A Cynical Optimist’s View of CO2

Written by M. Glantz. Posted in All Fragilecologies, Climate Affairs

Published on December 13, 2011 with No Comments

– An interview with Mickey Glantz
From an Email interview on climate change; what is needed to cope with greenhouse gas emissions.

In late November 2011, I was asked by a reporter from a foreign (developing country) news agency for my views on two sets of questions related to climate change and to the UN Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa. I answered the questions frankly in email. The two different fonts identify the two different sets of questions. – mGlantz

1.As a big developing country, what do you evaluate China’s efforts on emission reduction?

Greenhouse gas (GHG) EMISSION REDUCTION IS DIFFICULT FOR ANY COUNTRY. IN AMERICA THERE IS A SAYING, “WHEN YOU ARE IN A HOLE, THE FIRST THING TO DO IS TO STOP DIGGING DEEPER!” SO, WHATEVER EFFORTS CHINA IS MAKING ON ITS EMISSION REDUCTIONS (CLOSING SOME DIRTY FACTORIES, FOR EXAMPLE) IS BEING OVERTAKEN BY THE CONTINUED BUILDING OF COAL-FIRED POWER PLANTS. SO, AS WITH MOST IF NOT ALL COUNTRIES, THERE IS A TENDENCY TO FAVOR ENHANCING ITS ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITIES OVER REDUCING ITS ENERGY USE AND ENERGY SOURCES THAT ARE NEEDED TO DRIVE THOSE DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITIES IN THE NEAR TO MIDTERM FUTURE. A MAJOR FIGHT OF COURSE COMES DOWN TO THE CONFLICTING VIEWS ABOUT EMISSIONS: SHOULD IT BE CALCULATED PER COUNTRY OR PER CAPITA?? IF ALL COUNTRIES FOCUS ON THE LATTER (E.G., EQUAL PER CAPITA EMISSIONS), HUMANITY ON THE PLANET IS DOOMED.

What are our problems and difficulties?

ECONOMIES MUST GROW TO KEEP UP WITH INCREASING POPULATIONS, AFFLUENCE AND DEMANDS FOR GOODS AND SERVICES INSIDE THE COUNTRY AS WELL AS OUTSIDE. [ALL COUNTRIES HAVE THIS PROBLEM TO DEAL WITH AND ALMOST ALL FAVOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT FIRST AND EMISSIONS REDUCTION LATER]. THAT IS WHAT THE INDUSTRIALIZED COUNTRIES DID IN THEIR DEVELOPMENT PROCESSES; THEY TRASHED THEIR ENVIRONMENTS AND CLEANED THEM UP ONCE THEY PASSED A CERTAIN DEVELOPMENT THRESHOLD. BUT THAT WAS WHEN THE ATMOSPHERE WAS WELL BELOW A TIPPING POINT FOR EMISSIONS LEVELS THAT COULD ADVERSELY AFFECT THE GLOBAL CLIMATE SYSTEM. THEY SAME APPROACH CANNOT BE PURSUED NOW.

THE COMMON PROBLEM FOR ALL POLICYMAKERS IS THAT THEY TEND TO FAVOR SHORT-TERM GAINS OVER LONGER TERM ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS. THEY WILL BE OUT OF OFFICE WHEN THOSE ADVERSE IMPACTS OCCUR, OR SO THEY THINK.

What challenges China are facing now?

