Everywhere I’ve gone for the last couple of weeks, I’ve taken Nick Stern with me. Or rather, his bright blue book with the “World Class” title “A Blueprint for a Safer Planet”.
On several occasions this week I’ve fallen asleep whilst trying to get my head around the dry, dry writing, and today it’s final chapters left my mind almost completely numb.
If this man’s opinion is as central to my country’s negotiating position on Climate Change as he thinks it is, and if my country’s positioning is at all influential worldwide, then we are in serious, dire trouble.
It’s been enough to make me literally weep.
Here are just three things from a whole canine smorgasbord of problems I find wrong with his position :-
a. The Development Analysis Faultline
It’s no good dividing the world into “Developed” and “Developing” nations and then assigning accountability for all production and consumption directly to those groups of nations.
There should be a proper analysis of the role of Companies and Transnational Corporations in creating consumption through advertising propaganda or political lobbying, and then creating the supply to meet the demand of that consumption.
Is it the case that if Transportation were a wholly owned function of Local Authorities in the United Kingdom that we would have so much private car ownership ?
Do the British food shoppers really need to eat products that contain Palm Oil from ex-rainforest land in Indonesia or Malaysia or Borneo ?
It’s not entirely the fault of the Developed nations that they emit such high levels of Greenhouse Gases. In reality it is the privatised procurement of Energy that has gone for the lowest cost Energy, which is the highest in terms of emissions.
There is a third “partner” in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change besides the “Developed” bloc and the “Developing” bloc : it is the corporate bloc, and they have been influencing the whole process : for example in consultations regarding potential Carbon Abatement technologies.
The trade between this third bloc and the other two is more extensive than the commodities trade between the Developed and Developing nations.
b. The Growth Paradigm
Stern just cannot bring himself to acknowledge that, for now, Economic Growth is directly tied to levels of Greenhouse Gas emissions.
Here’s an example from page 206 :-
“Let us organise our emergence from the crisis by investing in the shorter-term projects, such as energy efficiency, which can generate demand and employment quickly and by bringing forward some of the energy and transport infrastructure investments which can lay the foundations for medium- to long-term growth. While there is no doubt that a major consumption boost is necessary as we tackle the severe problems of insufficient demand in the very short run, we must look forward to the investments which can sustain real growth in the future.”
Any form of economic stimulus just now, with the infrastructure that we have, is bound to rack up increased Greenhouse Gas emissions.
And even as we start to de-Carbonise, much of the infrastructure and energy supply will remain Carbon-based for the meantime, so Economic Growth will cause mounting Greenhouse Gas emissions.
A steady-state Economy is a sine qua non for getting control of Carbon.
Even Stern himself admits that growth is not forever : I’ve not noted the page carefully, but it’s in there – his prediction of a tail off in Economic Growth.
He also models in outline the eventual cessation of the Carbon Trading market, which should worry those who believe we so urgently need Carbon Trading to solve Climate Change for us.
c. A Naive Faith in Technological Progress
Stern must have been talking to Dick Taverne or Raymond Kurzweil. He confuses science with technology, and he believes that technology has no limits, particularly energy technology.
There are, in fact, only a limited number of ways to capture the direct and indirect energy from the sun : and some of these are slow and cumbersome, requiring expensive, high maintenance machines.
We know most of what there is to know about harnessing the energy in the wind, waves, tides, sunlight, plants, hot rocks and flowing water. The improving technology will not increase efficiency by very much.
We definitely know how to insulate and draught-proof. Very cheaply.
The future for energy is Renewable and Conservation. We ignore this at our peril. Stern naively hopes in unproven technologies and dead ends.