Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Outgrown "Growth"?

"Growth" has been one of the biggest American political cliches of the last fifty years. It political discourse it has gone unquestioned as a positive term, as a glittering generality you utter to score points from an uncritical audience, in fine company with such complex philosophical terms as "freedom" and "democracy." For awhile now, only the whacko far left dared question those who asserted the eternal goodness of economic growth. Now, the scientists (could they possibly have been brainwashed by the last commies thought to have died in the rubble of the Berlin wall?) are questioning this mantra of global socio-economic policy. While "growth" is good within the logic of the market economy and global consumer society, if it continues on the same model, say goodbye to planet earth and its hubristic hominids.
Now the challenge is "sustainable" economics and social life. We're on the verge of a seachange in the everyday life of the planet. But in what direction...?
Here's the news today.

Scientist: Emissions levels accelerating

By MERAIAH FOLEY, Associated Press Writer 45 minutes ago

Worldwide economic growth has accelerated the level of greenhouse gas emissions to a dangerous threshold scientists had not expected for another decade, according to a leading Australian climate change expert.

Tim Flannery told Australian Broadcasting Corp. that an upcoming report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will contain new data showing that the level of climate-changing gases in the atmosphere has already reached critical levels.

Flannery is not a member of the IPCC, but said he based his comments on a thorough review of the technical data included in the panel's three working group reports published earlier this year.

Carola Traverso Saibante, spokeswoman for IPCC headquarters is in Geneva, said she was unable to disclose what would be in the final report synthesizing the data before it is released in November.

"What the report establishes is that the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is already above the threshold that can potentially cause dangerous climate change," Flannery told the broadcaster late Monday. "We are already at great risk of dangerous climate change, that's what these figures say. It's not next year or next decade, it's now."

Flannery, whose recent book "The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth," made best-seller lists worldwide, said the data showed that the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions had reached about 455 parts per million by mid-2005, well ahead of scientists' previous calculations.

"We thought we'd be at that threshold within about a decade, that we had that much time," Flannery said. "I mean, that's beyond the limits of projection, beyond the worst-case scenario as we thought of it in 2001," when the last major IPCC report was issued.

The new data could add urgency to the next round of U.N. climate change talks on the Indonesian island of Bali in December, which will aim to start negotiations on a replacement for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel called Tuesday for an international system of global emissions trading to be adopted as part of an agreement to flight climate change from 2012 onward.

Speaking at a symposium of Nobel laureates and other leading scientists, Merkel insisted that only by establishing limits on carbon dioxide output per individual around the world — suggesting about 2 tons per head — could the fight to stop global warming be effective.

"Our long-term goal can only be the assimilation of worldwide per capita emissions," Merkel told the conference.

Her suggestion would mean drastic cuts: Germany currently has a carbon dioxide output of some 11 tons per person per year, while the U.S. is at around 20 tons per person.

Flannery said that the recent economic boom in China and India has helped to accelerate the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but strong growth in the developed world has also exacerbated the problem.

"It's a worldwide issue. We've had growing economies everywhere, we're still basing that economic activity on fossil fuels," he said. "The metabolism of that economy is now on a collision course clearly with the metabolism of our planet."

A spokesman for Australia's IPCC delegate, Ian Carruthers, said he was not available to comment on the report because it was still in draft form.

[See the video here. Interesting comment by Pres. Bush:

Climate Report: World at risk now

1 comment:

Steve said...

I'm pretty sure scientists have been saying since the 1960's (if I remember my Weekly Reader's correctly) that the increase in greenhouse gases would be exponential, and that the gases that affect us most today were released long ago. If that's the case, it only makes sense that the effects could be accelerating faster than we realize, and be further along that we realize.

The global economy is a good thing only if you are an economist interested in profiting from trade. Well, it's probably a good thing if you live in a third world country and aspire to a western lifestyle (especially health care.) But I'm not convinced that having everyone living a western lifestyle is truly that desirable.

I'm kind of a luddite when it comes to this kind of progress. I think we'd be much better off to live in a less impactful, sustainable way. But just try to get people to do it.

There's a lot of profit to be made from convincing the population of the world to be good conspicuous consumers. And as selfish human beings, we fall prey to the commercialization of possessions as easily as monkeys grab for things that glitter. And if we can't see it (e.g. invisible greenhouse gases) how important can it be, eh? Blech!

Where does it lead? Do we find our planet in a hundred years with 70 billion people (or more) and no resources, reduced to a squabbling horde? Do all these people find other ways to obtain their glittery things? Does some catastrophe befall the planet and reduce the horde to a mere fraction of what it was? Is the entire planet destined to become an industrial wasteland a la Planet of the Apes?

Science fiction writers often predict the future correctly. Which will it be? I can not discern where we are headed, but I fear it is not nirvana.