Friday, April 21, 2006

Reading the Kyoto Protocol - Ethical Aspects of the Convention on Climate Change

Reading the Kyoto Protocol: Ethical Aspects of the Convention on Climatic ChangeBy Etienne Vermeersch (ed) et alii

By the year 2005, one would expect everything possible to have been said on the Kyoto Protocol, but this book offers a new perspective, if you can read beyond its title.

Written by philosophers and sociologists, the book includes 7 essays, each carefully worded - a trait of the discipline. It's virtually impossible to reflect the rich arguments of 7 authors in a short summary, and we don't even try, but here are some of the ideas as an appetiser.

In the introduction, Etienne Vermeersch distinguishes between 2 types of rationality, i.e. k-rationality (where 'k' stands for knowledge) and d-rationality (where 'd' stands for doing). K-rationality represents the search for rational knowledge, and in the case of climate change, an optimal k-rational form has not, and probably never will be achieved, although consensus is growing. But without k-rationality, d-rational action is still perfectly possible. D-rational action has well-defined aims, and uses the most efficient means to realise these aims. In conclusion, d-rational action could help us avoid living a lasting contradiction between lofty principles and our questionnable practices.

Raoul Weiler argues that climate policy calls for a new time scale for effective policy making and implementation, hitherto unknown. Building consensus on policy and making it sustainable over a prolonged period of time is made complicated through teh absence in the Western World vision of any intrinsic value system for the ecosystem. This is an untenable situation, since the soon-to-be outnumber the living: at least twce as many people will be having lives in the 21st century than are alive today. Ever hastier decisions and actions, without long-term understanding will not be the solution.

Riccardo Petrella concludes that Kyoto and Johannesburg have failed to ensure minimal conditions for a sustainable world. He calls for a Humankind Protocol to replace the Kyoto Protocol. Such protocol would be based on the recognition of a number of public goods (air, sun, ...), citizen participation and a world political entity representing humankind (not member states, such as the UN).

This book leaves the straightjacket of what is politically achievable within the time horizon of a regulatory mandate, and refreshingly thinks out of the box, but it is not a theoretical book. And you don't have to agree with it - as the authors happily don't with each other.

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