Friday, April 17, 2009

Stern, Obama, Wong on climate change

Overnight on BBC radio, I heard an interview with Nicholas Stern, author of the landmark report on the economic ramifications on climate change (the programme, One Planet, can be listened to here).

Stern was discussing in a less formal sense the outlook for climate change. What he had to say was little different to the thoughts expressed here. The situation is urgent but the outlook somewhat pessimistic; and it's in the hands of people to take action and world leaders to show leadership. The interviewer then asked opinions of his son (about 10 years old, from memory) and from a taxi driver. The responses were not entirely surprising. The boy was aware that everyone wasn't looking to the long term, and that people may care about their own kids, but don't see much beyond that. The taxi driver professed to be a global warming skeptic, but said he put energy efficient lights in the house (why? to do his part). On the one hand the problem was in his mind enough to do something simple, but on the other hand, it was too big for him to feel empowered to do more than that.

The answer is to vote, and to vote for someone sufficiently visionary.

In the same broadcast, I heard President Obama had announced plans to develop 100 very fast train links in the US. I didn't appreciate the import until I heard him speak, holding up European examples such as a train link between Madrid and Seville that was so good that more people travelled between those cities by train than by car and plane combined.

That is what I mean by visionary. Obama has the will and capacity to reshape the global political landscape.

Meanwhile in Australia, the Climate Change Minister Penny Wong is forced to defend the planned emission trading system from attacks from all quarters, right left and centre. The Senate inquiry also drew comment from Ross Garnault, who had been commissioned by the government to report on the issue and options for action. Even he said it was touch and go whether it was worth entirely scrapping the current plan - and incurring the consequent period of inaction while a new proposal was formulated. The present scheme is so hopelessly flawed that none of the non-government senators will support it - so it is doomed in its current incarnation. In any case, it sounds like government backbenchers are pressing for change, such that the efforts of individuals aren't co-opted by corresponding rewards to large industry. That is the least that could be changed. But it is unlikely to be enough to save it, and something better is needed.

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