Climate Investment Crucial, Independent of Economic Downturn

No Climate, No EconomyThe United States climate delegation negotiating a Kyoto successor in Bangkok has suggested the U.S. will be unable to provide funds to poor nations [ark | moreark] fighting global warming because of worsening economic conditions, but may be able to provide loans. So after decades of booming economies and growth in emissions in the rich countries, developing countries are now left in the lurch, even as the rich super predatory consumers seek to maintain their high levels of consumption for a wee bit longer. This has been described as “the moral equivalent of having someone drive a car into your house and offering you a loan to pay for the damages.”
The Earth is in real danger from a global heating meltdown as action is delayed over concerns about price and as a skeptic led public backlash continues to grow. Recently I wrote a personal essay entitled Economic Collapse and Global Ecology where I noted “sufficient climate policies enjoy political support only in times of rapid economic growth. Yet this growth is the primary factor driving greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental ills.” Therein I academically investigated the possibility that in terms of prospects for the Earth and humanity it may be better for the economy to collapse now rather than later.


This may or may not be the case, yet it is clear that expenditures to address climate change and related global ecological crises must be maintained regardless of economic conditions. The IMF recently predicted “policies needed to reduce emissions by 60% from 2002 would leave the global economy about 2.6% smaller [ark | moreark] than it otherwise would be in 2040″, yet the “economy would grow about 2.3 times between 2007 and 2040”. I repeat, the economy is expected to grow by 230% and at a cost of 3% we can maintain the climate. Even if underestimated, as I believe likely, this seems like a ridiculously easy investment to make.
Without such modest investments some have predicted a horrific future for humanity, including Ted Turner's recent prediction of cannibalism by climate survivors [ark]. No one can see the future, yet all trends and current ecological knowledge illustrate global ecosystems are collapsing. The developed world has been partying like there is no tomorrow, and now it cannot expect others to clean up either its economic or ecological mess.
Simple measures such as assigning a price to carbon [search] through a carbon tax will make tremendous contributions to solving the climate problem and must be embraced whatever the cost. Unless we can be satisfied with 220+% growth or thereabouts rather than 230%, there is no chance of achieving global ecological sustainability and vibrant, just, equitable and sustainable economies for all.

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4 Responses

  1. Nic V says:

    It's incredible, no? Never stopping to think about this, the condition we have come to find ourselves in must have originated because of something. As simple as this may sound, however, it only brings the most difficult questions. And as obvious as it may be, it is completely forgotten and not thought upon. This leads to our complete disregard of something we think we know but we have no idea.
    Let's figure out why.
    I just wanted to bring this to attention because I rarely see in talks, articles, etc, people trying to discover the cause of this future, utter environmental annihilation, in an era where we are so smart, evolved, advanced… If we don't mention why people don't care about the complete destruction of the planet as we know it, or why overall the condition just worsens, we may not find any true, long term, “sustainable” solutions.
    Of course, I do not forget that we need immediate changes and there should be a focus on these.
    Unfortunately, I look around -my University for example- and nobody cares. Nobody knows. Nobody thinks about it. Everybody is busy with classes they need that prepare them for a job -often with no enthusiasm for knowledge itself; busy with drinking beer and playing beer-pong, busy eating junk food and creating paper wastes, while destroying their health for the pleasure of that instant BigMac taste. They are busy not giving the least bit regard for what garbage is and what the teachers mean when they say “everything is interrelated” during the class they are only taking to fulfill some demanded requirement.
    Shouldn't we be worried that these are going to be the bankers and business men of the future (are they of the past?)?
    It is depressing because for a second I had thought we could probably count on the young generation, that is growing up during such an obvious moment of not-national, not-cultural, not-regional, universal trouble to get us out of this purgatory.
    When evolution doesn't do it, revolution must try.

