Friday, July 10, 2009

G8 and the capacity to induce climate change

The G8 meeting has just agreed on a carbon emission reduction of 80% by 2050, and an aim of raising global temperatures by no more than 2%.

That's something, because the G8 represents 80% of (current!) carbon emissions.

But it's not enough.

I heard a bloke from India who, by way of commenting on climate change, asked what good is worrying about climate change if you have enough trouble trying to get enough to eat.

That's a very valid reason for people in underdeveloped nations not according enough urgency to the climate change issue (albeit somewhat less valid a reason for inaction from their leaders). They are too preoccupied with survival in the short term to consider the longer term. It could be said that a medium to longer term perspective is a luxury - if you are at the poverty line.

But what excuse for the rich nations to NOT set a far closer target? An 80% reduction is laudible, but for two things. First, it pushes the issue too far back onto later generations - our problem, maybe, but we'll make the urgency someone else's. Further, that target says nothing in itself of the trajectory of change. It permits a lackidaisical approach at the present.

And we can see why the issue becomes a rich versus poor argument.

The solution lies in the hands of the rich nations of today. But it has become apparent that global politics has not evolved far enough yet, and at this point I cannot see effective action being taken. At the rate they're currently talking, significant climactic change is inevitable this century. Not to mention changes in sea level, which will devastate on a global basis. A metre rise? - or three? So far, it has been too hard to quantify the change. There is a huge store of ice in Greenland waiting to melt, and the Russian permafrost has a vast carbon store just waiting to be released. On the cover of the latest New Scientist: "It's worse than we thought". Greenland already losing enough ice to raise sea levels by .8mm per year; 60 million people currently within one metre of sea level - and projected to double.

Humans will survive, of course, as will the planet. This will have a devastating effect on biodiversity. Human suffering - and dispossession - will skyrocket; that and shrinking land will increase conflict and war.

Adapt to a changing world without an explosion of human misery? If we can't get together to deal with poverty and population, that is just not going to happen.

I had thought that once the issue was properly acknowledged worldwide on a cultural and political level, the requisite action would be axiomatic. I hadn't accounted for the capacity of world leaders (and their voters) to allow the tragedy to proceed.

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