Contents this month
How engaging is climate change?
It looks as if 2007 may be the year that climate change finally
begins to feel serious. It’s not just the flurry of heavyweight
reports such as the Stern
Review, the latest report of the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, or the extraordinary coming together
of the United States Climate Action
Partnership, or even Al Gore’s
remarkable documentary film on the subject.
It’s more that nobody can fail to notice that we seem
to have got to spring without having been through winter. Just
a blip say the sceptics. Well, maybe - but maybe not and maybe
we need some solutions, and fast.
John Elkington of Sustainability has produced an interesting
summary of quick and false fixes compared to truer but longer
term ones. Among the false are market solutions that do not involve
lifestyle or behavioural changes; bio-fuels other than as one
part of a new portfolio of fuels (and even then he warns they
will bring with them a raft of economic, social and environmental
concerns); seeding the oceans with iron filings to speed plankton
growth and the absorption of carbon; and building a big space
umbrella to reduce solar radiation.
His summary of the true solutions is different in kind: conservation,
regulation, incentives and political will and leadership. The
critical difference between the true and the false is that the
true rest on changing the nature of the relationships between
people, between people and planet and, in some ways, between
our own nobler and baser instincts.
To conserve energy on the scale required, for example, we will
have to understand why profligacy and self-indulgence is no longer
acceptable. To accept the kind of regulation that will have an
impact - that, for example, prevents us flitting off for
weekends in exotic places - means accepting that we have
no right to cook the planet. Giving up the urge to reach 60 miles
per hour in a few seconds and instead aiming for 60 miles per
gallon as a minimum means sacrificing vanity and self-image.
And political will, that most precious of commodities, is needed
most when we are faced with choosing against our own self-interest.
There is one element of the good solutions missing from John’s
list: the need to get people engaged with the issues, discussing
the choices we have, being unable to avoid taking responsibility
for our decisions. Involving people in this world-changing issue
has to be fundamental, not an afterthought, if we want people
to accept the scale of behavioural change that may become essential.
Without the active participation of people in large numbers none
of the good solutions will work, and we will be reduced to sprinkling
iron filings in the hope of seducing the plankton or, as the descendants
of Noël Coward’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen, relying on
galactic umbrellas to shade us from the midday sun.