please refuse the comfort of a bed that is lined with the corpses of your fellow creatures on earth and your own descendents, both unborn and already born. Please refuse the blood-tainted pleasures of consumerism and the opium of economic-growthism. In 2008, please awaken fully and stay alert. Please be aware, and step from awareness into action.

8) What lies ahead in 2008 and the years afterwards is a steep, stony, mountain. It is not pleasant, it is not pretty, it is not fun by any stretch of imagination. But I beg you, my fellow Indians, my fellow citizens of this tiny planet… please accept this bitter pill with grace.

9) In 2008, please do the right thing by voluntarily accepting lower standards of living, cutting up your credit cards, paying up your consumer loans and refusing to all inducements to take loans. Please buy less, spend less, and despite all discomforts, use public transport instead of your private cars.

Please be visibly more frugal, austere, simple... and motivate others to the same. Please love others enough to refuse to compete with them. The time has come to stop being career-minded, business-minded, commercial-minded, consumer-minded. It is time to give back to this world without expectations. It is time to let go of the collective stranglehold that we have on this planet.

My friends, let us spend more time rediscovering the pleasures of just being with our friends, families, dogs, cats, plants, trees. Hug and kiss them more, serve them with greater humility. Be more loving and caring to strangers and casual acquaintances. And yes, let us learn to lavish on our own inner selves the love and attention that we have hitherto been giving our material possessions, our bank accounts and our portfolio of stocks. Please disinvest in the what is gross, and invest in your sublime self.

Please understand the spirit in which I offer these somewhat bitter-sounding greetings, and accept them in good grace.

With all my love


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