Climate Change and International Response

It’s official; we are the problem. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued its Fifth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, which concludes the warming of the climate system is unequivocal, human influence on the climate system is clear, and limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

This declaration comes as no surprise to anyone who has been paying the least bit of attention. The first IPCC report, issued in 1990, came to virtually the same conclusion, while in the interim a great deal of energy and greenhouse gas emissions have gone into debates over how many degrees the planet will warm and how many inches the seas will rise, while efforts to substantially and sustainably reduce greenhouse gas emissions have languished.

This neglect has been fostered by and works to the benefit of the most profitable corporations in history and the governments and politicians who rely upon them for taxes and campaign funding. 

It does not work for taxpayers who have seen their liability increased $500 Billion for every year climate action is delayed and who fork over an additional $1.9 trillion annually in fossil fuel subsidies.

It doesn’t work for renewable energy providers who must compete in a market that exempts fossil fuels from their externalities.

It is not working for our grandchildren who according to Jochen Hinkel, a senior researcher at the Global Climate Forum and co author of the recent study Coastal flood damage and adaptation costs under 21st century sea-level rise, will see up to 5-10 percent of their GDP damaged annually by 2100 if we don’t adapt to sea level rise. Or who, by other estimates, face even greater catastrophic consequences.

It isn’t working for large segments of our youth who are shutout of the existing economy even as their skills, idealism and energy are demanded to meet the challenges they and their children face.

And it isn't working for the parents of those children who want to leave them no less an opportunity than the one they were bequeathed.

The current economy functions more like a knockout Monopoly tournament, where the objective of the game is to bankrupt everyone else, than an instrument of rational capital allocation.

The 85 richest people own as much as the poorest half of the world’s population and almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.

One might legitimately ask, to what end?

It would be one thing if that one percent was marshalling their wealth on behalf of mankind but for the most part they are not. They are more likely to be found trying to summit the Forbes Billionaires list –likely as not through the acquisition of shares in fossil fuel companies - than tackling climate change and when the latter becomes a life threatening situation things are likely to get very ugly.

Self-preservation is a powerful motivator.

English law recognizes the defence of necessity. When one is genuinely at risk of immediate harm or danger and there is a situation of overwhelming urgency then a person has the right to respond in an otherwise unlawful manner.

Climate change will soon cross that threshold and some might say, as in the case of Typhoon Hayain, at least 6,201 people dead in the Philippines alone, it already has.

On a limited scale we are already witnessing the destabilization of existing regimes as a result of environmental factors. Much of the unrest in the Middle East has been attributed to that problem and the U.S. Military is preparing for future escalations.

Paul Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest describes the dynamic of organizations from around the world working toward the common goal of social justice and sustainable practices in an effort to save the planet from destruction.

These are legitimate and worthy goals but one wonders whether or not unrest is the only way to attain them.

We have little time to find out considering IPCC experts believe we only have fifteen years to rein in carbon emissions or we will need new technologies not yet in existence which even then might not be effective.

The IPCC on the other hand has been criticized for not addressing the climate change hiatus of the past 15 years, which in itself suggests new technology that can effectively address the problem.  

On a diminishing scale of desirability there are a number of scenarios that can play out over the next 15 years:

  • An energy “Silver Bullet” will emerge.
  • Clean renewable energy will become cost competitive with fossil fuels that will be replaced through orderly creative destruction.
  • Governments will live up to their Copenhagen commitments to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system by what ever means.
  • The public will boycott fossil fuels and turn to electricity, hydrogen, ammonia and methanol for its transportation needs.  
  • Financial institutions will cease to fund fossil fuel ventures and invest instead in clean, renewable energy.
  • An alternate economy will emerge to finance clean, renewable energy.
  • There will be slow progress on the climate front that is insufficient to address the problem.
  • There will be no progress on climate change and renewable energy and the world will be that much closer to anarchy, if not already within its midst.

The likelihood of any of these scenarios coming to pass seems to be the in the inverse order of their desirability unless those of us most likely to be impacted can coalesce.

It seems to me a virtual portal is required wherein technology, capital seeking to make an impact, experience and enthusiasm can come together to accomplish the desired end.

Photo Credit: Burning Questions on Climate Change/shutterstock