A CHALLENGE IS CHINA’S GROWING AFFLUENCE: ONE COULD ARGUE THAT NOW THE DISPARITY BETWEEN RICH AND POOR IN CHINA IS PERHAPS SIMILAR TO OTHER INDUSTRIALIZED COUNTRIES IF NOT GREATER. BUT CLOSING THAT GAP IS A MAJOR PROBLEM GIVEN THE SIZE OF THE CHINESE POPULATION. THE MOST NUMBER OF FERRARIS (THE LUXURY CAR) IN THE WORLD I BELIEVE ARE NOW SOLD IN SHANGHAI! SUCH INCOME (OR WELL-BEING) DISPARITIES CAN LEAD EVENTUALLY TO POLITICAL CRISES. THIS IS A PROBLEM THE GOVERNMENT HAS TO FACE. IN THE USA TODAY WE ARE FACING IT, AS CAN BE SEEN WITH GROWING GEOGRAPHICALLY WIDESPREAD “OCCUPY WALL STREET” MOVEMENT. PEOPLE WILL ONLY TOLERATE SO MUCH DISPARITY BEFORE ACTING UP, AND IT IS NOT THAT THE CHINESE GOVERNMENTS AT ALL LEVELS ARE NOT ALREADY FACED WITH PROTESTS. THERE IS A FAMOUS “DAVIES J-CURVE” WHICH SUPPORTS THIS RISING UP OF PEOPLE.

2.Could you introduce the efforts, situation and problems of U.S.A, which is the most important developed country, on these related issues?

THE USA AND CHINA HAVE SIMILAR ISSUES TO CONTEND WITH, BUT THE US ECONOMY HAS BEEN GREATLY SLOWED DOWN BY FISCAL MISMANAGEMENT, FAILED ECONOMIC PLANNING (OR LACK THEREOF) AND TWO VERY COSTLY WARS. THE DOLLAR HAS BECOME GREATLY DEVALUED AND YET WE HAVE FEW MANUFACTURED GOODS TO SELL ABROAD, HAVING OUTSOURCE MANY AMERICAN FACTORIES.

3. Could you compare the two countries’ work on emission reduction?

THERE ARE WAYS IN THE USA TO REDUCE EMISSIONS BUT THE (pro big business) REPUBLICAN PARTY EXTREMISTS HAVE BLOCKED ANY FEDERAL ACTION THAT WOULD BE MEANINGFUL. ANYTHING IN FACT THAT OBAMA PROPOSES WILL BE VOTED DOWN, IN PART I BELIEVE BECAUSE OF AN UNDERLYING DISLIKE TOWARD A FIRST NON-WHITE PRESIDENT (I AM SAD TO SAY AND UNDERCURRENT OF RESIDUAL RACISM) AND BECAUSE OF REAGANOMICS (WHICH MANY VIEW AS A FAILED APPROACH TO SUSTAINABLE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT). SO, A LOT OF THE ACTIVITY TO CONTROL GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS IN THE USA HAS BEEN AT THE LOCAL (GRASSROOTS) LEVEL. THERE ARE MANY EFFORTS LOCALLY TO REDUCE EMISSIONS (SUCH AS IN MY CITY). THE DEMAND FOR SOLAR AND WIND ENERGY ARE HIGH BUT AT A TIME WHEN COMPANIES CANNOT FIND BUYERS BECAUSE OF A LACK OF “SAVINGS” BY MANY ENVIRONMENTALLY AWARE CITIZENS.

IF I WERE A SCHOOL TEACHER, I WOULD GIVE FAILING GRADES TO BOTH COUNTRIES AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL, WHEN IT COMES TO EMISSION REDUCTION [NOTE THAT BOTH COUNTRIES ARE SO HAPPY WHEN THEY FIND NEW SOURCES OF FOSSIL FUELS THROUGH, FOR EXAMPLE, FRACKING PRACTICES or exploration of the sub-Arctic seabed; REMEMBER … WHEN YOU ARE IN A HOLE, STOP DIGGING!! YET, WE KEEP LOOKING FOR MORE FOSSIL FUELS TO BURN THIS CENTURY!!]

4. What kind of achievement do you expect for the coming climate changes?

IF YOU MEAN CLIMATE CHANGE NEGOTIATIONS, I SEE NOTHING HAPPENING. ONLY MORE TALK. THE YOUTH OF THE GLOBE SAY “DON’T TELL ME YOU NEED MORE TIME TO NEGOTIATE ABOUT HOW TO REDUCE EMISSIONS. YOU HAVE BEEN NEGOTIATING ALL MY LIFE” [AT LEAST 20+ YEARS!!!].

