2 May, 2007
As scientists are witnessing signs of accelerating climate change (see BBC News “Arctic melt faster than forecast“), it becomes more and more questionable whether our political and economic elites will be structurally able to deal with this challenge. Even if some of them are now able to think in terms of the “inconvenient truth”, there maybe a few “inconvenient truths” around which are still huge taboos. Let me list a few of them:
- First of all: climate change is ONLY ONE of the “two riders of the apocalypse” (Jonathon Porritt). The other one is the “Energy Descent” : the decreasing availability of fossil fuel sources (especially oil and gas) compared to an increasing world energy demand. In European policy circles, the debate about peak oil is still remarkably absent.
- Second: climate change targets need to be in line with climate change science. Most political targets aim at stabilising GHG concentrations around 550 ppm CO2 equivalent, which is already irresponsible (see Monbiot in The Guardian 1 May 2007). To really contain climate disasters we will have to stabilise at 450ppm, meaning cuts will have to be more dramatic than politically acceptable now.
- Third: technological breakthroughs will be needed but as long as the world is not willing to spend as much on climate security as on military security, budgets will not nearly be enough. And even if they were, the industrialised world will not escape the need for dramatic lifestyle changes which will be hard to push through by democratic means.
- Fourth: It is hard to see how we will escape global resource wars if we allow China, India and the other new economic superpowers to buy up resources that the West will also need for further economic development. Read Michael T.Klare’s “Resource wars: the new landscape of global conflict“.
- Fifth: The real problem is in the numbers. As long as only 2 billion people were enjoying our Western lifestyle, the Age of Energy Abundance could be stretched but with China, India, Brazil, South Africa aspiring to the same standard of living (i.e. the same energy consumption), things start getting a bit tight. And this is not even counting the 3 billion extra earthlings that will join us in the next 20 to 30 years. The Malthusian “population” question is coming to haunt us again and at one time, the world will have to address it.
- Last but not least: I am not pessimistic as to the fate of humanity. At some point in time (but probably way too late, when war-like effects of climate chaos will start hitting), global leaders will find ways of dealing with the situation but at the expense of democracy and liberal freedoms. Therefore, in the end, the biggest victim of climate change will be democracy as we have known it. See the upcoming book by David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith: “The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy“.