Sunday, June 15, 2008

Climate Change Deal Staggers Along

It's a vexing problem that spells enormous trouble for mankind: everybody's right and, in being right, everybody's wrong.

When it comes to anthropogenic global warming, excuses trump ideas every time. The developing countries, notably the emerging economic powerhouses of India and China, point the finger at the developed (white) world where vast prosperity has been achieved by creating most of the problem that besets the planet right now. The industrialized nations, they claim, created the mess and therefore have a moral obligation to be the first to mend their ways. It's a good point and has fairness on its side.

The industrialized nations reply that the past is past and all nations have to cut emissions drastically because to cut the developing nations the slack they want will defeat any meaningful carbon reductions and, worse, will give them an enormous economic advantage (of the sort we enjoyed for centuries) and they're not even white!

So, how do we break this deadlock and get everyone to come up with a workable solution? We wait. Eventually, and we probably won't have to wait too long, conditions will get unpleasant enough all around that we'll set aside our childish arguments and accept the unavoidable. When it comes to that, the sooner the better. The longer we wait, the more losses we'll have to endure and the more costly will be remediation and adaptation. Delay is very much a losing proposition.

It's becoming clear that we're no longer near the action tipping point. Negotiations have been underway to reach a new climate deal by the end of 2009 and they're snagged on the standard disputes. From ENN:

"The road ahead of us is daunting," Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said of a U.N. timetable meant to end with a climate deal in Copenhagen in December 2009 to widen and toughen the existing Kyoto Protocol.

Still, he said there was progress in Bonn partly because nations had a better understanding of what should go into the hugely complex treaty meant to slow desertification, heatwaves, floods, rising seas and more powerful storms.

"It is crucial that the next stage of meetings produce concrete negotiating texts," he said. Bonn was the second session in a two-year push for a deal after starting in Bangkok in March. The next will be in Accra, Ghana, in August.

Others were more sceptical.

"It could well be said that we have been beating around the bush," said India's Chandrashekhar Dasgupta. He said there was a "deafening silence" from almost all rich nations on ways to make new cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions

These deadlocks remind me of tectonic plates, grinding against each other while pressure continually mounts. Sooner or later something has to give but, when it does, the effects are often devastating.


Raphael Alexander said...

The industrialized nations, they claim, created the mess and therefore have a moral obligation to be the first to mend their ways.

This reads to me as it should have been written "the undeveloped nations" [...]

The industrialized nations reply that the past is past and all nations have to cut emissions drastically

Well, I think the main concern is with India and China and their potential CO2 emissions, not what is currently on the table. Western nations have very measurable emissions and know their economic growth well enough to predict what will happen. The developing nations are due to easily surpass the west in emissions in a very short time span given their growth.

You should read my recent article in which I pose that a reduction in emissions isn't the solution: it's a reduction in humans. 1.3 billion Chinese and their aspirations for "white" wealth just won't work with the planet's resources. Like it or not, we of the white Canadian stock stand at a few dozen million strong. Two Chinese cities easily surpasses our numbers.

LeDaro said...

I can understand MoS's argument. Average household here owns 2-3 cars. Imagine if every Chinese and Indian household owns one car each. Are we telling Chinese and Indians that they have no right to own cars? Of course we surpass these nations in other sources of pollution too.

Raphael Alexander, are you suggesting that Chinese and Indians should kill some of their population to reduce humans? Are you suggesting some kind of genocide?

I believe also that Western nations have been polluting the planet for centuries now and Chinese and Indians are catching up. We have to set an example so that we can say follow us but not with the current amount of pollution we are producing.

Raphael Alexander said...

Are you suggesting some kind of genocide?

I'm not suggesting the solution. I'm suggesting the problem. We appear to think we can continue our mass consumption economy in concert with China while talking about reducing emissions. It's utter silliness.

As well, setting examples has nothing to do with anything. China and India can't possibly achieve economic growth and reduce carbon emission simultaneously. The biggest problem with that is their gigantic populations.

The Mound of Sound said...

I can fully understand Raphe's point. Imagine what the world might be like today if we'd been able to freeze the population at the 2-billion mark that was set around the time I was born.

Instead of that we've trebled our overall numbers and simultaneously increased our individual carbon footprint.

I expect that we're in store for some major surprises in the coming 10-years. Pollution - air, water and soil contamination - is going to begin taking an increasing toll. The Chinese already know this is coming.

Then there's the global problem of freshwater exhaustion. The Brits are now arguing about a half-billion dollar desalination plant on the Thames estuary to supply London. When you consider the environmental nightmares associated with membrane osmosis plants and their effluent, the Brit proposal is astonishing.

