Monday, July 30, 2012

Climate change & the frozen “global village”

            I got the idea to write this article when I read about Nobel Prize winner and economist Paul Krugman, arguing for the existence of climate change recently.  As I finished reading the article, it hit me.  Paul Krugman is arguing about the existence of climate change?  Should not the job of such a renowned economist be to propose solutions to such problems?  I have to admit that it is hard to do so for many reasons, including the force with which the deniers are arguing against it.  There is also the other reason, which is that it is not easy to come up with a viable solution to this problem.  Any solution would require major changes to be implemented, and people would not want to hear about such drastic change, especially since for many, their day to day life is not all that bad at the moment, so why would they want change?  Even many who are down on their luck are fiercely opposed to major changes, because the last thing they want is a chance of major upheaval, which might blow their chances at re-joining the ranks of the consumer, which they still believe is in the cards for them.  The environmental movement has not helped matters in the past decades by proposing unrealistic and harmful actions of voluntary self sacrifice, which end up harming the actors trying to do right more than it helps with environmental issues.  The Kyoto fiasco is all one needs to look at, in order to understand the misguided mindset of environmentalists.  So the end result is that someone with such prestige as Nobel winner Paul Krugman, who has the attention of the western world, is stuck talking about the existence of climate change, rather than talking about much needed solutions.

For those who want to read more on data:

            Given the tragic drought in parts of the northern hemisphere, climate change once again is something that will become a hot topic of discussion.  Environmentalists will point to the situation and say “told you so”, which is a bad approach, given that severe droughts have happened before, and there was little to connect human activity to it, since it often happened before the industrial revolution.  On the other side, there are the people who for various reasons want to deny the existence of climate change, and every time we get sub-normal temperatures they will claim, climate change is just “hot air”.  The graph above, which is a compilation of average global temperatures, averaged by decade, shows us that the overall trend is up.  In the past 100 years, average temperatures turned .8 Celsius warmer.  Furthermore, as the graph shows, we just wrapped up four straight decades of increasing temperatures, and the start of this current decade is not encouraging either.

            So going beyond the petty discussions of short term seasonal or yearly trends that really are quite irrelevant, since temperatures will fluctuate within a trend, there is no way to honestly deny that climate change is not happening.  The only real question is whether this is a natural trend, or whether it is the result of our economic activities.  That is where there is the claim that more scientific evidence is needed, which is an argument that can be carried on indefinitely.

            I want people to consider the problem from a slightly different angle.  I want people to ask themselves, whether we have to be 100% convinced that this is man made?  What if the chances that it is man made are 90, 80, 70…or 10%?  Should we not still stop to pause?  Given that this year we have a chance to see what weather patterns that may not accommodate our needs, such as the drought we are going through can do to our collective human wellbeing, I think that we should not be so eager to promote any idea that has any chance of being harmful to the natural balance.  Just contemplate for a moment the repercussions if let us say, the current drought would become more or less permanent.  Would it even matter in the long run if there would be some potentially beneficial side-effects, such as moving the agricultural line further towards the north and south poles?  We have to remember that farmers in Nebraska or Iowa will be unlikely to move to Canada in order to claim virgin land that thanks to climate change might have potential as farmland sometime in the future.  These people are farmers, not nomads.  If excessive drought conditions will drive them to abandon their current farming operations, they or their children will give it up and become urban dwellers.  That will leave humanity in dire conditions.   

            The argument that supports doing business as usual, tends to argue that doing something about this is expensive, and disruptive to the economy, so unless we are 100% sure that it is human made, we should not do anything.  A great argument, because like I said, there is probably no way to make such an argument in regards to the human factor involved in climate change, that will not have a scientific counter argument.  So in effect, what is being proposed by those who oppose any moves to deal with climate change is that we should not do anything under any circumstance.  When it comes to science, there are still people literally arguing that the earth is flat.  So, if we haven’t been able to put an end to that argument, what chance is there that we can achieve 100% consensus on climate change?

