How Can We Change The World? Two Months to Copenhagen

Back in January, I saw – and wrote about – climate change campaigner and free-market proponent James Cameron talking about life after the Kyoto protocol and December 2009’s up and coming Copenhagen conference.

One of the things Cameron said was

“why are young people not angry with those who got us into this situation?”

It was a powerful message: here is the most important issue facing the whole of the world, and, frankly, not a whole lot is being done about it. Why isn’t everyone getting angry about governments throughout the world failing to get to grips with this issue?

Two things have got me thinking about this again. Firstly, Francesca raised the question how do we change the world? A pretty good question to ask, and when we really need to change the world – whilst we still have a world to change – why are governments so far failing to do it?

Secondly, and probably more directly related to Cameron’s talk, Graciela Chichilnisky gave a talk to the RSA on the topic “Saving Kyoto” (also the name of her new book…).

So: another talk on climate change. Another really scary talk: when the meeting’s chair Mark Lynas described the best case scenario of current models and what such an average increase of 4°C would mean, there was disbelieving laughter, as if one had to laugh because the likely outcome was too hard to contemplate.

There was also a lot of hope in Chichilnisky’s talk: but it was only hope that we might stabilise atmospheric emissions at this best case scenario, so we’d better get used to planning for this – and not a lot seems to be going on there.

Chichilnisky was one of the brains behind the market in carbon, and she reckoned that the short term solutions to climate change were different from the long term – short term solutions include “negative carbon” power generation incorporating carbon capture and storage whilst long term include utilisation of renewable resources such as solar, wind, bio- and nuclear power – so we need both short and long term solutions, but the short remains a fossil fuel economy at odds with the long term renewables agenda.

She foresaw that one of the big barriers to addressing climate change is the standoff between the US and China – what she called “a new cold war”.

Despite the new US President’s clear participation in the climate change debate, the Energy Bill 2009 has yet to be passed by the Senate and be signed into law: the USA signed up to the Kyoto protocol, but has not ratified its involvement.

Chichilnisky even put a price on solving climate change – that is, using short and long term solutions to stabilise the damage caused to climate at an average rise of 4°C: $200bn per year. That sounds a lot – but what was spent in stabilising the world economy from the ravages of the credit crunch? The US economic stimulus cost $787bn; the US Federal Reserve bought $1,200bn worth of debt to support the economy; the UK government spent $88bn rescuing banks and injected a further $350bn into the financial system to support short term debt; Germany spent $68bn on one of the countries banks; and so on. (All the figures cames from this BBC report on the credit crunch). From just these five interventions that I noticed, that’s nearly $2,500bn – over twelve years’ of spending needed to stabilise climate change.

And yet it seems like nothing is happening.

Why aren’t people more angry?

Why aren’t there marches through the streets in support of the 43 small island nations whose very existence Chichilnisky expects to be threatened by rising sea levels caused by climate change?

What can ordinary people do – and do quickly – to stabilise climate change? (I keep writing “stabilise” because remember, the best case scenario is that we might manage to stabilise global emissions at a level that causes an average of 4°C temperature rise – leading to melting ice caps, rising sea levels and changing weather patterns.

Well, we can sign up to 10:10 – though I greatly reduced my emissions years ago (I got rid of my car; reduced my air flights; buy carbon-offset; use low energy light bulbs; switch my PC off when I’m not using it…) [see – I believe in this stuff – and yet I am quibbling about what action I might take: you can see how governments will squirm to be able to keep their carbon footprint up there!]. We can write letters to our governments – though I wouldn’t expect to be able to influence the negotiating stance at Copenhagen.

I’m doing these things.

So how can I change the world? Before the world changes so much through our neglect that it is too late to do anything about it?

6 thoughts on “How Can We Change The World? Two Months to Copenhagen

  1. Francesca

    I greatly reduced my emissions years ago (I got rid of my car; reduced my air flights; buy carbon-offset; use low energy light bulbs; switch my PC off when I’m not using it…)

    And yet you still think that every room requires the radio to be switched on, whether or not it is occupied. It is very Zen.

  2. Alithea

    The Stop Climate Chaos Coalition are organising a march in London just prior to Copenhagan:

    It’s not just energy policy we need to worry about either; agricultural productivity needs to increase to feed predicted population growth and converting forests and grassland to cropland releases significant amounts of carbon from soils. If we include land use change and indirect emissions from energy and fuel use, agriculture already contributes around 1/3 of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

    (Here via Francesca’s blog)

    1. Patrick Post author

      You’re absolutely right – it is not just energy, but our whole life-style – our ecology, if you will. I am a strong believer in economic markets, but by the time the economic imperative is sufficient to act on the way we live, it will be far too late to solve the growing problems we have caused.

      This does not make me feel less pessimistic…

      Thanks for the link to the Stop Climate Chaos site – I’ll have a look. I am not certain that marching is the answer, either, but it is important to make one’s voice heard. Which is why I write about climate change, sometimes!

      Also, I have just seen via Twitter that BAA have decided not to proceed with the third Heathrow runway. Which is a start!


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