We're also facing major disruptions in global food supply. The flood/drought cycle is devastating to agriculture. There's now word that the flooding in central US will impact severely on this year's corn crop.

With desertification seemingly unstoppable (the Sahara jumping the Med into Italy and Spain) and all the other agricultural impediments, we're facing some pretty tough times for a burgeoning population whose demands already exceed our planet's sustainable capacities.

Times like these ought to make us all exceeding grateful to be living right here in Canada.

LeDaro said...

We set the example by polluting the globe for centuries. Now we need to set the example how to reduce this pollution. If you drink all the time then you morally cannot tell another addict not to drink.

The Mound of Sound said...

Unfortunately, LD, the consensus necessary for the industrialized world to lead the way is elusive and readily subverted.

It's one of the reasons I've advocated carbon tariffs so that nations that choose not to impose self-restraint can quickly see that backfiring on their economies.

After all, if one nation imposes meaningful cutbacks, why ought its people and its industries be put at a disadvantage by cheaper and dirty imports and the loss of jobs that goes with them.

In the era of globalisation we've been brought to believe that tariffs are counterproductive to trade which has allowed the free-traders to mask the social utility of tariffs as an instrument of policy.

Anonymous said...

Raphael: You hit the nail directly on the head. Have yu noticed how people will not talk about over population...lest they offend some religious organization and their dogma? It's about time it was addressed. On the other side of the coin we have government and business wringing its hands and telling the public business will be bad....bad for whom? Cheers, A. Morris

Anonymous said...

Bad for business if the population drops that is.. A. Morris

LeDaro said...

Raphael and A. Morris, what you suggest to do to reduce the population? China already has one child policy for years now but despite that there are millions of children added every year.

India has a strange situation. With cat-scan many couples when they find out it is a girl they abort the baby. Tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands baby-girls are gone. After few years they may have very few females and many times more men. So few children. This is no official position of the Indian government. It is the cultural thing that couples like to have boys.

Any suggestions.

The Mound of Sound said...

LD, Raphe and AM are right. Something has to give and that something is the world population. It's not a matter over which we have a lot of choice. The greater the population, the more GHG emitted especially as something like 2.5 of the world's 6-billion inhabitants are in emerging economic superpowers.

Look at the world around you and compare it to the place we lived 15-to-20 years ago. Thanks to "landscape amnesia" we don't see the dramatic changes unless we really force ourselves to think back and think hard but, when we do, the degree of change in what is such a tiny interval in human history is almost scary.

If we don't take effective measures to curb population now, then nature will take care of it all by itself. Consider the freshwater problem. Droughts and floods followed by droughts and floods. You can't grow crops in those conditions. You not only lose food production but you also lose arable land to desertification. Less food, less farmland, more people. Doesn't that sound like a candle burning fiercely from both ends?

LD (and anyone else), I would highly recommend that you read James Lovelock's "Revenge of Gaia." Over several decades Lovelock has evolved this theory of earth (the earth goddess "Gaia") as an organism. Of course it's inanimate but he's shown that it behaves very much like a living thing. To oversimplify his theory, we're like bacteria that have, for millenia, gotten along just fine on our host, Gaia, until we began to overwhelm her and make her sick. That has caused her to break out in a fever which will eventually kill off most of the bacteria allowing her to return to a state of normal health.

He makes his point very powerfully and with great scientific knowledge, insight and logic.

What Lovelock is preaching right now is what he calls "sustainable retreat." In other words, we have to restore the equilibrium of our habitation by various means of reduction - using less energy, consuming fewer resources (smaller houses, cars, etc.) and altering the way we live (local produce instead of imported, etc.).

Lovelock is one who is willing to freely and fully discuss the one issue that our politicians avoid like the plague - climatic tipping points. His idea is to grow smaller so we don't blindly trigger these tipping points although he won't pretend that we might not already have done just that.

Of course once we begin passing our environmental tipping points, nature will do to global population what we seemingly won't and it'll be in forms we cannot regulate or easily accomodate into our cultures and societies. That's when voluntary population control gives way to the global fly swatter. The choice is obvious but it's just as obvious that we won't take it while we still can, while we can do ourselves the most good and the least harm.

Show me one world government that is not still pursuing growth. Until we can come to grasp the self-destructiveness inherent in our addiction to growth, we'll never have the moral or political will to tackle overpopulation.

Again, just be grateful you live in Canada.

LeDaro said...

I do not disagree that population may increase to overwhelm the resources. But how we reduce the population? How we curb the human (or animal) desire to procreate?

China has one child per couple policy strictly enforced. However with close to two billion population still lot of babies are added every year.

My question is how we do it?

Yes nature will take care of it sooner or later through famine and disease. But I cannot see how effective methods can be used to reduce population ourselves.