Out of Step, Out of Arguments and Out of Time

Those are the words of Kofi Annan at the UN conference on Climate Change earlier today (see AP story by Charles Hanley). His speech emphasized the “frightening lack of leadership” in forming strategies for how to tackle the huge task that lies ahead for our planet with regards emissions. Getting the job done here of course means us realigning our entire global culture’s priorities, taking our eyes off short term gain and looking to prospects for the future. The typical stance of the current US government that strong emissions controls (and treaties to enforce them, such as the Kyoto protocol) will hurt economies is one example of the short-sightedness that we are up against. Their delegates at the conference continue to reject arguments such as Annan’s (See Reuters story by Alister Doyle and Daniel Wallis).

Happily, the pure economic argument is being made ever more prominently in recent times. So much so that the British government is now adding climate change issues to its daily pronunciations – it was even in the Queen’s speech. I’m a bit cynical about the motives for that -and the danger of entirely cosmetic policy results- but we should give them a chance….. it is better than nothing.

In the meantime there is another worry – With all the arguing going on, will we get another global agreement in place to take over when Kyoto expires? Or will there be a gap – possibly long enough to undo whatever good Kyoto will have done?


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11 Responses to Out of Step, Out of Arguments and Out of Time

  1. Dharmashanti says:

    It’s sad that the Bush Administration is at war with science, while the rest of the world “get’s it”. But in the next two years, he too will become extinct.


  2. Holmes says:

    “Getting the job done here of course means us realigning our entire global culture’s priorities”

    Oh, is that all?

    Given that we *know* that this isn’t going to happen, and that talking like this will just make people suspect that political motives are in play here, don’t you think that it might be better to proceed in less confrontational ways? Let me give you an example. I have heard 2 suggestions about what to do re carbon emissions of cars in London.

    1. It’s all the fault of those capitalist plutocrats and their SUVs and Ferraris!!! Let’s charge them 3 gazillion pounds for even thinking about owning a car in London!!!

    2. Let’s give people incentives to buy new cars that meet Euro4 [or whatever] standards.

    Which of these two is more likely to have a real impact on CO2? Maybe the real realignment that we need is with regard to the notion that politics is everything.

  3. TheGraduate says:

    I sort of see climate change as at the forefront of a long list of issues that have to do with collective self-restraint like:

    1. Massive species extinction which can be broken down into:

    a. loss of species that have limited input to macro scale economics (tigers, pandas etc)

    b. Species that are significantly connected to economic activity (global fish stocks)

    The difference being that scenario b would lead to massive numbers of human deaths while scenario a is more of a biodiversity loss.

    2. pollution of the kinds that don’t necessarily have global implications like global warming but nevertheless pose an ever increasing problem of where to put the waste

    3. Water shortage problems

    4. The fossil fuel problem (running out of oil/Huppert peak etc)

    There are so many signals telling us we probably want to start thinking very hard about how to manage our growth in a more intelligent manner.

    I really see CO2 management as only the beginning of a long process of ending the big mess we’ve all gotten ourselves into. I think individual efforts are ultimately pointless. It’s a collective problem and there needs to be a collective solution.

  4. Elliot says:

    I did a back of the envelope calculation that showed that planting trees on the fairways of all the golf courses on earth would sequester about 10% of the annual fossil fuel CO2 emissions. We ought to be able to reforest at least 3-4 times as much getting us 40% of the way there. More fuel efficient cars/hybrids should help by about 10%. Migrating from coal burning plants to generate electricity to thorium based nuclear would also reduce CO2 emissions by 20-30% and avoid weapons proliferation. Solar and better home insulation locally would address peak power needs during the summer. Genetic engineering of the Rubisco enzyme (photosynthesis) could also have a dramatic impact on CO2 reprocessing. Rail travel vs Air travel could also reduce energy/fossil fuel consumption. More telecommuting.

    It won’t be one thing but many things together.


  5. Clifford says:

    Holmes:- How do you *know* that we can’t change our habits as a species, especially when presented with the stark choice of stopping our behaviour or suffering rather unpleasant consequences…. Seems to me that working on the message can help to change the willingness of people to support the kinds of choice that can make a difference, in combination with all sorts of other efforts. If you can get people to change their mindset about some of these issues – using mass transit rather than taking their car somewhere needlessley, voting for reprewentatives who support initiatives for mass transit, conservation, investment in alternative fuels, international treaties, increased taxes in some ares where necessary….etc…. why is it so obvious to you that we cannot acheive this change, and globally (in time)? I’m puzzled.


  6. TheGraduate says:


    I am an economic thinker so I am going to look at the Climate change problem economically. Problem is that we humans think their might be a larger cost to the our society to adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. However, the way in which we transfer cost to the human producers of carbon dioxide is not refined enough to incorporate the cost. Therefore, at least at the international level, we are trying to mathematize this cost and incorporate it into our economic models. In a certain sense, the intellectual jump to doing this is no greater than the intellectual jump necessary to create a tax system.