  2. 2007 EXCHANGE OF IDEAS BETWEEN FRIENDS (perhaps of interest)
    __________________________
    Dear B,
    In the light of E. O. Wilson's comments about small creatures and today's report from the World Conservation Union (IUCN) that more than 41,000 species of animals and plants are now on its ENDANGERED SPECIES LIST, do you think it is too early to consider that the evolutionary success of the human species may not be guaranteed? Perhaps it is not too late to consider how the human species in our time could inadvertently precipitate a “Human Community Collapse” by adamantly insisting upon more unbridled growth of business enterprise and human numbers now overspreading the Earth.
    I am concerned that after threatening biodiversity with extinction and the environment with irreversible degradation, and also dissipating the limited resources of Earth, humankind will become an unexpected threat to its own survival.
    Sincerely,
    Steve
    _________________________
    Hi Steve,
    You bring up a very good point, and one that is foremost in the minds of everyone with environmental awareness. The notion of sustainability does not seem to have been infused in equal value to progress made in both the industrial and technological revolutions. When we look closely, it is as if we are but children playing with new toys, not grasping just what they mean nor thinking very far into the future. Anyone who studies simple biology knows that unchecked growth cannot last, that eventually the system that supported whatever it is gets out of balance, and then…well…things change. So at the very least we are looking for sweeping change. How much of it we will see in our short lifespan is uncertain, but what is certain is that even now we are observing first-hand some negative effects of our actions in the past. Nature is very efficient, and certainly will take care of things one way or another. I agree with what you suggest, that we could benefit from applying caution and implementing the enlightened consideration of experts in our approach to the future. Application of knowledge requires official sanction and public policy, which as you know is not so easy to achieve. Hopefully, the brightest minds among us who post their knowledge and recommendations in research & books and who broadcast their views and information on things like TED TALKS will encourage our policy makers to get on the same page, i.e., as stewards of the earth and its abundance rather than exploiters. Ultimately, I have hope, and think a hopeful attitude can have a snowball effect. I'm pretty sure hope is the official stance of this organization, by the way, and why a forum such as this is so encouraging.
    Thanks, Steve, for your posts here and elsewhere on our blogs.
    _________________________
    Dear B,
    Sometimes it looks to me as if some of our brothers and sisters are so focused on the accumulation of wealth and power, in feathering their own gigantic nests, frequenting exclusive clubs, flying private jets, sailing yachts and visiting exotic hideaways, that the “powers that be” have overlooked the certain requirements necessary for the maintenance of our planetary home, which is soon to become endangered by certain unbridled, distinctly human enterprises now overspreading the Earth.
    How do things look to you?
    Always,
    Steve
    _________________________
    Steve,
    I like the idea of everyone coming to see that we are definitely interconnected. Just as the bees and flowering plants need each other, so do we humans need the environment. The sooner we get truly sustainable in our stewardship of the environment, the better. The last 50 years have seen unprecedented wealth and technology, and a few have enjoyed advantages never dreamt of in the past. Hopefully, we will all start doing our part, even the very insulated among us. I'm actually quite optimistic, as I think there is so much positive focus for new energies coming along in young people, and a rededication to creative efforts to make the world a better place in those of us who are older. I certainly can imagine these things building on themselves. It starts right here, wherever we are.
    B.
    __________________________
    Dear B,
    I share your optimism. With good science as our guide and the adequate use of intelligence and other splendid gifts granted to human beings by God, we can choose to respond ably to the requirements of reality, whatsoever they may be.
    Elders like me will hopefully be open to guidance of our young people, as you suggest, and also of the mothers of children, rather than holdfast to the outworn creeds of the children of men among us. The self-proclaimed masters of the universe in my not-so-great generation appear to have lost their way.
    On the other hand, we cannot rule out the possibility that I am one of those unfortunate elders about whom I report, who has lost touch with good science, the natural order of living things, and the limitations imposed upon human life by the very nature of the biophysical world we inhabit.
    I and my generation can and will do better. Of that I am certain.
    Sincerely,
    Steve
    __________________________
    ONWARD!
    B.
    __________________________
    Dear B,
    I believe this is one way to begin. We have to speak of topics that are taboo, just as we do here.
    My greatest concern is that the undoing of the human species, and life as we know it, could inadvertently occur as a result of the adamant and relentless maintenance of SILENCE.
    Silence is something to be feared. Silence is especially terrifying and potentially ruinous when it is actively employed as a tool for denying good science.
    Thank YOU,
    Steve
    __________________________
    Steve,
    I don't mean to be flip, but the old saying comes to mind: “The more the merrier!” We can hope more voices will speak up for beneficial uses of our stunning technologies to forge a path to a wise, efficient, and fittingly sustainable paradigm for the future world. There is another saying that comes to mind should we fail to understand what we need to do, and that is, “That way lies madness.” I am so looking forward to the tipping point, where all accept as a given the need to create and live in a balanced world. I know it is coming.
    B.
    __________________________
    Dear B,
    You make wonderful points. Let me see if I understand you well enough.
    Would it be correct to say that we have a choice: either we can choose to accept the knowledge derived from the best available, good science and deploy that knowledge to maintain a sustainable world, one fit for human habitation, or we can fail to do what is necessary by holding fast to an unsustainable paradigm for the future world…and by continuing to defend flawed data derived from politically convenient and economically expedient mad science?
    Always,
    Steve
    ________________________
    …and having the wisdom to know the difference.
    B.
    _________________________
    Dear B,
    At least in my humble opinion, THIS IS COMMUNICATION!
    Perhaps humanity has global challenges in the offing, challenges that are formidable, even as we begin to take the measure of them.
    As we steady our focus on these challenges, it becomes evident that there may be no quick fixes to the problems with which we are presented. Business-as-usual brought us to this moment in human history, but cannot take us to the future we picture for our children.
    Contemplate and picture in your mind the business-as-usual activities with which we are familiar. We can see that the unbridled growth of economic activities is overspreading the Earth.
    Now for the hard part: questions.
    Can the seemingly endless growth and the astonishing success of unregulated human production and consumption activities continue in the same old business-as-usual way and at their current scale on a relatively small, finite planet the size of Earth?
    If the Earth is round and has physical limitations, is it reasonable and sensible to consider that there are limits to the unrestricted global growth of human activities on Earth?
    Are there no alternatives to untethered economic globalization?
    Are there no options to the unchecked per capita consumption of Earth's limited resources?
    Who knows, before long questions like these will become a part of open discussions at international conferences, in governing bodies and spoken of by those in the mass media.
    I and my generation are going to do better, much better.
    __________________________
    Steve,
    Your questions almost answer themselves and wholly appeal to common sense. I believe that love of humanity, passion for life and a strong will to survive will eventually corral all of us into the same camp, which is good because we must work together to solve our problems. We may be lucky that things are getting so blatantly out of hand, because a cry for better will eventually emerge. Hat's off to any who can keep their heads while some around us are losing theirs. Like a teenager on a joy ride, flagrant environmental abuses cannot have good results and therefore cannot last that long. The trick will be coming to the tipping point. I believe we are very very close. I hope others will participate in this inspiring conversation. We believe in the exchange of ideas and invites it with these blogs. Thanks so much for participating.
    _________________________
    Dear B,
    Thanks to you, D., Al and the great scientists of the IPCC, it does appear more and more people are beginning to awaken, finally, with the coming of each new day, to something that is fresh and unforeseen about the world we inhabit.
    I and our dearest colleagues have only become awakened just a matter of days earlier than those who are soon, or else eventually, to be released from their slumber.
    Once awake, people are going to be able to see that while nothing about the surface of the Earth has changed, not really; everything about the wondrous landscape is different in unexpected ways.
    When many in the human community perceive what you and other leaders are saying and doing, it will be as if they are seeing the world God blesses us to inhabit for the first time, I suppose.
    That is going to make a difference.
    All the best to you,
    Steve

