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The Climate Change Threat in a Small Nutshell (4)

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So how do we prevent climate Armageddon?

Work is already being done in piecemeal fashion on improving efficiency in transportation and industry, on developing sustainable energy sources, on renovating buildings to improve energy efficiency, etc. R&D is also being done on things like capturing and storing (sequestering) CO2.

Unfortunately, this is a problem that requires cooperation among nations, for the simple and obvious reason that the threat really is global, and cutbacks in energy use by some may not be politically feasible if others do not follow suit.

There are the following factors which immensely complicate the possibility for international cooperation:

1) Some regions may see themselves as relative winners in a warmer world. Russia in particular comes to mind. Ultimately, it is safe to say, the only winners will be insects, but.

2) Fossil fuels remain immense sources of wealth and power. Read anything by Michael Klare (Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet is very good) if you doubt this. Again, Russia figures heavily in this, but all developed nations are jockeying for position here.

3) The complexity of the subject and preexisting tensions and suspicions between nations will of course complicate matters immensely.

I'll give the final word to David Keith, as quoted by Gwynne Dyer at the beginning of Ch. 5 of his Climate Wars:

Technically the climate problem is very soluble, and I don't mean by geo-engineering; I mean just by stopping emissions. There are lots of ways to decouple human energy use from emissions--by wind power, solar power, nuclear power--lots and lots of things we can do, and more will be invented. And the costs of doing all that are, I think, quite reasonable: they're a couple of per cent of GDP.... So why am I worried that we might not succeed?

I'm worried that we might not succeed because of reasons that are essentially game-theoretic. The sad fact is that the optimal strategy for each country is to get other countries to cut their emissions while each country does nothing. The sad fact is that if you spend a lot of money to cut emissions in your country, you're distributing the benefits of that cutting all over the world, but all the costs of the cutting are in your country. This is the way an economist would think about it.


Another reason why this is so hard is that this is fundamentally about taking money from today's generation and giving it to the next generation. ...the generation that spends that money for thirty years will see no benefit at all. .... The benefit is spread into the future, and that's the second great reason why this is so hard to do.



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