With the Kyoto Protocol due to expire, society-change enthusiasts are pushing the summit in Copenhagen as being THE LAST CHANCE to do something about climate change. Our Prime Minister, John Key, has changed his mind and will now be attending the conference; a reversal which was due not to the pressure by enviro-Mental activists like Xena Worrying Princess Lucy Lawlessness, but rather due to the fact that it originally seemed that most world leaders would not be attending. As momentum built and more leaders announced that they would intend, NZ risked being isolated as a country conspicuous by its absence, so of course Key changed his mind and decided to go. Of course, liberal commentators who were demanding that he do just that are now criticising him for his "flip-flop" (which in Australia is like a jandal, but in NZ means indecisiveness). Of course, if John Key ran into a burning building and saved a small child from certain death, these same commentators would no doubt blame him for not implementing proper fire safety measures...
Climate Change seems to be one of those red button topics that splits down ideological lines. Many (though not all) people who identify themselves as left wing also seem to accept the theory of anthropogenic climate change, while many (though not all) right wingers are more skeptical and either doubt the extent of humanity's impact or question climate change altogether. I think part of this is due to the ongoing battle between the less moderate right and science in general. Many Creationists tend to fall into the hard right category, and they have being waging war on the scientific establishment for years regarding evolution. It seems that people are more willing to openly doubt scientists and their evidence simply because such ideas don't fit into their own mind set, rather than because they have their own evidence.
So in light of this, it was interesting to read last week about the emails which climate change proponents had obscured or even suppressed from scientific reports (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6926325.ece). I'm not sure if it is a coincidence or not, but this has to be one of the most under reported stories of the year. At the same time, the mainstream media has stepped up its campaign on pushing the worse-case scenarios of climate change, and, as I've stated already, there has been a huge shift in leaders indicating that they will now go to Copenhagen. Conspiracy theorists see this as proof that the Establishment is pulling out all the stops and deploying their big guns to prevent the email leak from destroying their attempts at introducing further measures to bleed the world's taxpayers dry.
I do not deny climate change. I am no scientist, but I have observed in my own lifetime a shift in weather patterns and seasonal variation. I do, however, have some doubts about the extent of human involvement in this change. While I find it difficult to believe that we can pump that much CO2 into the atmosphere over 200 years and NOT make some difference, I also find it difficult to believe that we're not going through some natural change as well. To me, human activity has probably intensified this change, although by how much I cannot say. Regardless, the way out is not as simple as many activists would like us to think.
Carbon taxes will not do a lot. I like James Hansen's view on this, as quoted in a recent Guardian article, when he talks about his opposition to the cap-and-trade scheme. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/02/copenhagen-climate-change-james-hansen?CMP=AFCYAH).
"This is analagous to the indulgences that the Catholic church sold in the middle ages. The bishops collected lots of money and the sinners got redemption. Both parties liked that arrangement despite its absurdity. That is exactly what's happening," he said. "We've got the developed countries who want to continue more or less business as usual and then these developing countries who want money and that is what they can get through offsets [sold through the carbon markets]."We live in a consumer society, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but have you ever looked around your house and asked yourself just how useful some of that junk you've bought really is? Consumerism does need to be contained, and the easiest way to do this is to add an environmental surchage to the cost of everything we buy. "Cap and trade" does nothing to prevent further environmental damage, but ethical and responsible consumerism will.
Also, if the world is to work together on trying to alleviate the impact of climate change (however bad that may be), then we've all got to sing from the same hymn book. Developing countries must use up to date methods for their industry; they cannot be given a carte blanche to continue on their merry way. They point to the West and say "well, you guys did it, so why can't we?" - essentially this translates to "they started it!" Of course, that argument never worked when I was a kid explaining why I hit my brother, and it doesn't hold any water now. In the 19th century industrialisation went forward unchecked, but hardly anyone had any idea about the future impact this would have. The developing world does not have the luxury. The Western World has modified its technology to make it cleaner and less environmentally damaging now that we all know what the repercussions are, and the developing nations cannot stick their heads in the sand and refuse to play their part.
What I'd love to see at Copenhagen (and what I can guarantee will not come out of there) is an acknowledgement that the Third World needs to improve women's access to education and contraception. These two simple tools are the most effective devices we have in reducing population growth, and are much more humane (though much more expensive) than bullets. By 2050 the world population by a third, to over 9 billion. (Check out http://www.optimumpopulation.org/ for the population clock.) This is NOT sustainable, especially in terms of water access (Yemen is about to become the first country in the world to run completely dry, and more will follow). Given that the Western World's population is actually shrinking, it is clear where this growth is occuring. Copenhagen's programme should contain a directive that all nations introduce a "Stop at Two" campaign immediately - ie, that every family limit itself to two children. This is a highly emotive subject. I have a large extended family and I love them all. I have two siblings, both of whom I love and could not contemplate having lived without, and under this scheme I would never have had a sister. But if we care for our future, we need to make some tough decisions, and this is something that we ourselves can do, rather than corporations.
Care needs to be taken at Copenhagen not to act too rashly. Imposing crippling penalties on companies will only see more people out of work and further undesirable effects on society. Whatever changes are inroduced must take into account the impact that any sudden, forced, and unpopular change will have on human societies around the world. What will come out of Copenhagen, though, will be a document so watered down that it will be almost transparent. This is a photo opportunity of epic proportions, and nothing else; and I'd love to see the carbon footprint left by the conference. I don't know what the right course of action is; all I know is that it won't come from Copenhagen.