Post COP15, Part 1: Doing the Right Thing for the “Wrong” Reasons

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The last-minute, cobbled-together, non-binding, specifics-lite COP15 “accord” managed to unify almost everyone in disappointment, though perhaps not in surprise. Many, including climatologist James Hansen and economist Jeffrey Sachs, have for months called the drawn-out politically-driven process “broken.” When there was no time to waste, time was wasted. The representative from the fast-sinking island of Tuvalu noted forlornly that the fate of the world was “being decided by some senators in the U.S. Congress.”

Really? Just a handful of senators? A few people out of a few dozen determining the future of six billion? If true, then as a species perhaps we deserve ourselves – though our fellow travelers on this blue dot planet certainly deserve better.

Tom Friedman, never one to shy away from clever turn of phrase, has called on “Father Greed” to save us from the political inertia letting  Mother Nature run amok. He wants to see a sort of green tech “arms” race between the U.S. and China, the two largest emitters responsible together for spewing half the greenhouse gases mucking up the atmosphere. To the winner will go economic advantage, an innovation edge and millions of jobs.

To the loser – well, there are no losers. With the world’s two largest economies leading the way, Friedman is certain the rest of the world will follow. Developing countries will build low-carbon energy infrastructure from the get go and a variety of disasters will be scaled back, if not altogether averted:

  • Global CO2 levels will steady at safe-ish levels
  • There won’t be quite as many record-breaking snow-storms, floods, droughts and famines
  • The advance of vector-borne diseases into temperate zones will slow (anything that involves a mosquito, gnat or tick)
  • Glaciers will return to an appropriately glacial crawl, slowing their retreat, possibly advancing and assuring millions of people living down-slope of reasonably predictable seasonal water supplies
  • Oceans won’t turn lethally acidic, so corals and the fish that depend upon them will survive
  • Oceans won’t rise as fast or as high as worst-case predictions, which will spare islands and coastlines from worst-case devastation
  • Fewer forests will be blistered by drought, so won’t be incinerated in super-hot, soil-scorching mega-fires
  • Fewer species will go extinct
  • Climate refugees will number in the tens of millions instead of the hundreds of millions by 2050

The good news will be less bad news, which doesn’t have either much political cache or headline appeal, which is why the cynically optimistic Friedman is banking on greed: “(T)he way you get big change is by getting the big players to do the right things for the wrong reasons. If you wait for everyone to do the right thing for the right reason, you’re going to be waiting a long, long time.”

Time? Who’s got time?



One Response

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