Nope. I did not go to Durban. No, I have not been to any of the global climate change confabs that have been held regularly since the earlier 1990’s, seemingly to little actual tangible successes. With Canada now officially withdrawn from the Kyoto Accord and the big tangible output from Durban/COP17 being the “establishment of an
Ad-Hoc working group” for “enhanced action”, it is pretty easy to be cynical about ever implementing any successful measures to combat global warming/climate change. Of course, that is only important if you think climate change is real. And one of the best tactics for ensuring a lack of action on this file is continuing to fan the flames of the debate towards “is it real?”, “are we all equally responsible?” and “who goes first?” flashpoints rather than “what do we need to do to reduce our pollution levels across the board?”
First, is climate change real? While not 100% sure, I’m pretty convinced by the overall greenhouse gas argument, and we can certainly measure increased CO2 concentrations in our environment.
Second, are we [mankind & industrialization] responsible? A little bit less sure of this one, but willing to assume at least some significant responsibility here. It is a given that there are many natural sources of CO2 emissions — volcanoes, decaying forests, etc — and also of course many man-made sources of CO2. Given 150 years of industrialization built around a hydrocarbon energy equation, it is not a big leap to see ever increasing CO2 emission levels as a key output from our global industrial & transportation complex. It makes sense that this is additive to the “natural emission levels”, so yeah, given the clear measured increases in CO2 levels, I would say we are responsible.
Finally, who goes first? This here is the rub. If you are in the Chinese or Indian leadership, it makes sense to say “you industrialized nations — you have benefited the most to date. You should take the lead (and the initial pain) in reducing your emissions. We’ll follow as we reach the prosperity levels you currently enjoy.” Of course, if you are an industrialized nation, you look at the pace of industrial development coming from India and China as they rapidly progress towards 500 million strong middle class consumers and say “Whoa there. You are already a major emitter and just getting bigger really, really quickly. You need to slim down now!” And if you are a small nation state on an island surrounded by water, you’re looking around for where you can relocate your society to, because after 3+ decades of international debates and agreements with little to show for it, you’ve probably reached the conclusion that you need to move inland, up, and quite possibly out.
Can we re-frame the debate to get a better outcome? I think so. My own contribution to this is a global externality pricing framework that is posted to this blog.
Some other interesting commentary on the current state of the planet and global politics compares the price of the bank bailouts to the price of a “planet bailout” (George Monbiot). His blog in turn highlights a summary of outcomes from Durban/COP17 posted by Mark Lynas.
Both commentaries are well worth reading, and will lead you to that depressing state where you just want to put your head back in the sand and pretend that you can’t personally do anything about it it. Maybe I should just go shopping to dull the pain. Sigh.