Monday, July 16, 2007

Taking Precautions?

Have a look at the video on this link. It’s called “The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See”. What it sets out to do is to simplify the climate change issues so that the solution becomes obvious.
Dangerous Climate Change will either happen or not happen: two possibilities. We can either take action or take no action: two strategies. This is then resolved into a simple 2x2 matrix:

Plan A
Plan A is Take Action. If climate change is NOT real, this strategy brings negative consequences. We cut back on carbon emissions by suppressing economic activity and we end up with a severe depression and then we find that it was all a waste of time.
However if climate change IS real this strategy helps us adapt and survive. Although we will have changed lifestyles and business models our actions will help us cope with the consequences of climate change.

Plan B
Plan B is Take NO Action. If climate change is NOT real and we take no action then things go on as they are, just getting better all the time.
However, if it IS real and we have done nothing about it, we are in serious trouble. We will see economic collapse, famine, flood, starvation, epidemics war and refugees. This is the worst case scenario.

As you will see from the video, the presenter says our course of action is a no-brainer. If Plan B could lead to the worst case scenario then the prudent course of action is to follow Plan A, because the worst case scenario will then be avoided.

No contest?

Well if we adopt Plan A and eliminate the worst case scenario we also eliminate the best case scenario – no action, no problem, no change. If we adopt Plan A things are going to get worse whether climate change is real or not. Even if climate change is real and Plan A helps us deal with it, our lives will be very different and will be seen by many to be worse. Never mind that they might have been far worse if we had done nothing; people will not have experienced that situation, only the relatively comfortable situation that existed before we started taking action. Many will refuse to accept that action was the right thing.

If dangerous climate change is as likely as no climate change, people will be more likely to accept the status quo and do nothing. If they think that climate change is less likely than no climate change then they will certainly do nothing. After all, two weeks ago a survey revealed that 56% of people in the UK believe (wrongly) that scientists are still in doubt as to whether human activity plays any part in global warming. And if the scientists can’t agree, who’s going to sell their car, stop the foreign holidays and turn down the central heating? Plan B – do nothing – will be favourite.

Maybe the shock of increased energy prices will make people think again, but until something like that happens no government that wants to get re-elected is going to take sufficient action to have an effect on climate change.

Footprints in the sky

Private air travel is growing dramatically. Charter passengers, including those using private jets, have risen from 3.5 million to 34 million in the 10 years from 1996 to 2006.

A private jet is attractive to those who can afford it because it saves time. You don’t need to head for a major hub like Manchester, Birmingham, Heathrow or Gatwick – you can leave from your local airfield. You can arrive 15 minutes before departure and embark without all those hours of security checks. At the destination your driver can meet you on the tarmac. It may be more expensive than business class, but for some people it’s worth it. London’s position as the leading financial centre in the world means that there are many wealthy people who will spend their money to save their precious time. Not just for business trips either: private jets make it perfectly possible to have weekends at the villa or on the ski slopes.

And what about the carbon footprint? The whole idea of one family jetting off in a private plane seems reckless, irresponsible, profligate. On the other hand, to paraphrase a well-known saying, the rich are always with us. And the rich would say that they create an enormous amount of the wealth of the UK that keeps people in jobs, funds the infrastructure through taxes and allows others to afford their own holidays in the sun. What these people don’t have is much time, so they spend their money to get the most out of it.

The wealthy people who take these flights can do so precisely because they are successful. They are the people who get things done and they are the people who will be crucial to taking the actions that will address climate change. We cannot afford to meet them head on. All we can do is present the evidence, suggest alternatives, map out the consequences. We all need to work together on this.

I hope we can reach consensus in time.