What are the difficulties and problems the world IS facing?

MORE DISASTERS, MORE DEMANDS FOR HELP from victim countries TO COPE WITH THEM WILL COME BUT AT A TIME WHEN THERE WILL BE LESS humanitarian MONEY TO GIVE OUT TO THOSE IN NEED. ENVIRONMENTAL MIGRATION WILL ACCELERATE, TO ESCAPE FROM DIRECT IMPACTS OF A CHANGING CLIMATE AND TO ESCAPE INDIRECT IMPACTS SUCH AS LOWER FOOD PRODUCTION OR LESS WATER AVAILABILITY.

What should we do and what are the most important and emergency actions we should take?

HERE ARE THREE IDEAS.

How About a G-2 Summit on CO2 emissions?

How About a G-2 Summit on CO2 emissions?

#1. IN MY VIEW THE USA AND CHINA MUST COME TO AGREEMENT AND THE WORLD WILL FOLLOW. AS LONG AS THE 2 BIGGEST GREENHOUSE GAS POLLUTERS FAIL TO ACT, THERE IS NO REASON FOR OTHERS TO ACT.

WE HAVE A G-20 AND A G-8 TO COPE WITH A CHANGING AND VARIABLE GLOBAL ECONOMY. THEY ARE THE BIGGEST ECONOMIC PLAYERS ON THE PLANET.

WHY NOT CREATE A C-20 (EG, THE TOP CARBON DIOXIDE 20) OR A C-8 MADE UP OF THE 8 BIGGEST GREENHOUSE GAS EMITTERS?

IN FACT WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS A C-2 … THE USA AND CHINA MAKING A CONCRETE STEP FORWARD ON COPING WITH A CHANGING CLIMATE THAT IS LIKELY HUMAN INDUCED. THE FIRST STEP IS ALWAYS THE HARDEST, NOT JUST THEIR NICE WORDS AND SMILES, BUT REAL ACTION.

#2. ANOTHER APPROACH WOULD BE TO LOOK AT THE ATMOSPHERE AS NATURE’S BANK. THE RICH COUNTRIES BORROWED FROM NATURE THE QUALITY OF THE ATMOSPHERE BY EMITTING LARGE AMOUNTS OF CO2 TO DEVELOP THEIR ECOMONIES. AS EVERYONE KNOWS, WHETHER RICH OR POOR, TO BORROW FROM A BANK YOU MUST PAY BACK THE BANK SO THAT OTHERS CAN BORROW FROM IT. USING THIS ANALOGY, THE DEVELOPED ECONOMIES MUST TAKE THE FIRST STEPS TO CUT BACK THEIR EMISSIONS SO THAT THE DEVELOPING ECONOMIES CAN BORROW FROM NATURE’S BANK (E.G., SO THE DEVELOPING ECONOMIES CAN INCREASE THEIR GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS, AS THE INDUSTRIALIZED COUNTRIES CUT BACK SO THAT AT LEAST THERE IS NO INCREASE IN TOTAL GAS EMISSIONS TO THE ATMOSPHERE).

#3. A THIRD IDEA … A BAD ONE … IS TO RESORT TO GEOENGINEERING OF THE CLIMATE SYSTEM BY MIMICKING A VOLCANO (PUTTING DEBRIS IN THE STRATOSPHERE TO COOL DOWN THE PLANENT TEMPORARILY; OR PUTTING MILLIONS OF MIRROS IN SPACE TO REFLECT INCOMING SOLAR RADIATION; OR EVAPORATING SEAWATER TO MAKE LOWER CLOUDS WHITER TO RELECT SUN’S RAYS, ETC. THESE ARE REFERRED TO AS “PLAN B” IF GOVERNMENTS CANNOT CONTROL CO2 EMISSIONS. BUT AS A PROTESTER’S SIGN SAID AT COP 15 IN COPENHAGEN TWO YEARS AGO, “THERE IS NO PLANET B.” This brings to mind concepts like “spaceship earth”, lifeboat ethics”, “tragedy of the commons” (see the source of the following collage) http://tragedyofthecommons.weebly.com/spaceships-and-lifeboats.html)

