Joe Jordan

the geek of hearts

The Road to Copenhagen

I am quite excited about this Friday, as I will be setting off for the COP-15 climate summit. I am going as one of Liberal Youth‘s delegates (in their capacity as the British wing of the IFLRY), so I will actually be allowed in the complex (woo! and other internet memes for “happy”). I will be “blogging live” from there, but I wanted to write something in advance to get a couple of points out of the way.

The first is about Free Market economics. We have built a society over the last few hundred years on the premise of personal freedom, on selfism. It is one that works well when it comes to producing goods and services, when it comes to making people happier (how many violent revolutions in the last chunk of time in capitalist liberal democracies like the UK, US, Western Europe, etc), and when it comes to finding efficient and effective ways to solve small scale or “micro” problems.

But, it is sometimes bad at solving macro ones. Since when were you happy about your energy bill, or with the customer service of your telephone company? Large companies have very bad reputations because they are no longer able to tailor their goods and services to specific needs very effectively. For example, they can still deliver broadband cheaper than a smaller company, owing to the economies of scale, but they are terrible at providing, e.g. very cheap broadband for people who only use web browsing, and more expensive services to those who want to download Gigabytes at a throw (in my case Linux distributions, being a bit of a computer geek).**

Climate change is hard because it is one of those Macro problems. It requires everyone (or even worse nearly everyone) to change their behaviour in order to achieve the desired goal, but a one-size fits-all solution won’t work individually. Some people emit little Carbon on transport by refusing to drive a car, but still have an overall above-average footprint by using lots of IT systems (I might be guilty of that particular one myself, for instance), whereas for others transport carbon is their largest environmental Achilles’ Heel.

This doesn’t mean we must abandon the economic system (as the SWP will wrongly tell you), which is very useful in many other contexts, but we must take action using the structure we have designed to deal with Macro problems, aka national and international governments. They must agree to an international carbon trading system, with binding targets that no-one can get out of, otherwise our brains will implode with the effort of trying to solve an incredibly complex long-term economic equation; only a proper price on the Environmental externality really present in CO2 emissions will force the market to compensate for un-green technology and help us use less of it by ourselves, without Greenpeace badgering us about it (which only forces guilt, not action, anyway).

My second point is partly to do with some controversial emails, although it’s mostly about why they are irrelevant.
I don’t believe we need to prove that Climate Change is already occurring to argue for Carbon targets. I don’t think that climate modelling is “where it’s at” when it comes to making the case for Governments to take these issues seriously. I think the only point you need is a very simple one, encapsulated very nicely by one of the best lines in a very popular film, delivered flawlessly by Hugo Weaving (no points for guessing which one, I’m afraid):

“I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realised that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.”

In order to survive, in the Darwinian sense, we need to develop an equilibrium with our environment, just as the bad guy from the Matrix says. Never mind that we can prove that there is already a statistically significant, measurable anthropogenic climate event occurring around us. Never mind that we can prove a correlation (using antarctic ice core histories) between high CO2 levels and increased temperatures (yes I know correlation doesn’t imply causation, maybe the causation wasn’t that way round last time and will be this time). Never mind that we are literally watching Greenland’s glacier melt, year on year. None of that is required to make the case for making sure we don’t “eat all the berries”, that we don’t learn to be restrained, as a species, so that we don’t all die out in a mass extinction event (caused by our disregard for the planet’s natural cycles, or our geo-political incapability of being the first to put the nuclear launch codes in the shredder, whichever hits us first). As such, I don’t think that any leaked emails (especially not the innocuous “found a little trick” inanities of the East Anglia breach) make the slightest difference in the urgent, specific political task set us by the Scientific community.

In summary, I think that rigorous, binding targets on Carbon emissions are the only way we will ever come close to solving this global problem, and that the COP-15 is the only place to really make that happen. Roll on Friday!

** Footnote: I have used very First-World, western examples here to explain this problem to the “average briton”, whoever they are. Note that another example of Free Market economics’ failure is in looking after the human rights of those in the many countries where the triviality of whining over internet access would be a joke, if things weren’t so serious; countries ruled by moral-less military regimes or communist dictators, destroyed by famine or AIDS. Macro solutions are lacking there too, although that is another blog post.

originally appeared here.