Stark choices and positive futures: what climate change means for rich-nations’ way of life.

Neva Goodwin, for the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, has released a working paper titled:“An Overview of Climate Change: What does it mean for our way of life? What is the best future we can hope for?”.

The intention is that this paper will later develop into a book, and based on what we have so far, the book should be one excellent “answer” to the challenges we identified in “Enough Already – Part One”. At 28 pages of text, less footnotes, I recommend the paper as a compact, useful, positive read.

Some points I picked out:

Neva starts from the premise that significant climate change impacts are inevitable already, and that to avoid far more catastrophic human-induced climate change we need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80%. (pp.3-4, p.8)

Communities and societies will be better able to deal with the unavoidable effects of climate change to the extent they have ‘resilience’ and ‘social cohesion’, which might roughly be translated as the capacity to help themselves and the willingness to work together cooperatively. (pp.5-6)

It’s politically unrealistic for rich nations to expect poor nations to constrain growth of their greenhouse gas emissions if the rich nations are not willing to take serious steps to work for more global equity, and to undertake serious cuts in their emissions. (pp.7-9)

In relation to the poor, both from poor nations and within rich societies, the rich face a stark choice: to give them the assistance they need to deal with climate change, “or to let them die, or shoot them when they arrive at the gates”. (pp.6-7)

Assuming we do not make the callous and murderous choices, dealing effectively with climate change will require major work on development and equity, both globally, and within nations. (pp.9-11) The exciting prospect is that there can be a synergy between dealing with development, poverty and climate change for poor nations.

Globally, the key mechanism to achieve emission reductions with equity is a cap, trade, and converge system. (pp.11-13)

Goodwin’s conclusions about prospects for continued GDP growth are a little ambiguous to my reading: she says (apparently speaking in general terms) that GDP growth can continue even when many resources and material goods become significantly more expensive in real terms (pp.4-5), but also suggests that U.S. GDP will likely have to fall in the process of adjustment, which, given the role of the US in the global economy, and given the similar economic issues in many other rich nations (e.g. New Zealand’s level of consumer debt and current account deficit) implies to me an overall contraction of the global economy, at least for a significant period, and certainly a contraction of rich nation economies (pp.15-17). Perhaps she will clarify this point in the book that is to follow this paper.

Climate change will bring greater costs in dealing with natural disasters, it will also require reduced consumption of resources, less meat-eating, less travel. (pp.21-23)

On the bright side, Goodwin also points to the literature that suggests a contraction in material circumstances need not lead to a decline in well-being and happiness, if we make socially inclusive and equitable choices. (pp.23-25)

Goodwin finishes with a positive and thought-provoking vision of the future in 2075. (pp.25-28)

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