Dealing with the Ill-effects of Climate Change
Previously published on Oct 20, 2010
It should have been clear to anyone paying attention that the 2009 Copenhagen Summit on climate change would accomplish very little, especially considering its very bold goals; however, the Summit, or a future one, could have set the stage for the next step in the International Community's efforts to address the fallout of climate change. Unfortunately, points of contention center around one major issue: money. That is, the issue of who is going to pay for the ill-effects of climate change. The poor want the rich to pay, but the soon-to-be-rich developing countries do not want to pay while the rich may not rich in the future, especially if they agree to such commitments. Consequently, we can either spend more time trying to reach a watered done approach or we can seek a new way forward that might actually help address the effects of climate before it is too late.
In the middle of the Copenhagen summit, Time magazine in its December 14th, 2009 issue published Bjorn Lomborg's Viewpoint article entitled "Beyond Copenhagen," which looked at the cost of climate change to the global economies versus fixing it. Quoting figures from the International Energy Agency, Lomborg clearly demonstrates the 40 trillion US dollars per year to slow the emitting of green house gases far outweighs the 3 trillion US dollars per year to leave the issue unaddressed. Although these figures do not include unaccountable costs like the extinction of animal species, human health, and the death of those in communities which contribute little to the global economy, businesses, governments, and individuals are mainly interested in the short-term measurable costs to their economies, though no one really wants to experience these devastating effects. In essence, no one wants to bite the bullet when it comes to paying from climate change, yet they want to see something done.
It is understandable and reasonable why poor and developing nations, as well as emerging world powers like China, want the already developed world to pay for climate change. Western cultures benefited the most from pollution while we built our economies at everyone's expense. Should they hold their economies to the same restrictions without proper compensation, they will either fail to blossom into first world countries or make richer nations all the more rich as they develop into relatively weaker economic powers. In other words, they want the same opportunity to prosper as we got. (Of course, compensation and global warming would not be such an issue for these nations, if they could develop their own technology that would surpass the "green" and innovative value of technology in developed nations.)
On the other hand, the view of these nations is perfectly illogical and impractical. The industrializing nations of the developing world and world powers like China may not have been the ones to initially accelerate global warming, but their growing economies without proper limitations on emissions could be an even greater contributor to the rise of the Earth's temperature than Western economies in the nearer future. Meanwhile, the strain of paying for climate change and greater restrictions on Western economies will disenfranchise these nations by weakening their economies as well as piling on liabilities. It is important to recognize, the emerging generations of these nations are almost as innocent as citizens of industrializing third world nations while even these nations have benefited from Western industry and it was the captains of industry who did most of the polluting, not governments. Of course, it is underdeveloped and overpopulated nations which will feel the greatest effects of climate change, thus it is more in their interests to be far more proactive than rich nations.
If the trickle down effect has any valid application, it is the spread of technology from rich nations to poor nations. Not only is there a clear state interest in not paying for the ill-effects of climate change on industrializing nations for rich nations, future generations of these countries are already facing fewer opportunities than their ancestors who hurt everyone. This is not to say developed nations lack moral obligations or there is no state interest in addressing climate change. Certainly, the need to abate future conflicts and push toward an expansion of our economies with synergetic, healthy industries justifies action. As Mr. Lomborg points out, the Kyoto protocol would cost around 180 billion US dollars per year to implement, yet somewhere around half that amount could be devoted to R&D to produce a fifty fold increase that will result in our future technologies and industries. This is why, for example, we should invest in developing sustainable, adaptable agriculture. After all, this research would be helpful even to Western industries as food production can always be more efficient.
With the US pledging to help raise a 100 billion US dollars per year to fight the effects of climate change, it is a far better idea to invest that money into the Research and Develop that will create the technology necessary to reduce all forms of pollution as well as rebuild modern industry in such a way that might help heal the planet versus hurt it. Since industry was the problem, it should also be the solution. Instead of degrading rich nations and developing industries, we need to invest, so we can prosper both economically while preserving our planet in an attempt to avoid broader environmental costs. As new technology spreads to poorer industrializing nations, they will benefit as well. Meanwhile, undeveloped nations without meaningful industrial bases will be the ones who are affected by climate change the most, yet they are also the ones who can least afford to address the effects. Influential nations like China may resist this approach, because they want to increase their relative power against the United States, but they too will benefit from an investment strategy versus a "cut emissions, give handouts" approach that will be less effective and far more costly in the long run.