24 September, 2008
The country, which has taught the world that fighting global warming would be too expensive, managed in less than one week to mobilise more than 1 trillion dollar and to focus the presidential election campaign and the world on its financial crisis. How was that possible? One word: panic! Are there any lessons for those fighting the climate/energy catastrophe?
Political leaders these days hate to be the bearers of bad news. Where politics has become entertainment, funny one-liners and empty promises are much more effective than telling voters the hard truth that the party is over. This is one of the reasons that the gap between the increasingly alarmist reports from scientists on climate change and the complacency messages of political leaders continues to grow.
On the day new evidence showed up in the press that the “methane timebomb” has started to go off, political representatives at a climate change conference organised by the French EU Presidency (which I attended) kept repeating their usual mantras (“yes things are bad but the EU is the world leader having set targets of 20% by 2020, fighting climate change will not cost much and can mainly be solved by technological innovation”).
Is it surprising then that citizens are confused and not very willing to really change behaviour (except for some symbolic acts like changing a few lightbulbs)? Why would they make sacrifices in their material living standards when this climate crisis can be solved so easily?
I think lots of political leaders genuinely understand the climate/energy issue but they believe doom-and-gloom would paralyse citizens or, even worse, make them change their political preferences at the next elections. As one of my fellow bloggers once said: “Doom and gloom is only bad when it is wrong”. If Wall Street would have listened earlier to its “Dr. Doom“, Nouriel Roubini, the financial crisis might have been handled much better but, of course, the “bull” analysts were much more alluring when they promised new market records.
The lessons I draw from what is happening in the US today, is that the time for starting a panic has come, even more so because climate is not the only sustainability challenge. With birds and bees dying out at an alarming rate, fishery stocks continuing to be depleted, water crises, and other health and ecological disasters looming, it is time for politicians with courage to start raising the alarm. If there is one resource in this crisis which is really very scarce, it is time. We probably have less than ten years to put humanity back on the road to sustainability.
We are living beyond our means and there is no improvement in sight as demonstrated once more by this year’s earlier “Overshoot Day“.Author : Willy De Backer