With all the buzz and anti-buzz about the climate change talks in Copenhagen, it’s easy to get caught up in the dis-empowering idea that a global Emission Trading Scheme (ETS), agreed upon top-down, at Copenhagen (or maybe at the next conference…) is the only hope for meaningful action on climate change. After all, climate change is a global problem, with huge free-rider risks, so it must require a global solution, right?
Nobel prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom makes the case, in her working paper “A Polycentric Approach for Coping with Climate Change” that a better response to the problems of climate change is ‘polycentric’ with a diversity of responses occurring simultaneously in different geographical locations and at different levels of government and society.
Blog Action day on climate change – October 15, 2009
Jonathan Harris, “Ecological macroeconomics: consumption, investment, and climate change”, real-world economics review, issue no. 50, 1 September 2009, pp. 34-48,
Harris (Tufts University) begins his discussion by using the charmingly mild phrase “cognitive disconnect” to decribe the yawning great chasm between “scientists’ warnings of potential catastrophe if carbon emissions continue unchecked on the one hand and the political and economic realities of steadily increasing emissions on the other” (p.34)
It is, as he says, “the outstanding economic problem of the twenty-first century. Can economic growth continue while carbon emissions are drastically reduced?” (p.34) And asking that question makes us look more closely at what, in fact, economic growth is and how we might make a successful economic and social transition to sustainability.
One of the most extraordinary things about the equations that describe planetary motion is that they allow us to predict the positions of the planets in the future. We can forecast solar and lunar eclipses with great accuracy. Furthermore, small deviations from predictions allowed astronomers to guess the existence of the previously unknown planets Uranus and Neptune. This predictive power is very impressive – and therefore very, very beguiling. In a complex and messy world, we like being able to predict things.
As a consequence, as David Orrell describes in his book Apollo’s arrow, Newton’s great achievement has led modern western society and most of its practising scientists to believe that all other natural phenomena also can be described mathematically and, more importantly, accurately predicted.
In his book Heat, George Monbiot looks at the possibility of a climate change catastrophe. He argues that a 2°C rise in global average temperature would precipitate such a disaster, as it would cause many ecosystems to begin to collapse. They would become CO2 emitters rather than the CO2 sinks that they are at present, and runaway global warming would follow, regardless of what we humans might do.
In order to be sure of avoiding that scenario, Monbiot estimates that humanity must achieve a 90% reduction in its CO2 output by 2030. Is it at all possible? In his book, Monbiot attempts to show that it is.
This is a general election year here in Aotearoa New Zealand and the election will hold the much of the attention of New Zealand’s political junkies. In some respects, though, even for New Zealanders the US presidential election taking place in November is of far more consequence.
I’m thinking in particular of the issue of global warming. Because the US generates around 22% of global CO2 output (2004 data, available here), the decisions of the next US president will – in one way or another – have a critical impact on the issue of climate change. Whether he or she takes action on global warming or follows the lead of GW Bush and places her or his head firmly in the sand, the outcome will affect just about everyone on the planet.