Saturday, November 04, 2006

One Percent Solution

If the world takes action now on global greenhouse gas emissions it will cost 1% of Gross Domestic Product. This in the conclusion of the recently released Stern Report requested by the British government. The release of the report was met by both interest and skepticism along with the usual "calls" for action among those that pay attention to such matters. For the world at large it went unnoticed.

Possibly the most important sentence in the entire 600-page report came at the beginning of chapter 21: "Public awareness and support is crucial for encouraging and sustaining cooperation." Far more critical than dedicated environmentalists, intelligent politicians and enlightened business people is a citizenry that has a reasonable understanding of the problem coupled with a willingness to make changes both individually and collectively. And therefore...?

Based on any number of facts the world is at the moment largely clueless. Global subsidies for energy research are some $10 billion annually, while subsidies for fossil fuel extraction runs about $250 billion annually. Only Japan among the world's economic powers has increased funding for energy research in recent decades.

The United States, which is still the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases, is close to being "criminally" negligent. The American government spends around $3 billion per year on all
energy development. In contrast, the U.S. spends some $75 billion on military research.

Relying on private enterprise is largely a feverish hallucination. It is not that business is not crucial in dealing with global warming and developing various technologies, but the private market is simply not big enough nor can it be relied upon for a long period of time. Its motivation is profit, usually short-term. Private investors won't and most cannot afford to go much beyond five or six years before the big return on their investment is demanded.

Dealing with greenhouse gases, finding alternative energy sources, and developing technologies such as drought resistant crops will be long-term, expensive, and require coordinated global action. The United Nations reported just recently that greenhouse gases reached a "record high" in 2005. The Stern Report stated that global costs could go up to 20% of GDP over the next ten to twenty years if the world does not act now. Possibly more than 200 million people, again according to the Stern Report, could end up becoming refugees because of droughts or floods, let alone failed states and civil wars. So therefore...?

Many years ago I first heard the expression "luck is the residue of hard work." We are all going to need some luck and perhaps a lot of hard work. The developed world, especially the United States, has to change drastically--and yeah, that's political, on a national scale, and not in some distant future. So dear environmentalists (the few), politicians (the few) and business people (the few) get busy and fast. Most people are clueless. That's the really big problem.

A lot of the "developing" world believes it's entitled--read China and India for the moment--but they're not. The good news is that even the kleptocracy in say China now has an inkling that the "good" life will never arrive if you only create an open sewer.

The Stern Report like all the rest will end up gathering dust on some shelf unless the few realize the fight's going to take place on the street, literally and figuratively. How badly do we want to take care of the only real home we will ever have?


MM1 said...


A very nice piece.

The title is clever, calling to mind Sherlock Holmes, and it strikes me that as Holmes was able to kick his cocaine habit possibly we can kick our oil addiction. But, like Holmes, we'll need help on multiple levels to achieve our freedom.

Thanks for writing intelligently and keeping these issues in front of us.


Green Earth said...

Well expressed. The Australian Media gave `The Stern' report top coverage including a front page of `The National Newspaper', best wishes, The Artist