EARTH IS THE ONLY PLANET WE HAVE AND WE MUST NOT EXPERIMENT WITH ITS CLIMATE. HOWEVER, SCIENTISTS IN THE INDUSTRIALIZED COUNTRIES ARE BUSY GETTING RESEARCH FUNDS TO STUDY ENGINEERING WAYS TO ALTER THE GLOBAL CLIMATE!! WHERE ARE THE VOICES OF CONCERN ABOUT IT FROM DEVELOPING ECONOMIES IN THE SOUTH?

So, what are the deep reasons that no big change, although so many horrible things happened?

People fear change. It’s as simple as that. even if things are bad, changing things could make things worse.

Also, no single extreme climate or weather event can be blamed on global warming. We cannot as yet relate horrible natural disasters things today with climate change with any degree of reliability!

Global warming and increase GHG emissions are analogous to air pollution in the sense that they are creeping environmental changes (incremental increases –hardly noticeable, but they accumulate over time until a crisis emerges. for air pollution today’s level is like yesterday’s and tomorrow’s will be like today’s: no reason to act now. but, in several years those little changes will have added up to a major environmental and health crisis.

Also, no single state want to take unilateral major steps to improve the global climate, unless others also commit to sacrifice and act at the same time. If one country cuts back on energy use, it fears that others will take advantage of it by not cutting back!

And do you think climate changes will cause political instability?

No more so than human greed or fights over desired resources (diamonds in Africa, water in Central Asia, etc). The surprising thing in that the current global economic situation in the world has NOT led to political instability!!!

In fact so many experts said that the Durban climate conference will achieve no result, because developing countries will never meet the demands of developed countries. So what do you think about that problem and how to solve the complicated problem? By crisis thinking?

The USA and China MUST get together to start the proverbial climate ball rolling down the hill. Others will join in.

As for the Durban meeting, as with Cancun, before the COPs 16 and 17 meetings. governments as early as the summer 2011 were suggesting that nothing of substance would happen at the Durban meetings. I believe that they were preparing the public for nothing to happen: it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. In essence, governments and the UN lowered people’s expectations about outcomes from Durban and those lowered expectations could easily be met by the political leaders. People expected less and that is what they got, less.

[ADDED: As expected, the negotiators have kicked the can down the road to 2020, rather than taking action now. It is considered a victory, but that was because the level of expectation was so low].

And USA has already quit the Kyoto Protocol, what do you think about the Kyoto Protocol’s future?

Kyoto Protocol as such is dead. Too many countries did not really want it: oil producers, for example, developing economies, the rich countries.

With the bad economic environment, do you think the developed countries will get stronger on their stands due to their economic interests?

Well, as a street proverb goes, “money talks” and the money is in energy use and not in not using it. Many corporations support continued use of fossil fuels and their “bottom line” profits and CEO jobs depend on it, despite words to the contrary.

There are many companies and government leaders and civil society who want to do something, but nothing gets done.

I had hoped that COP 17 in Durban would be different, being held in the poorest continent with the most needs and likely to be a major frontline victim of global warming (and having done the least to cause it) but I was hoping only. Maybe some miracle would happen in Durban, but I doubted it.

WE NEED A C-2, USA AND CHINA. IT WILL REQUIRE BOLD STATEMENSHIP AND I AM NOT SURE OUR COUNTRIES HAVE IT.

Michael Glantz
Colorado, USA


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