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There’s no need for a climate policy


The efforts to slow climate change through a policy of emission reductions are not working. Some climate advocacy is directed elsewhere, such as Forecast the Facts or divestment of fossil fuel holdings, but the majority seems to involve mitigation efforts requiring national or international implementation. While some governments have implemented climate-related policies, either they aren’t directly related to emissions (such as alternative energy policies), or they fail to work (Kyoto). It’s no surprise this approach involves a great deal of frustration and disillusionment.

A significant barrier to action is the combination of the commons dilemma – “if China and India won’t reduce their emissions why should we?” – and the sentiment that energy costs should not increase for poor people (which is shared throughout the climate debate and evident in climate negotiations). Still, a dominant paradigm in climate advocacy says “we can’t wait for other countries to act, we need to act now”. In this I agree, but what kind of action is possible if your government is deadlocked and public concern isn’t strong enough to free it?

Significant emission reductions certainly require government involvement but what about adaptation strategies (or as I like to call them, compensation-based strategies)? There is no barrier to collecting money for the preservation of mangroves in Bangladesh or drilling water wells in Africa. While there are lots of reasons to consider adaptation over mitigation (see Lomberg, Tol, Eschenbach, my allegory below), the single largest might be that it can be done without government involvement, through the free market and with no (governmental) policy.

Where is the "Fair Climate" logo?

Where is the “Fair Climate” logo?

We have “Fair Trade”, “Organic”, “Non-GMO”, ISO, etc., but why not “Fair Climate” certification? Many corporations are already tracking their emissions due, in large part I would say, to consumer demand. It gives a company great marketing material when they can claim their emissions have dropped, but significant reductions are hardly sustainable. A much easier “bragging right” could be contributions to adaptation projects resulting in a nice shiny logo for their products.

The certification requirements could be very simple – a bronze star for a $10/ton CO2 emitted, silver for $20, gold for $30, platinum for $50+. The world has many trusted independent certification organizations. The more important aspect of this scheme would be the actual implementation of projects. Avoiding corruption and ensuring efficient and effective construction would be key, but charities have been facing these challenges for years – now more than ever.

The third element of this scheme, besides certification and implementation, is vulnerability assessments. In this area Roger Piekle Sr is king:

We argue instead [of climate prediction] that integrated assessments within the framework of vulnerability …offer the best solution, whereby risk assessment and disaster prevention become the alternative to prediction.

For a large-scale climate adaptation to occur, much more work needs to be done on climate vulnerabilities. The integrated assessments would require a tremendous amount of effort. As the IPCC process shows however, this effort is not in short supply. It just needs to be somewhat re-directed.

Despite these challenges it would be simple to get started by tackling the easiest problems first. Surely something like malaria prevention would be part of a climate adaptation strategy – you can’t work to improve your infrastructure if you are sick. Certification in the beginning could be gained by donating to existing charities like Doctors without Borders.

As for CO2 emissions,  this scheme would have an impact, even if it was less than current expectations. It would essentially be a self-imposed carbon tax that incentivized energy efficiency. While it won’t meet all the demands of climate advocates, it can still be seen as part of an overall strategy and a way to bring some sort of consensus. People might be bitterly divided on “climate change”, but no one is against giving to people in need.

If half the energy spent on mitigation advocacy was spent on a scheme like this, the potential could be huge. While 100% coverage would be unlikely, at the “bronze star” rate it would result in $54 Billion in the US alone. This would be like doubling the US foreign aid budget, by increasing charitable donations by only 18%.

In writing this I’m trying my best to be polite and respectful. My message to climate advocates (especially Greenpeace and WWF) obsessed with mitigation, in my “normal” voice, might be something more like: Seriously people, give up on pie-in-the-sky ideas of “complete economic transformations” and “we need to get off fossil fuels now” – these things are as likely as avoiding another glacial period (not ice age because geologically-speaking we are in an ice age right now). Climate change is real, happening, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. How about helping people now instead of waiting for everyone to agree with you – they never will.





Sidenote: An allegory of the mitigation-versus-adaptation-based-climate-strategy debate

Imagine two neighbours. Their houses represent nations so they must live in an area without a municipality.

One neighbour disturbs their common zone. Perhaps its through noise, air or sight. Let’s say a noisy rendering plant close to the property line. The affected neighbour doesn’t like this – it’s lowered her property value and quality of life.

If you were the affected neighbour, you would want recourse. Which response would you prefer from your neighbour?

  1. Don’t worry, I promise to reduce the smell and noise of my rendering plant by 2% a year.
  2. I’m sorry but I need the rendering plant to make a living. I hope to reduce the smell and noise in the future but until then I can give you monthly payments in compensation.

2 Responses

  1. Your analogy doesnt address adaptation vs. mitigation IMHO . Its more like compensation(2) vs. mitigation (1) . If I was the affected neighbour I would be very dissatisfied with this. Adaptation could be represented in this analogy by building some barrier between the properties , but it would be short of ideal. The affected neighbour loses out either way.

  2. Good point Hengist. I think of them much in the same way. While all adaptation could be considered compensation, I suppose compensation need not involve adaptation. I agree the affected neighbour loses either way – I would suggest that 1 is analogous to the offer being given by Western countries to today’s poor, equatorial nations most vulnerable to climate change. I believe they would want 2. I’ll work on a better analogy 🙂

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