Friday, December 11, 2009

What the Germans Know About Arresting Climate Change

The Germans know that human nature, or at least that strain of it that evolves into the nature of state governments, is inherently ill-suited to implementing effective measures to confront global problems, especially when those 'problems' affect each state differently.

The Germans also know that there are invaluable resources such as our oceans and our atmosphere that can belong to no one and, hence, must be taken as belonging to everyone, living and yet to come, equally. No nation has the right to lay claim to our atmosphere or the life-supporting resources it holds - the oxygen, the wind, the humidity; all those things that sustain life as we know it.

Once you accept that the atmosphere is a common asset to which all mankind, now living and those to come, has an equal claim you have the basis for an agreement to effectively arrest anthropogenic global warming. The key lies in equality for that alone establishes the common interest in a challenge that affects each corner of the earth differently, in some cases very differently.

Without acting in recognition that the atmosphere is indeed a commons, you revert to the mentality of a passenger in an overloaded lifeboat focusing on what you have to do to ensure you're not the one pitched overboard all the while the boat continues to ship water.

We're all climate change sinners, except perhaps those who live pre-industrial lifestyles such as nomadic herders of the sub-Sahara. I'm not championing a return to the pre-industrial era even if that was possible (which, blessedly, it's not). To the contrary, I think the global warming challenge presents us with an example of mankind's essential interest in acting collectively to find ways to live in balance with our planet, our biosphere.

We're not going to ditch our post-industrial way of life but we are going to change our way of life or it will be changed for us. Smoking three packs a day is not good for you and if you want to continue to enjoy life, you're going to have to quit. Oh, sure, it may not get you but the odds are overwhelming that it will.

At the moment we're chain-smoking carbon as never before and the projections show that we're going to be up to four, maybe five packs a day in another decade or two. Essentially, we're poisoning the atmosphere and, through that, indirectly poisoning ourselves. Sane people would say, "this has to stop."

Quitting smoking isn't easy. Trust me, I know. Quitting our carbon addiction will be even tougher, by a wide margin, than giving up tobacco. We live in a civilization built on fossil fuels and, for centuries, have nurtured a growing dependency that's now reached toxicity. We have to reach out for alternative energy and, instead of fretting about transitional impacts on our economy, we should delight in simply having alternatives at all. Yes it will cause some disruption of our economy and, yes, we may have to rethink our 19th century economic models and prejudices, but there is life after carbon and it could be significantly better than the best we've had so far.

Big Oil and Big Coal, reprising the role of Big Tobacco, aren't going without a fight. As long as they can detect the scent of carbon addiction, they're going to fight and fight fiercely to feed it. They'll know when they're done when we tell them they're done and this Denialism campaign they're waging now is intended to forestall that day for as long as possible. They don't have science on their side but they have powerful weaponry such as wealth and greed and fear in their arsenal and decades of experience in how to wield them.

I think it's time all of us started listening to the Germans. We need to learn and understand what they know. The more you learn of their approach, the sooner you'll be convinced that it's really the only way.

Remember this. Switching to an alternative fuel economy and an alternative fuel society probably isn't going to get easier with time. It won't get safer with time. It won't get less disruptive with time. One thing we don't have in abundance is time.

Rest assured we will find a solution to the global warming problem because we really don't have a choice. The great unknown is what solutions will remain available to us when we're finally prepared to act or forced to act. The best solutions probably slipped through our fingers in the 60's when we didn't know any better. In the half century since then the carbon problem has grown enormously and our range of solutions is narrower and potentially costlier. Without courageous action the problem is going to worsen significantly and the solutions will become fewer, more costly and potentially even dangerous.

1 comment:

LeDaro said...

The rich and powerful, especially fossil fuel magnates, own the atmosphere. Rest of us can take a hike. How to make these pariahs understand? That is the struggle right now and it is an age-old problem.