    Humans have mathematized several notions of value. That’s how we manage to make insurance, stock trading and international banking work. Indeed, that is what ‘money’ is, the mathematized concept of ‘value’.

    I would say the biggest barrier to carbon dioxide management is not human nature but the fact that our economies are over dependent on fossil fuels and we haven’t yet found a good alternative.

    But just like science theories move forward, so do economic models.

  7. spyder says:

    Unfortunately, these sorts of ponderings are occuring all over the planet. While millions of people are living at the margins of survivability, and the ravages of changes informed by global climate change obliterate the margins (flooding of coastal plains, increased disease vectors, reduction of available year-round fresh water sources, etc.), most of the industrialized and developed world will continue to carry on with their day-to-day lives as if they have all the time in the world. Eventually though, if we do not choose to act, to work collaboratively and cooperatively to enact changes in our own lives, communities, cities, regions, then others will do it for us. I prefer path that encourages citizens to come together in consensual agreement to change their lifestyles (food resource acquisition, water usage, energy conservation and reduction of carbon releasing, et al), rather than have a militarized government do it to us because it is way too late.

  8. Holmes says:

    cvj said: “If you can get people to change their mindset about some of these issues – using mass transit rather than taking their car somewhere needlessley, voting for reprewentatives who support initiatives for mass transit, conservation, investment in alternative fuels, international treaties, increased taxes in some ares where necessary….etc….

    OK, I guess I misunderstood your original statement: “realigning our entire global culture’s priorities”. If you are talking about getting people to take the subway instead of driving, that is realistic. If you are talking about “realigning the culture’s priorities”, which some people take to mean, “accepting a significantly lower standard of living”, then you can forget it: most people, stupidly or otherwise, would rather take the risk that some kind of technological fix will be found. Depressing as it may be [or not…] for most people the prospect of a more prosperous future is all that makes life tolerable, and you won’t persuade the city-dwellers of China to stop buying cars and burning gas by telling them that they should instead seek inner peace or something.

    Anyway my main point is that it is vitally important to keep politics out of this as far as possible. In the UK especially, a lot of people have the strong impression that this issue is just another attempt by the bearded sandal-wearers to force us all to revert to a simpler lifestyle in which we all walked everywhere, love was free and we ate nothing but muesli. Even I must admit that I’m really sick of hearing about SUVs [which I personally detest..] and how they are the Vehicle of Satan.

  9. Julia says:

    Hi Clifford. I’m the woman you gave your card to in front of Albertson’s recently and whose picture you said you had taken on my tricycle.

    I appreciate this dialog. It’s a topic I began being concerned about back in the ’70’s when my children were small and I worried that they and their friends wouldn’t have a livable planet to grow up and raise their own children in. There weren’t many people to dialog with about this at that time so I addressed it by changing my lifestyle and my home and front and back yards to be more earth conscious.

    I called it Eco-Home and over the years a nonprofit organization grew up around it called the the Eco-Home Network, we started publishing a newsletter and I started giving tours of my home in 1988. Our website is http://ecohome.org/

    My point is that over the years I have seen cultural change occur around me. And the change is accelerating. Whereas, when I started my lifestyle changes people, including my family, thought I was crazy and didn’t understand the connection between our everyday choices and actions and the health of our planetary life support systems. Today, many, many more people do. I’m no longer considered crazy. In fact people seek my advice on how to make their own homes and lifestyles more sustainble. Everyone wants to be “green” now.

    And this quest to be green is no longer limited to individuals. It’s spread to companies. government agencies, even cities are striving to become green.

    The best way to know that change is possible is to change yourself.

    As far as the question of whether we’re going to be able to change enough, fast enough to save ourselves from suffering catastophic consequences of climate change, aquifer depletion, species extinction, soil loss, deforestation, overfishing, etc., etc., the answer I came to long ago is that since we can’t know for sure whether we will or we won’t trnasform quickly enough, I’ve simply chosen to believe what helps me get up in the morning and continue to work on accelerating the necessary cultural change. I believe that we will create a sustainable human civilization that will bring health, beauty and abundance beyond our imagining to our communities and to our earth.

    Dialog of this kind is a driver of our evolution.

    Thank you for the opportunity to join this conversation, Clifford. Although I may not often be able to participate. I’m usually too busy. But I’ll try to check in as often as I can.


  10. Clifford says:


    It was such a pleasure to meet you, however briefly. And I was so pleased that time when I first cycled past you on my folding bike, you on your tricycle. I felt that it was so good to see someone else making the choice to get out of the standard pattern of using the car. So when I saw you again, I had to say hi!

    Thanks for your message here on the blog! We’ve had many such conversations here, and you can find them by using the search engine to the top right, or go to the archive section and look under categories such as “environment” and “global warming”. On transport, you might find interesting such posts as this one: “Just so you know I’m not the only nut in the fruitbowl”, etc.

    And by the way, the post with you on your tricycle is here: “Encounters on the road less travelled”.



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