September 27, 2009

Is COP15 at Copenhagen Flawed?

Will the World End in Fire?
We are already witnessing the beginnings of a barrage of saturated media coverage about climate change and the upcoming Copenhagen conference. By the time the COP15 Conference at Copenhagen arrives, it might be the only item in the news all over the world and that is good. We need to take some meaningful measures that could get us to move in the right direction. Who knows, we might even avoid the apocalypse.

The failure to reach an agreement to adopt an effective and clear plan of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be a major setback to the environmental efforts to avert a catastrophic climate change, an increase in temperature greater than 2 degrees Celsius. Sea level will rise, major ocean currents would be disrupted, monsoons and hurricanes will increase both in their frequency and intensity, crop failures will become more common, desertification will increase; life as we know it will become disrupted. What is at stake is surely the greatest challenge that civilization has ever faced and a successful Copenhagen meeting is a must.

Yet if we are to act as dispassionate observers of this process we will have no choice but to note the major logical fallacy upon which Copenhagen is built. The issue is not whether the world can afford not to decrease its GHG emissions; it can not. The real issue though is whether Copenhagen can deliver us out of this self inflicted quagmire? How can it possibly do that when we even refuse to look into the root cause of this problem?

Anthropogenic emissions are simply the product of human economic activity and no one is proposing that we limit economic growth. The position at Copenhagen is nothing else but an exercise in a combination of major logical fallacies such as “argumentum ad populum” combined with “argumentum ad baculum”; a false argument based on the appeal to the majority and to fear.

Let me explain. One of the major efforts that the nations, represented at Copenhagen, will confront is that of reducing car emissions. It is widely believed that the move to hybrid engines and electric plug-in vehicles, in addition to more efficient engines, will turn out to be a major contribution in achieving the sought reduction in carbon emissions. But would it? The world produced over 70 million new vehicles during 2007 but under the best estimates all the hybrids and electric plug-in will not amount to more than 2 million units a year by 2015. If these numbers hold then that is a miserly 2% of the new cars, not to mention that China and India alone are slated to replace the United States as the number one producers of vehicles in the world. Emissions from China and India, both of whom are neighbours of Bangladesh, will not be regulated. Climate change is the largest infringement on the sovereignty of Bangladesh and yet it goes on each day of the year without firing a bullet or creating a political standoff. Even if we are to assume, as unlikely as it might be, that by 2020 one fifth of the newly manufactured in the world each year would be powered by either a hybrid or an electric engine, what about all the raw materials that has to be mined and processed in order to build all of these cars not to mention all the tires, spare parts, accidents and highways that they will generate and require? Would supplying all of these resources by “developing” countries be without a carbon footprint?

A more efficient car is a welcome development but a more efficient car will be useless in reducing the human impact on the ecosystem unless we are to simultaneously build fewer cars and consequently fewer garages, less highways, less spare parts use less resources and conserve our natural capital.

It is not sufficient to set up a goal. We must set up a goal accompanied by a workable plan otherwise the goal would best be classified as a wish. Imagine ,if you will, that all the water bottling facilities in Fiji ; whose products are shipped to North America and the rest of the world; are to become totally powered by energy acquired through either thermal solar , photovoltaic or wind turbines, would that then make the consumption of such water environmentally friendly? You decide.

As you can see from the above the need to cut down on GHG’s and carbon emissions is not questioned. What is at stake is our ability, or rather inability, to accept that climate change is nothing more than a manifestation of a systemic failure and such failures demand a total redesign of the system. If we cannot understand this most basic of all facts then all our efforts, as well intentioned as they might be will be for naught.

A Podcast of the above text can be found at:

September 02, 2009

No Real Global Commitment to Solve Climate Change

There is unanimity that climate change poses an enormous challenge to our specie. That is no longer debatable. But assessing the enormity of the problem is one thing and doing something meaningful about it is another. History is replete with examples of catastrophes that were hastened because of our inability or unwillingness to act.

Every aspect of environmental degradation from climate change to desertification, from overfishing to deforestation, from population growth rates to malnutrition , from overproduction to overconsumption, from diminishing biodiversity to the unabiding trust in economic growth, from unjust distribution of income to neo imperialism, from unsustainable practices to the rejection of intrinsic value and from the conviction that the whole of creation was meant for our own whimsical use to the strong belief that humans are hard wired to be selfish is a vivid demonstration that “Homo Sapiens” ( wise humans) we are not. Yet we pretend that we are and furthermore we make believe that we are earnestly looking for a solution.

The upcoming COP 15 at Copenhagen scheduled for December 2009 was supposed to demonstrate our earnest desire in finally seeking a solution that is commensurate to the existential challenge of keeping climate change within an increase of 2 degrees centigrade. Well don’t hold your breath. The UN Development Chief Helen Clark has just issued a statement preparing us for the upcoming disappointment. She declares: “"If there's no deal as such, it won't be a failure. I think the conference will be positive but it won't dot every 'i' and cross every 't'." That does not make you very confident in the quality and commitment of international governance does it?

Kyoto and Copenhagen are about one issue only. If we believe, truly believe that climate change must be stopped and that it is essentially the result of human activity then we need to act and act promptly. Global calamity is about to strike and we have no one to blame but us. The Pogo Cartoon said it best over forty years ago” We have met the enemy and he is us”.

So what is the US, the world's largest economy, doing about this problem? The US seems to have finally accepted the idea that it is its duty, nay its obligation, to reduce its carbon footprint since it is the greatest contributor to the anthropogenically produced carbon since the onset of the industrial revolution. Give the Obama administration its due credit. It plans to submit a plan to reduce the US contribution to the worldwide carbon emission through a cap and trade program.

The proposed reductions are no where close to what they should be but they are greater reductions than what the previous administration has been willing to commit to. Under the proposed system of Cap and Trade the government will set a total level of emissions and issue against that standard permits. The emitters cannot collectively exceed the level mandated by the government but they are free to trade these permits among each other as they see fit. That does not sound so bad except the reduction in overall emissions is no where as major as the challenge dictates that it should be.

The other problem, and may I suggest that this is just as major if not even more so, the government plans to give away gratis, for free, these permits to the corporations that pollute instead of auctioning these permits and raising the 100s of billions of dollars that they are worth. Think about it, instead of asking the polluter to pay we are asking the already burdened tax payer to subsidize pollution. That is madness. But why would anyone give away for free that which is worth billions? Well we have already answered that question. Homo Sapiens we ain’t neither are we rational or even committed to the idea of biodiversity and sustainability.

And finally, let me say that the US is not the only obstacle to finding a solution to climate change. China, India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia are even more adamant that they do not have to apply any restraint to their level of economic activity--let the health of the global ecosystem be damned. One can easily add Russia and Indonesia to the group of countries that have to be dragged to adopt proforma carbon emission reduction targets. (The combined emissions of the above seven countries is over 56% of global carbon emissions). Enough said about our real concern for sustainability and biodiversity.

A podcast of the above can be heard at: ramblings11