Tuesday, January 02, 2007

HAPPY NEW (and sustainable) YEAR!

A historic turn?

The only way to detect historic events in your own life-time is to live to be well beyond 100. We may not be that fortunate (from an academic point of view), but it seems reasonable to assume that the publication of the Stern-Review late 2006 was a significant milestone on the road to a sustainable world. An event that may be regarded as historic in creating an understanding of the climate problem, an awareness of the opportunities and a political platform for action.

Understanding the problem

The magnitude of the climate change, in terms of the effects, the speed of the change and the inevitability was made perfectly clear (see figure), but also that it is possible to pull the brakes.

(click image to enlarge)

It became clear that no region of the world will be un-touched, though some will be hit harder. Those that may enjoy a brief period of perceived improvements in climate may have to face more frequent storms and flooding later. In short - there is no escape!

The opportunities

The most hopeful part of the Stern-Review is when it declares that a fairly small investment (1% of the world GDP) will enable us to avoid a huge recession with loss of some 20% of the world GDP (not to mention loss of lifes and land). This is extremely important because the debate has up till now tacitly assumed that the Business-as-usual, BAU, alternative did not have any negative impact on the economy. One could say that we have compared the future with the past instead of comparing two different futures.

Even more important and hopeful is when the review declares that the economies that first understand the challenges will be the winners in the new industrial setting to produce, install and use climate-friendly, low-carbon products. They will be the suppliers to a huge and growing world-market, estimated to be at least 500 Billion USD a year worldwide.

The political platform

The Review has generally been positively received and forms the starting point for several international actions both in the EU and in G8, which is very appropriate since it puts heavy emphasis on the need for international co-operation. Nevertheless it is possible to detect some different attitudes in the reception

1. The denial, which is no surprise since there is an entire industry to deny the need for a change. There have also been some lame attempts to say that there are more important problems than climate change to tackle. A strange attitude since e.g. water supply that is mentioned is one of the problems that is aggravated with climate change. There have also been attempts to attack the economic analysis on the ground of comparing long-term effects. A sort of standard discussion, which however that review has studied in great detail. This criticism seems rather to be liturgics than serious.

2. The hope (and declaration) of a quick technology fix. Mostly expressed as a wish for more (and new types of) nuclear power and of Carbon Capture and Storage, CCS-technology. These technologies should quickly and with little disturbance just kick-in and save us from all evil. Often expressed in editorial articles in major newspapers affiliated to political parties. In the same papers there is often expressed a worry that the new reports are proclaiming doomsday and are scaring people. A legitimate reaction that people may either overreact or block themselves away from the problems.

The reaction could also be interpreted as a nostalgic wish for yesterday and a hope that there will be saviour for a life-style that is hard to question and harder to depart from.

3. Retarding. Business-associations react more positively but are asking for some more time to adjust themselves and especially not to be the only or the main loser of the game. There will certainly be a difference between branches. Some will lose, some will lose more but some will gain.

4. Repressive acceptance, which is probably what most of us are feeling. "Yes we understand, but what should I do, when should I do it and how much?". We may easily understand that week-end shopping-trips across Europe even at cheap flight-prices are not a sustainable idea, but how about driving for a pick-nick at the sea-side?

5. Take the action-road, and accept that small steps in the beginning are OK. We may have to understand that quality life-style and quantity is not compatible. We may have to ask ourselves the question Kofi Annan put when he has read the Stern-Review: As Climate Changes - Can we?

After all it would be natural for anyone of us to go through all these stages in a process to cope with reality and come to a conclusion. But as they say: "Today is the first day in the rest of our life" - So let us start now!

A Happy New Year - Your first in the new sustainable era!

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