COP21 and Spaceship Earth

Droughts. Floods. Rising sea levels. El Niño, increasing in severity. Vulnerable populations, especially in low lying countries. And amid all the rapid advancement in knowledge and science? And who pays the cost for the failure of policy at the national and international levels on the part of the principal contributors, and not those of only just recently?

A look back. Of significance there was first the Industrial Revolution, and all that entailed. Later, much later, and with the ecological and environmental impact of pollution and unconstrained economic growth, there was Rachel Carson with her Silent Spring, first published in 1962. A few years later, there would come Joe Bain with Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth in 1966.

In 1972 The Club of Rome would publish its Limits to Growth, a work that would be derided especially by some economists. That was a time that saw the advent of computers and the rush to exploit their power. Among the problems of that work were focus on population growth, insufficient data and those pesky ‘missing variables’. Of course, in the case of its detractors even their own belief in technology as the ‘just in time’ Deus ex Machina has been ofttimes betrayed by fickle reality, as advances in technology are seldom ‘on time’.

Fast forward to 2015. The COP21 in Paris has just concluded with agreement of some 200 countries. Questions would linger as to the seriousness of the commitment of major countries to the terms of the agreement and even to the likelihood of achieving the 2.0 degrees C limit, or even remotely the aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees C. To put that agreement into understandable context, a participant at the Paris Conference offers his expert view, Paris Agreement — A Good Foundation for Meaningful Progress. 

And as for those details, ‘non-binding’ is key. One example, the rich countries have pledged an annual US$100b. And while the sum is meant to impress, in context it provokes a wry smile, as Dean Baker has recently pointed out.

Plus the ‘binding’ requirement of nations to report on their progress in implementing their commitments, with any failure being represented through this ingenious device, seriously, of ‘name and shame’. A Panglossian Diogenes would be hard pressed to find a country that has been ‘shamed’, then has relented and atoned, after being ‘named’ for anything – especially any Western country. And there’s the rub.




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