  3. Nic V says:

    I suppose this comment might be just as insignificant as a past one; what impels me to go on and repeat myself I do not recognize.
    I think to learn History is indispensable for knowing human behavior and predicting similar future occurrences, just like any other science tries to do as they observe repetitive actions that seem to always manifest in a certain way based on specific conditions.
    To be optimistic and have hope–two words being common in these comments–is the only way to believe in change and act to carry it out. But should we not also be realistic, and even scientific, in our presumptions about the future?
    I am not trying to advocate pessimism and apathy, but in fact a continuous analysis of the present, the past, the capable, and the probable.
    One of you made a comment about “focus on accumulation of wealth, and last 50 years… advantages never dreamt in the past…” Although the situation now differs from past ones that indeed involved huge accumulations of wealth, certainly relative to the ones now–take a look at the history of palaces– the present problem of being addicted to money and power seems more like an undeniable –and perhaps unrepairable)– human condition.
    Similar things were said, like “…continuing to defend flawed data derived from politically convenient and economically expedient…” If we pay attention to the continuation of “bussiness-as-usual” in this country, for example, with opposition websites appearing at locations only few intellectuals may reach and corporations using cynical and hypocritical language to deceive people into believing that they can continue to buy, and eat as they want until they explode as long as the paper cup of your everyday coffee and wrapper of your cheeseburger was recycled at one point, we will see that as long as it is also convenient and economically satisfying for the people of the state to continue as it is; if there is no actual dieing need: hunger, physical suffer or exploitation, things will continue “as usual”. The “strong will to survive” will most likely only come at this “tipping point” that ignites the need to survive.
    How, then, can we “accept the knowledge derived from the best available” and come to an integral, communital understanding of the best way possible not to fulfill (although, recognize) selfish impulses but to address the problem of our world as the problem of our community that has no political, economical, and certainly no natural true separations?
    Only nurture. And of course, not the “business-as-usual” that certainly still persists strongly and not –I'm sorry to say– in the right direction.
    Nic V.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Puzzling aint it. Why don't they care even about the big picture. Still it has been ever thus to be surrounded by the apparently ignorant.
    On the matter of % the Treasurer of the Australain Sttate of NSW was carping on the other day about the cost to the economy of emissions trading in his role as advocate for a free handout to the NSW coal industry of which his government is both a shareholder in and beneficiary from.
    He claimed a 4% loss of groeth in the economy by 2040 according to modeling by his officials.
    This actually meand that instead of being 66% bigger the economy will only be 62% bigger.
    Oh, and on the surprise diversion attempted in the media about the need for technological solutions more than carbon trading; surprise they will folow the price signals.
    Indeeed Carbon Capture and Storage will miraculously apppear as a working system as soon as the price signals go into place, if of course CCS works.
    Until then the long experiment willl continue because without the price signals nothing will change

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