Your world. Your say: 31 March letters, part 3
Friday 31 March 2006
Jobs on the line
Sir: It is wonderful to read that somebody in Government is finally asking the necessary questions about climate change, economic growth and economic equity. Colin Challen and his partners have taken a brave step in taking hold of this issue and challenging our economic dogmas in this way ("We must think the unthinkable", 28 March).
The problem is that it may be prove to be brave but futile. The Contraction and Convergence proposal described by Mr Challen would turn the developed world on its head.
Some of us can see many benefits from this approach. The obvious direct benefits would be long-term survival and an environment fit to live in. Less obvious indirect benefits would come from a slowing down of production and consumerism; more time for things other than work, a more human world.
But the disciples of liberal capitalism, such as Tony Blair and the rich, will not share this view and the forces of resistance to such a drastic change of economic model would be huge. So huge, in fact, that one has to ask whether there is the slightest chance of overcoming them at all.
Going into more detail, there are some questions to ask about the proposal of carbon rationing and trading.
While the proposal explicitly deals with inequity between countries, one is still left with inequity within countries. In order to have equity within developed countries, the rich have to take most of the burden of the freezing or contraction of the economy. If this is not clearly managed, then the result will be that the "bill" will be paid from the bottom up.
One can imagine a new wave of relocalisations in which the workforces of the developed world are thrown on the street as the jobs move to countries which are in energy credit. How are the newly "carbon reduced" unemployed going to live?
Strong (draconian?) state intervention in the free market economy would clearly be necessary and would have to include large-scale wealth redistribution.
Mr Challen has already made a great contribution to the debate; but it will be an astounding (though fantastically worthwhile) achievement if he manages to put the developed world on this track.
LE ROURET, FRANCE
Sir: I read recently that pollution created (per pound of economic activity) is roughly four times higher in China, India, and Indonesia than in Britain, Germany and Japan. Pollution is twice as great in the US as in Britain.
Currently virtually everything sold in Britain is made in the high-polluting nations, and then transported at high pollution cost. Current trends in globalisation advance this phenomenon. The UK, and the EU, have (limited) environmental standards, which impose costs on European companies that are not imposed on imports into the EU, thereby disadvantaging EU businesses and hastening the transfer of EU companies to those cheap, high-polluting countries.
Surely an environmental tax should be imposed on goods from countries that produce high levels of pollution, and that are sent vast distances across the globe? This would give a greater incentive to home-production, less pollution through transport, and lower the productivity of nations that produce higher pollution (thus giving an incentive for all to produce energy more cleanly).
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM AND BIODIVERSITY RESEARCH CENTER THE UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS LAWRENCE, KANSAS, USA
Sir: While it is commendable that so many people have responded with good ideas, it is not realistic to assume that these ideas can succeed as an isolated action plan. All countries need to participate actively in the process at all levels - from governments, through businesses and down to the consumer.
The problem is, the world is structured as a "competitive" economic model. Countries are forced to compete against each other. This set-up inevitably leads to wars, acrimonious trade disputes, poverty, environmental destruction and so many other problems. Will the US consider backing down in its battle with China and other countries as it seeks to maintain its status as the world's economic superpower? Will China and India forego the cheap fossil fuel solutions to meet their ever-growing energy demands?
All countries and governments must work together on a "global solution" that everyone is required to participate in without exception, as it is unrealistic to think the process has any chance of success otherwise.
Sir: Global problems need global solutions. It is fairly obvious to all that, despite Government "targets", we in the UK fail to make headway in this area - indeed, we are going backwards. While the announcement of an all-party group on climate change is a welcome development, it will achieve little unless its philosophy rapidly spreads to larger groupings.
This is an obvious issue where MEPs could actually play a useful part. Even then, Europe can achieve only a limited amount without buy-in from the US, China and India.
Ultimately, economic competition in its current form will prevent any ordered progression towards solutions in a practical timescale. There is already scientific evidence that we're close to the point of irreversible change - by the time market forces bring about change, this point will be far behind us.
Sadly, we cannot escape the basis tenets of Malthus - and as a result of our inability to effect self-regulation on a global basis, we can now anticipate a steadily increasing frequency of environmentally-driven social upheaval.
Reduce CO2 output
Sir: I do not believe that governments are doing nearly enough to tackle this unprecedented and gravest threat to our civilisation.
Ministers express concern at the effect on economic growth through the implementation of measures designed to reduce CO2 emissions. Well, I suppose they are halfway there with their concerns about the economy; I, too, am worried about the economy and terrified at the likely effect that unchecked climate change will have upon it.
There is an overwhelming economic argument for instituting powerful measures to reduce CO2 output now. The fact that climate change is already ruining the lives of countless poor in the Third World, devastating fragile ecosystems and driving biodiversity to collapse and species to extinction are not reasons themselves that I would expect industrialised nations to respond to.
Ministers have to do two things: first, connect the dots and understand exactly why climate change poses such a threat not just to our own economy but also the global economy; and second, appreciate that although they are used to populist styles of delivery when in power, this is a time that demands of them actual responsibility and intelligent, rational governance.
Sir: We are badly in need of good leadership and solidarity. It is easy to feel excluded by the Government, isolated, knowledgeable but with no guidance that can be trusted or will act in time. Many, many people would be prepared to alter their lifestyles if they believed it was a unified and meaningful action and, to be realistic, affordable. Leadership could encourage (and subsidise where necessary) sustainable energy, affordable public transport (must be much cheaper than using a car), grey water recycling and so on.
Tackle root causes
Sir: Finally someone has got it right! Economic growth is the root cause of most, if not all, of our environmental problems. Economic growth is facilitated by increasing global population and increasing per capita consumption and invariable results in the conversion of natural capital (ecosystems) and the attendant loss or degradation of ecosystem services. Until we address the root cause of the problem, everything else we do to tackle climate change will have little effect.
NEIL K DAWE
PARKSVILLE, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
Solution in the roof
Sir: Why are we still building houses with traditional roof materials? After all, the roof of a property is its largest uninterrupted area. This ought, therefore, to become the property's main power plant using photoelectric cells and solar panels. This, together with a suitably-sized wind turbine, could make each property largely self-sufficient, with the bonus of adding to the national grid. Grants to help with installations should be cheaper than building new power stations, and the problem of waste products would not arise.
Hear our voices
Sir: We cannot take a chance that there is no problem about climate change.
Politicians talk of international agreements. I have no confidence in such agreements being either negotiated or kept by the, by and large, hapless bunch of leaders that we have on the world stage at the moment. Ordinary people, aided by the media, must make their voices heard on the subject and world leaders, including those of the major religions, must respond in kind. Time is fast running out!
HARROGATE, NORTH YORKSHIRE
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