            I should also point out the fact that it is increasingly hard to make the argument that striving for sustainability harms the economy, because ignoring it is already more of a drag on the global economy than the price we would have to pay for a more sustainable future.  Resource scarcity is at this point probably the biggest drag on economic growth.  Food prices rose by 150% since 2000 according to the World Food Council, while the price of petroleum rose by about 500%.  By comparison, global GDP per capita has increased by only about 50% since then, which means that we cannot keep up with such a fast rise in commodity prices, which can only lead to demand destruction for either the commodities that are now more expensive, or for other products.  This consideration should be enough to put an end to the growth versus sustainability debate, because it is now a false choice.

            So now to turn to those who support action on climate change.  I feel bad that I have to point the finger and say that, what they believe in is the right course of action is completely wrong, but it has to be done for our own good.  The environmental movement rightly gets hammered for proposing ideas that hurt the local economy that accepts them.  Investing in expensive projects that do not create an economic advantage over competitors, but to the contrary these projects saddle the voluntary goodwill actors with increased costs of doing business, such as more expensive energy, or a more expensive environment for doing business, due to need to adhere and prove the adherence to stricter environmental rules through documentation, hurts those who are willing.

            So why are environmentalists proposing such flawed policy?  It is simple really; they were whipped many times in their effort to get the world to act together, by the irresistible lure of gaining an edge through non-collaboration, over those who would comply with responsible development.  Thus humanity failed to hold hands and sing “coombaya”, to the disappointment of those believing that all that needed to be done was to spread the news about the horror that awaits us in the absence of action to prevent catastrophe.  Most environmentalists find it impossible to live with this disappointment, so instead they either continue foolishly to work towards “waking up” the world to the need for global action, or they work on a local level to pressure governments and corporations to accept voluntary sacrifices of competitiveness, which like I said, results in nothing more than harm to the actors who give in to this pressure.  In the absence of realistic proposals, that may be less idealistic, but more likely to have a chance for implementation, the world is left with no chance whatsoever to tackle this and any other global sustainability problem.

            So, this is the reality of the world warming, while the “global village” is frozen and paralyzed.  This paralysis cannot only be blamed on the interests working to undermine any attempt at action, but also on the inability of the environmental movement to admit that more “education of the masses” is not what is needed, but a re-orientation of the core of the movement towards more feasible solutions.  So perhaps Mr. Krugman should focus more on proposing solutions to having to overcome the flaw in trying to achieve global consensus, given that non-participation is currently a strategic advantage over economic competitors.  Perhaps he should support a standardized global trade tariff, designed to involve everyone, whether they want to be part of it or not, to promote sustainability.  Or perhaps, he can do even better.


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  2. If one billion people are still extremely poor on earth, then no politic will take action to stop global warming, unless people accept nuclear power (ships & trucks need oil). World population is still growing, then mankind are going to multiply farm animals (more methane). Solution 1: Induced volcano's emissions will cool the earth and save us?
    Solution2: billions of people disappear with famines or wars, there is no other way. Solar or wind power are more expensive than natural gas power and China needs power in a country with only US$ 7500 GDP per capita do not want to spend too much on green power(USA has $47,000 GDP per capita )...and they want to catch us (spending more energy). If USA warm up part of the planet consuming 20% of world`s energy, imagine our destiny with 1 billion chinese who will be spending like US in 2040!
    China is already buying business all over the world to ensure the natural resources to feed the businesses in its mainland. China is already in 23 states of Argentina and all over Venezuela (last place on earth with oil in year 2070, with 295 billion barrels in reserves. Global warming is the last problem of the future when chinese will have the power to force countries to sell them the resources. USA spends 650 billion in Defense and China spends already 120 billion (3 million soldiers today!).

    1. Thanks for your comment Rebeca. You bring up many issues having to do with the chalenges that lie ahead in terms of sustainability. By proposing the standardized global trade tariff, I am trying to adress these issues. I believe the best way forward is to have a global mechanism which can be a first step towards achieving an efficiency driven economy, which is what we need to replace the current consumer driven economy. I believe the tariff, structured the way I proposed it, adresses the problem we have today, which is that a more disposable goods, high rate of consumption, population growth driven economy is unfortunately the better adapted economy, likely to thrive. By imposing tariffs on all goods exported by any country, based on that country's ability to produce as many units of GDP as posible, per unit of environmental degradation, we can give the market economy the right incentives to promote more durable, higher value products. The proposal may not be perfect, but I believe it is the only one out there currently offering a viable solution.