Friday, February 02, 2007

Thinking about Global Warming: Part III

Why should we do anything to limit carbon emissions?

Continuing my loud thinking criticizing the various efforts to limit carbon emissions, here is a follow up on why it might actually make sense to pursue those efforts (like city wide carbon emissions regulations, and Cap and Trade schemes etc), however flawed they may be:

1. Desperation

It is becoming more and more accepted that we (ie humans) are affecting the environment, and creating potentially huge problems for the planet in the future. The nature of the problem, though, makes it very very difficult to do anything very effective about the problem. Critics would say that we might as well do nothing at all! But, it’s almost like we are so desperate for any solution that the ‘perfect’ solution could be the enemy of a ‘good’ or even less than good solution, specially if we learn how to make those solutions better...

2. Education

After all, we can only learn by experimenting. For example, Europe’s ETS led the effort (as discussed previously in Cap and Trade schemes. However ineffective it may have been in the short run, it provided valuable lessons for future schemes.

So what if some companies get some windfall profits, if our reward is to have created the infrastructure to limit carbon emissions in the future, raised the public consciousness about the importance of limiting carbon emissions, and encouraged social and financial investments that could allow us to move slowly towards better solutions in the future!

3. Momentum

It is very difficult to affect major changes in one try. And certainly, doing anything meaningful about carbon emissions, will need some major changes… in our regulations, our behavior, our investments, our taxes, etc etc. So small steps can set an example, and allow others to follow.

By taking a leadership role in cutting carbon emissions, California would hope to spur other states to do the same, or at the very least, raise the consciousness of other states and countries to follow suit. Without the Burlingtons and Californias of the world setting the example, we would all be less aware of the issues around the environment, and have fewer models to build on.

4. Raising Passions

In fact, given how imperfect the current solutions to cutting carbon emissions are, it is quite surprising that such a momentum has gathered any steam at all. I suppose it took Iraq, $70 oil, many local politicians in places like California and Vermont, years of scientific research to overcome obfuscation of facts and theories, and the PR of Vinod Khosla, Richard Branson, Al Gore and others to get some emotional momentum behind the clean technology movement in the US.

How ironic is that: the wooden Gore of 2000 is now the main cheerleader, the market maven and chief salesman carrying the message about our environment!!

Incidentally, I caught a quote from his inspirational film, that I think illustrates the problem of how difficult it has been to raise passions and create active political momentum. Here is Gore towards the end of his film:

“We have the ability to do this. Each one of us is a cause of global warming, but each one of us can make choices to change that... with the things we buy, the electricity we use, the cars we buy... We can make choices to bring our individual carbon emissions to zero. The solutions are in our hands. We just have to have the determination to make them happen. ”
Here he is inspiring his audience to affect change and “to make a difference” – a paragraph worthy of the greatest inspirational speaker to make people moving, to get them to… well, what does he say next? He shows a slide with a list of countries and says:
“Are we going to be left behind as the rest of the world moves forward? All of these nations have ratified Kyoto. There are only two advanced nations in the world that have not ratified Kyoto, and we are one of them.”
So that’s the plan: Inspire the population to do something about the environment by going out and convincing their politicians to ratify the Kyoto treaty and hand over power to all the regulators and politicians of the world to negotiate a global agreement which is flawed in many ways…!!

How uninspiring is that!

If anything, what is incredible to me is the amount of momentum the environmental movement has actually gained despite all the inadequacies in creating efficient solutions to the problem…

That passion, held by more and more people, regarding the need to do something about the environment – that is a real asset!

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