Saturday, February 7, 2009

Climate Change and how to address it

I came across an interesting article published on yahoo about climate change and its challenges. You can see the full article by Richard Harris by here.

In the article the author highlights that the Obama administration have committed billions to the issue of climate change, proposing climate laws and treaties - but will it work?

Scientist Robert Correll, using a computerised model shows that even if those countries committed to addressing climate change reach their stated goal that we still won't reverse the warming trends.

Dan Sarewitz of Arizona State University is also sceptical about the current proposals to "throw money" at climate change.

Sarewitz is skeptical that politicians can deliberately manage a transformation of that scale, either through legislation or through climate treaties. He says, for starters, measures that will ultimately force everyone to pay more for energy are doomed both economically and politically.

"Politically, what you're asking people to do is to pay a huge upfront cost for benefits many decades down the road that they can't even anticipate or predict. And that is politically an extremely difficult sort of situation to manage," Sarewitz says.

It's harder still, considering that Americans rank global warming at the bottom of their worry list, according to a January poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press.

And even if the public became passionate about climate change, Sarewitz says, it's hard to imagine how they would warm to the idea of making carbon-emitting fuels prohibitively expensive. Just try to imagine how much that would cost.

But he is not just a naysayer he has a suggestion:

he has been trying to think of another way to deal with climate change. To do that, he's looked back in history to see how we managed other major transformations. One example is how America transformed agriculture over the past century. The United States government created a highly successful, century-long effort to make food more abundant and affordable.

"And it didn't do so by setting any particular target or timetable. It did so by investing in research and development — and very importantly, in institutions," Sarewitz says.

For example, agricultural extension programs brought together researchers to tackle the big problems, and farmers to put the solutions to work quickly. The key to it all was speeding up innovation. And the good news is none of this required an ugly political or public debate. That's the model Sarewitz would like to use for climate change.

"The idea really is to take the political heat off of climate change and instead move this into the realm of policy wisdom," he says, "where many many small decisions made across many agencies, many types of policies, many domains, set the conditions for moving in the right direction without demanding that people accept that this is the most important problem in the world."

Sarewitz is now hard at work trying to identify what institutions we need to drive that transformation in the coming decades. The ultimate goal is to make renewable energy about as cheap as fossil fuels. Otherwise, there's little hope that the nations of the world will agree to tackle climate change. Sarewitz says he knows the Obama administration won't abandon its current path to craft climate laws and a treaty.

"But there's no reason they can't at the same time… understand that the real action is going to be on the innovation front," Sarewitz says.

So what do I like about this article and suggestion, I like the idea that:

1. Firstly you create an environment in which change can happen

2. You don't take your eye of the big picture

3. You undertand that lots of small changes are required to make that big change

4. You encourage invention and innovation

5. You make lots of the small changes

6. You ultimately reach your goal of the big change

What a great plan - I like it.

Malcolm Gladwell covers many incidences of creating major change using similar methods in this book "the Tipping Point".

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