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Climate Policy: From ‘Know How’ to ‘Do Now’

Herman E. Daly, Common Dreams
Recent increased attention to global warming is very welcome. But much of it is misplaced.

We focus too much on complex climate models, which ask things like how far emissions will increase carbon dioxide concentration, how much that will raise temperatures, by when, with what consequences to climate and geography, and how likely new information will invalidate model results. Together these questions can paralyze us with uncertainty.

A better question for determining public policy is simpler: “Can we continue to emit increasing amounts of greenhouse gases without provoking unacceptable climate change?”

Scientists overwhelmingly agree the answer is no. The basic scientific principles and findings are very clear. Focusing on them creates a world of relative certainty for policy.

To draw a parallel, if you jump out of an airplane you need a crude parachute more than an accurate altimeter. And if you take an altimeter, don’t become so bemused tracking your descent that you forget to pull the ripcord.

The next question we should ask is, “What causes us to emit ever more carbon dioxide?”

It’s the same thing that causes us to make more of all kinds of wastes: our irrational commitment to economic growth forever on a finite planet.

If we overcome our growth idolatry, we can then ask, “How do we design and manage an economy that respects the limits of the biosphere so economy and biosphere both will survive?” But we are so fixated on maintaining an ever-growing economy that we instead ask, “By how much will we have to increase efficiency to maintain growth in gross domestic product?”

Suppose we answer, “By doubling efficiency,” and succeed. So what? We will then just do more of all the things that have become more efficient and therefore cheaper, and will then emit more wastes, including greenhouse gases. A policy of “efficiency first” does not give us “frugality second” – it makes frugality less necessary.

Herman E. Daly, a former senior economist for the World Bank, is a professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. His books include “Steady-State Economics” and “Beyond Growth.” He wrote this comment for the Land Institute’s Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kan.
(13 May 2008)

Global Warming Worries Wealthy, Polluting Nations Least

Andrea Thompson, LiveScience via Yahoo!News
The wealthier a country is and the more greenhouse gases it spews into the atmosphere, the less worried its citizens are about the effects of global warming. Residents of the low-lying Netherlands, ironically, are the least worried of all.

The findings are the result of a study that started when Hanno Sandvik, a biology postdoctoral researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, came across on online survey conducted by ACNielsen that polled people in 46 countries asking about their attitudes toward global warming.

Sandvik had been “a little depressed” about what he perceived as the poor state of understanding of climate change and the lack of public concern over its effects in Norway, he said. When he saw the survey results, his suspicions were confirmed: Norway was in the top 10 of the least concerned countries.
(12 May 2008)

What Condoms Have to Do with Climate Change

Bryan Walsh, TIME
As the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gen. Michael Hayden should have some insight on the biggest threats facing the U.S. But when Hayden recently described what he saw as the most troublesome trend over the next several decades, it wasn’t terrorism or climate change. It was overpopulation in the poorest parts of the world. “By mid-century, the best estimates point to a world population of more than 9 billion,” Hayden said in a speech at Kansas State University. “Most of that growth will occur in countries least able to sustain it.” The sheer increase in population, Hayden argued, could fuel instability and extremism, not to mention worsening climate change and making food and fuel all the more scarce. Population is the essential multiplier for any number of human ills.

… But now, the pendulum is shifting back. The sudden spike in both food and fuel prices is raising concerns that we may not be able to grow forever, that even with the best technological innovation, the planet may have limits. It’s becoming increasingly clear that if we can’t curb carbon emissions in a world of 6.8 billion, it may be impossible to do when there are 9 billion of us.
(12 May 2008)