Friday, September 20, 2013
Keep calm and jump out!
Posted by Ugo Bardi
I am writing this post in a moment of pause of the 2013 Ottawa conference of the Club of Rome. As always, these conferences cover many themes, but there is an underlying one that is pervading the talks of this one: climate change.
We can say that climate change was one of the main factors of the scenarios of the report to the Club of Rome "The Limits to Growth" already from the 1972 version. At that time, it was not recognized as such but it appeared in the models as a parameter labeled "pollution". But, with time, it has become clear what we are facing. Today's presentation by David Wasdell at the meeting framed the problem in dramatic terms.
So, what kind of solutions can be proposed? The talks at the CoR meeting have been oscillating between two poles. One, that we can call the "soft" scenario, consists in trying to find a way out of the problem that won't hurt anyone. It is an attempt of creating a "win-win" situation in which citizens, companies, and organizations will gradually evolve in a bottom-up process into more efficient and emission conscious entities; saving money in the process. That should take the system into a "decoupled" state in which prosperity doesn't depend any more from the amount of energy consumed. In its most extreme form, this idea says that we shouldn't do anything; market forces will take care of all problems. In a more realistic approach, it says that the system should be gently nudged to take the right direction by such things as a carbon tax.
The other scenario, that we may call the "hard" one is based on declaring an emergency. The idea is that we don't have time to slowly steer the system while making sure that we don't hurt anyone's sensitivity (or wallet). Emergency management is not a win-win question. So, the concept is a top-down approach where specific targets are enacted worldwide after they have been agreed upon at the international level. Realistically, it would not possible (and not even advisable) to impose such measures by force, but it is known that society can react to an emergency by doing the right thing; with everybody accepting to make sacrifices for the common good. That has been done in the case of war or natural catastrophes - so it is possible, as long as we recognize that we face a true emergency.
The first scenario has the frog crawling out of the boiling pot and remaining warm and happy all the time. The second has the frog jumping out from the pot all of a sudden; maybe suffering a little for the heat shock, but reaching safety faster. In between these two extremes, there is space for intermediate solutions: keep calm and jump out!