If austerity today is right for long-term future, why isn’t stopping climate change right for same reason?July 13th, 2012
You probably didn’t notice it, but an important event happened recently – or rather it didn’t happen. The second Earth Summit, 20 years after the first at Rio, ended with a whimper. There was no lack of warm verbiage and plenty of reaffirmation of noble intentions, but nothing that would take the skin off a rice pudding. Nothing to deter fossil fuel burning, nothing to incentivise a switch to renewables or energy saving or energy efficiency, and certainly nothing to make sustainable development a robust and forceful reality and nothing to slow the pace of destruction of biodiversity, now proceeding at a pace 100 to 1,000 times faster than any time in palaeohistory.
As at Copenhagen in 2009 the political responsibility for this failure lies in the enduring deadlock between the US and China. China is determined that because the West caused the problem by its accumulating greehouse gas emissions in the wake of the Industrial Revolution , the West has the responsibility to take the remedial action. China’s developing country allies, two-thirds of the world’s nations, are determined that nothing shall stand in the way of their No.1 priorityto escape poverty, and if the West wants them to slow or reverse their consequential carbon emissions, then the West should pay them to do it. The West for its part, particularly the US-UK, is beset by powerful industrial lobbies (oil, gas, coal, car, airlines) to block any anti-climate change levy or financial transactions tax to alleviate the impasse in the developing world.
Moreover public opinion has been moving away from its previous climate change commitments, partly because immediate austerity has displaced more long-term concerns, partly because the obsession with the supremacy of science has fed the (false) notion that technology will be able to fix the problem without any major change of lifestyle, and partly because the furore over the leaked University of East Anglia emails has (unfairly) disturbed confidence in the underlying theory.
But there’s an interesting paradox here. The climate change deniers on the Right are usually the same persons who rally behind Osborne’s prolonged austerity on the grounds that pain today is worth it to secure our long-term future. But if that’s true for the economy, why doesn’t the same argument apply to accepting some restrictions today to secure a climate change-free natural environment for our children and future generations?