Now the clarion call is getting louder, at a time when I wasn't sure how much louder it could get. Hardly a week goes by without a big story about it on my yahoo headlines. And this week global warming has risen to the top of the media agenda in papers like the NY Times, Le Monde, and The Daily Telegraph.
- Oct. 27, BBC: "Global Warming a 'Threat to Growth'"
- Oct. 31, BBC: " Climate change fight 'can't wait'": In this one Sir Nicholas Stern, a prestigous British economist argues that "taking action now would cost just 1% of global gross domestic product," but will soon risk stunting it by 20%.
- Oct. 20, NYT: Budgets Falling in Race to Fight Global Warming, By ANDREW C. REVKIN
- Oct. 31, Le MOnde: "Le réchauffement met en péril l'économie mondiale"
- OpenDemocracy is a very interesting global issues publication, well worth checking out. To register you're supposed to donate whatever you can to it, and otherwise it's free.
Accountability: the other climate change
31 - 10 - 2006
An appeal to both self-interest and long-term thinking is essential to tackling the pressing threat of global climate change, says Simon Zadek.
The Stern Review's report on the economics of climate change published on
Today's vested political and economic interests are likely to prevent us from effectively addressing climate change, and so securing a decent future on this planet. It's ghastly, it sticks in the throat, and it's awesome to think it even as I write it. But it's probably true.
This prognosis is suggested by Jared Diamond's best-selling analysis of why societies collapse. Societies are endangered, he argues, when their elites insulate themselves from the negative impact of their own actions in pursuit of power and privilege. His paradigmatic case is of
Jared Diamond argues that this self-destructive spiral might have been halted if those with the power to enforce the cutting down of wood had far earlier suffered the economic and political consequences of this process. As economists would have it, these leaders succeed for too long to "externalise" these costs onto the shoulders, and ultimately the lives of others.
The Stern Review on the Economics of Global Climate Change published its report this Monday. Its author Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the World Bank, says:
"There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we act now and act internationally. Governments, businesses and individuals all need to work together to respond to the challenge. Strong, deliberate policy choices by governments are essential to motivate change.
But the task is urgent. Delaying action, even by a decade or two, will take us into dangerous territory. We must not let this window of opportunity close."
But surely, you might argue, this could not happen to "us" - people living in the rich, democratic countries of the world, with the knowledge we have, our many institutions for collective action and, most of all, our capacity to hold those with power to account?
Here, however, is exactly where the problem lies: a lack of accountability where it really matters. In the microcosmic areas of social life - fines for taking our children on holiday before the school break, or for allowing our dogs to do what is natural to them in the park - we are overwhelmed by accountability mechanisms. Yet on big, important, collective issues, accountability mechanisms are either non-existent or failing. After all, no rich-nation leader will pay the human and financial costs of the
Jared Diamond's story shines a sad and disturbing light on our current situation. Our elite do not feel enough pain to allow, let alone lead in making the changes we need.
So what is to be done? Pragmatism and a hard-headed reading of history suggest that "the people" are unlikely to resolve our current crisis. Far from it, we are more likely to degenerate into a toxic blend of hedonism and divided fundamentalisms. Faced with an apparently insoluble problem, the citizens of the world will unite in partying until the curtain comes down.
The terms of debate
Yet there is an alternative - unpalatable but essential. If we cannot make those with power feel the pain, can we help them to profit from taking us along the right path?
This would involve rewarding political leaders who take a stand on climate change, who are willing to tell citizens the tough story, make enemies of those who would deny, and dedicate themselves to creating coalitions of the unwilling. Such political leaders must be empowered, whether by the ballot-box or the amplifying effects of global civil society and the media. And those leaders who choose to pipe an old tune, whoever and wherever they are, along with their advisors and sponsors, must be exposed in their naked splendour for all to see.
And that brings us to business leaders. Business will not solve climate change by what it does not do; compliance will only ever be a marginal part of any serious solution. Business will make a difference by what it does and does best: inventing, making and selling new products and services. (That is why our AccountabilityRating of the world's largest hundred companies measures how smart rather than how moral they are in embedding social and environmental dynamics into their business models and practices).
" Co-opting those who can make, or prevent, change requires that "corporate responsibility" grows up and becomes a driver in shaping a global, responsible competitiveness between nations and regions. We need global markets where money is to be made by doing the right thing, creating value and profit by "internalising externalities" that will otherwise destroy us.
Co-opting those who can make, or prevent, change requires that "corporate responsibility" grows up and becomes a driver in shaping a global, responsible competitiveness between nations and regions. We need global markets where money is to be made by doing the right thing, creating value and profit by "internalising externalities" that will otherwise destroy us.
Who will take the lead?
Perhaps then we need to bet on
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Categories: environment, ecology, globalwarming, apocalypse, economy