The Bigger Picture
Published on July 16th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
I closed last week’s column by asking how those of us who live in the nations of the industrialized world plan to explain to our children and grandchildren our decision to avoid addressing the problem of climate change by continuing to elect political leaders who won’t take any real action on this issue. I believe a truthful answer for most of us would be that we were simply too greedy and selfish to care. We also know our inaction will probably only lead to adverse consequences for other people instead of ourselves.
Many of us can and do blame our political leaders for failing to take more concrete steps to reduce our use of fossil fuel based energy and resources. But before you do, first ask yourself how politically active have you been supporting those politicians who favor more stringent measures to protect the global environment? Since 40% or more of us usually don’t exercise the democratic rights that we have come to take for granted in more developed countries, did you even bother to vote? Or were you too busy to take the time and make an effort to do so?
Or maybe we defend our inaction by taking a position, similar to former US President George Bush, which was that we wouldn’t agree to cut our own CO2 gas emissions until the poorer countries in the developing world also agreed to reduce their use of fossil fuels. Unfortunately many citizens in the developing world don’t have the same democratic political rights that we have. Even those that do, in countries like India, must also be excused because most of them are simply trying to survive economically and feed their families by whatever means possible.
While I was disappointed that the political leaders of the developing countries, led by China and India, refused to agree to commit to specific goals for cutting their carbon emissions by 2050 at the G8 summit in Italy last week, I am sympathetic to their arguments against doing so. After all these countries are merely following the same path out of poverty that the nations of the industrialized world used. If we want them to develop economically by using cleaner forms of energy, then we must help them to do so.
Developing countries are well aware that their increased use of fossil fuels in conjunction with deforestation is only making the problem of global warming worse. In fact China has now overtaken the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases due to its reliance on coal for energy and the 3rd and 4th largest sources of CO2 gases are Indonesia and Brazil because of rampant tropical deforestation. Even so, these countries still emit only 1/3 of the CO2 gases that developed countries do on a per person basis. Why should they now be expected to retard their own economic development in order to fix the damage caused by the past and current actions of the industrialized nations that produced the bulk of the pollution that causes global warming?
While I applaud the fact that the industrialized world has finally agreed to cut its own CO2 emissions by 80% come the year 2050, their agreement at last weeks G8 summit nonetheless leaves open the question of setting realistic mid-term goals to achieve this reduction during the next decade. Small wonder then why the developing countries have thus far refused to agree to cut their own CO2 emissions so that a 50% global reduction can be achieved by 2050.
Emerging countries want to see interim goals for reducing gas emissions as well as firm commitments to provide financial and technological help from more developed counties before they will agree to their own CO2 gas reduction targets. Sure they don’t trust us, but why should they given our past history of not meeting such goals?
Setting appropriate environmental standards for reducing CO2 pollution forty years hence is all well and good, but only if those goals also include realistic benchmarks that can be used to assess our progress. Telling developing countries you will help them cut their own emissions without undue harm to their own economic development sounds good, but it’s meaningless unless it’s accompanied by firm financial and technological commitments. Otherwise these agreements are nothing more than so much “hot air”.
Regardless of how the world’s political leaders, or ourselves, may choose to justify the lack of concrete action to deal with the causes of climate change and global warming, we cannot escape the roles we play as individuals in dealing with this problem. If we don’t take the time to vote and or study the positions of political leaders so that we can vote for candidates who favor aggressive steps to deal with climate change, then we must share the blame for a lack of action to deal with the issue with our political leaders.
Even closer to home we must also accept responsibility for our own actions or inaction to address the causes of climate change. Will we take the time to educate ourselves about what we can do in our own homes and businesses to reduce our carbon emissions? Will we take the actions necessary to cut our own contributions to the problem once we are aware of what they are?
How many of us are willing to park, much less sell one of our cars and take public transportation to school or work instead? How many of us are willing to conserve energy by turning down the thermostat or turning out the lights when we leave our homes or workplaces? How many of us are willing to pay for better insulation or more energy efficient appliances? How many of us are willing to pay carbon taxes for the petrol and electricity we use as a means of offsetting the costs of fixing this global problem?
If we are honest about it, from where I sit the answer to these questions for most of us is; we aren’t willing to.