The COP 17 cop out

One can draw a parallel between my previous post regarding the failure to rescue the eurozone from collapse, or the economic crisis in general and the failure of the COP 17 talks recently in Durban. Wait? I hear you say, I thought they struck a deal in Durban. Ya, they did, but I could paraphrase the results as an agreement that:
– Warming is bad
– We need to do something about it at some indeterminate future date, but only if nobody objects, coughs or sneezes, in which case we’ll drop the idea at once and go make ourselves some nice coffins instead.
– Connie Hedegaard could be like, way prettier if she like did something with her hair or something.

I’m trying to use humour to hide my disappointment but I don’t see what else can be said. If you’re actually genuinely interested what happened I’ll direct you to two nice summaries of events here and here. The only reason why the announced the meeting as being a “success was to save everyone the embarrassment of another dismal failure, such as Cancun last year.

The reason why the euro, or indeed the dollar, is in crisis right now is because of the short term decisions taken by politicians trying to be popular. Had governments clamped down on the housing bubble building with the US, Ireland or UK (much of these three housing bubbles extending into the Eurozone and laying the seeds for the current crisis) by for example raising property taxes or interest rates, or increasing regulation of mortgage lenders, then the housing bubble and thus much of the current financial crisis would simply have never happened.

But terrified that taking away the punch bowl when the party turned rowdy would have them labelled as squares, and the many voters who had deluded themselves that this bubble was making the rich (as opposed to sinking them further into debt) meant successive governments both sides of the Atlantic failed to do anything about this pending crisis, until indeed it became a major crisis.

Similarly, the present eurozone crisis could have been solved months or even years ago had certain EU nations been prepared to take a minor hit to their nation’s finances. However, again, as this would have been unpopular with some voters they have failed to take action. Now as a result the euro titters on the brink of collapse within months and anyone with a saving account or pension in the euro (doesn’t matter which country), or indeed in neighbouring countries such as Britain (if the French and German banks go down, the British ones will follow them into collapse), can likely kiss their money goodbye. Had governments taken action earlier on the eurozone a few moderate measures, such as direct ECB lending, could have saved it. Now severe Qunatative Easing or a devaluation of the euro are about the only thing that stands a chance. But even faced with the stark choice of loosing small or loosing big, politicians are choosing to loose big.

Similarly our current and pending climate crisis is a solvable problem. We have the technology to solve climate change, but nobody wants to take action as it might be unpopular in the short term with the Nouveau jet-set, SUV drivers and Mondeo man. Unfortunately if we continue to ignore climate change (or peak oil) then sooner or later the result will be a major and very damaging crisis. One that will likely costs $70 Trillion+, depress the living standards of everyone on the planet for a generation or more, kill a few million people, produce an extinction level event that will kill off a significant proportion of the planet’s wildlife (and the biosphere we depend on) and that could just be the opening acts! And when I say “depress standards of living” I mean thinks like private motoring, overseas flights, out of season fruits and commodities from abroad (Tea Chocolate, coffee) or central heating in winter suddenly falling into the “luxury” category, rather than being seen as essentials!

The simple fact is the longer we defer action on climate change the more severe will be the repercussion of climate change and the more drastic the measures we will need to take to prevent or mitigate it. Let us consider the following scenario; suppose back in 1997 the Kyoto protocol had actually succeeded. That is that all the major industrialised countries had signed up (and stuck to) a deal of significant and binding cuts in CO2 emissions. We would now be well on our way towards stabilisation. While India and China would not have been in that original deal, now the idea that they could stay out and call themselves responsible members of the international community would be unthinkable.

Yes such a turn of events would have led to some economic pain. But if you look at certain countries, notably Germany or Denmark who cut their emissions considerably, the economic effects would certainly not have been crippling, indeed the spin off industries would have made cancelled out many of the negatives. But yes certainly the massive economic growth seen over the late 90’s and 2000’s probably won’t have occurred at the rate that it did. But then again, as I think we can all agree that won’t be such a bad thing either, as equally with a more restrained economic growth rate, its likely that the present economic crisis would never have happened. In short I suspect that if you gave G. W. Bush access to a time machine, he’d go back in time, not to 11/9/2001 (to tell himself not to look like a dithering twit) but to April the 3rd 2001 when he announced that the US would not ratify Kyoto, bash himself over the head (forgetting about Causality, then again Brains was never one of Bush’s strong points) and instead take to hugging baby seals, etc.

The longer we delay action on climate change, the more severe the action we will need to take becomes. A 1997 start date would have left us looking at modest targets along the lines of 1-2% cuts in emissions per year, with a good deal of leeway (if a nation wanted to take a “emissions cut holiday” to deal with a short term crisis that would be okay). Now we’re probably looking at cuts in the order of 3-5% per year if that all important 2’C warming Rubicon is not to be crossed. And if that sounds like cutting too much too quickly wait awhile and it will jump to 6-10% or 10-20% per year!

The fact is, it is the duty of governments to take decisions in the best interest of the country, not try and win a popularity contest. This is not a junior high school! A government’s first responsibility is to secure the nations long term future. And sometimes that means taking decisions that in the short term will be deeply unpopular with some voters. But its the professional duty of a politician to do this, much like its a doctors professional duty to tell a patient he has a terminal illness, or its an engineers duty to tell the board that a proposal they’ve come up with is just technically impossible to implement. What sort of world would we live in if professionals like these tried to be “popular” and not upset anybody? Well probably one without technology that works and modern medicine! If any politician, be it Stephen Harper in Canada or David Cameron in the UK or Merkel in Germany feels that they lack the backbone nor initiate to take decisive leadership, do us all a favour, resign at once and let us appoint in you place a leader who does possess such qualities.


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