Monday, 1 December 2008

Avoiding Climate Crunch? Chatham House article

Bernice Lee is a smart lady who talks at a thousand words a minute (and probably thinks at a hundred thousand words a minute). Her short piece “Avoiding Climate Crunch” is worth a look

The blurb, accompanied by a photo of some drowned cars, goes...

“A new climate is likely at the United Nations climate change conference in Poland early this month and not just because of the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. The international financial crisis has highlighted the cost of poor policies and the scale of banking bailouts has made dealing with climate change seem less formidable. Besides, such schemes could create new jobs and give an edge to the competitive economies of tomorrow.”

Once she's into the meat of the article, she comes out with the Understatement of the Day;

“It may get harder to persuade electorates in rich countries to help meet the additional costs of a low carbon transition in developing economies, when their is a shortage of finance at home. Perhaps more significantly, the domino effect o f the crisis in emerging economies may dampen efforts to accelerate a low-carbon transition.”

Here I think she (knowingly) understates the problem. As the solid human waste makes contact with the air circulation blades, a lot of little-England/America/whateverers are going to be banging on about filthy Orientals cleaning up their own mess. All talk of historical emissions, or per capita emissions will be ignored, as the Johnny (Foreigner) Come Latelies to the pollution game get the blame. A mate of mine even did a cartoon about this...

She goes on

“Comparisons have been drawn between the fallout in the global financial sytstem and the kind of runaway risks that unmitigated climate change may bring. The only difference is that there are no bail-out options for a climate crunch.”

Er, quite.

And then we move onto “A fresh appetite for global systemic management is also fuelling talk of green Keynesianism- large-scale public investments in the style of John Maynard Keynes.”

She surely means- among other things like a UNEP report- the “Green New Deal.

Two things to say here

  1. Keynesianism never really went away.

  2. As a very smart friend of mine pointed out, Keynesianism was a solution to a lack of demand. Our problem, as a species, is too much demand. But as generals fight the last war, we fight the last problem.

Still, there's going to be new jobs for the boys, so that's alright-

“A period of deep institutional reform might make it more realistic, for example, for the World Bank to carve out a role as a climate bank, shifting from support for fossil fuel investment.”

I'm perhaps giving the impression that this isn't worth reading, but it is, and not just to know what They are thinking. These are really really difficult problems we face, as a species, and anyone claiming they've got simple solutions is probably, well... a bit simple.

Lee concludes;

“Now is the time to build the capacity to learn and evolve the systems for sustainable energy creation, delivery and use into our global economic hardware.”

Yes. Sure. But I wonder too if in twenty years time someone currently in primary school will be just about to burn the Chatham House library to keep warm, and will stumble across this passage and think “No, it was the time to think about localised resilience of not just energy, but food, governance and a thousand other things.”

If your appetite for analysis of Where We Are and Need to Be is not sated, compare Lee's optimistic/”realist” view with that of John Jordan, of Climate Camp etc.

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