[Blog written on iphone while waiting in line to pick up badge at the Bella Center this morning.]
All the talk of cap-and-trade, cap-and-share, carbon taxes etc – if you are looking for enlightenment on what all this means, look elsewhere. I have to confess that it does my head in. While I was a management consultant working on financial settlements systems for investment banks I was sent on various accounting courses. Despite having been good at maths when I was at school, double entry bookkeeping always sent me to sleep, and the intricacies of environmental accountancy have much the same effect.
No doubt this is evidence of some character flaw on my part – laziness, or lack of diligence. But we can’t all be experts at everything, and there are plenty of people who seem to relish the economics of environmentalism, so I shall gladly leave it to them.
I suspect I am not alone in my wilful ignorance. Like most busy people, I just want to know: what’s the least I need to know, and what am I supposed to do about it?
Here is what I know: If we carry on as we are, we as a species don’t have much time left. Business as usual will leave us up the creek without any oil. The plastics and other toxins we are pumping into the land, sea and air will poison us. Destruction of the rainforests will lead to desertification and soil erosion. Billions of people will go hungry and thirsty. These scenarios do not even assume the reality of climate change. They are based simply on the incontrovertible truths of environmental pollution and habitat destruction. Simply put, we are in deep s**t. That’s a technical term.
What are we supposed to do about it? Well, that is up to each of us to decide. Personally, I would rather avoid this version of the future, or at least minimise the damage as much as possible at this belated stage. So I look at it as I would look at planning an adventure. Same principles – this is just an adventure into the future rather than across an ocean. These are the steps:
a) What is the end goal? A clean, healthy sustainable earth, ideally with people still on it, although in reduced numbers, as our current population level is probably unsustainable (see Thom Hartmann’s excellent book,The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It’s Too Late).
b) When do we want to reach our goal? The sooner the better, but let’s be realistic. We have seen in times of war and crisis just how amazingly innovative and productive humans can be when the chips are down. So let’s shoot for 2050, by which time we will probably be out of oil anyway. It would be less stressful to kick our addiction to fossil fuel by proactive choice rather than having it thrust upon us.
c) Now start at the end and work backwards. What do we need to do so we can arrive at our goal by our desired end date? What technologies do we need? What will it cost? How will we find the money? What are the top priorities and what can be relegated to the nice-to-have list?
This is not rocket science. As with most expeditions, it is unlikely that we will be 100% ready by our end date. But if we aim high, 90% of a high target is hugely preferable to 90% of a low one. As the saying goes, the best way to achieve something is to aim to achieve twice as much.
I do realize that this framework is very simple, maybe even simplistic. I don’t claim to be an economist, or a scientist, or even more than averagely intelligent. The only credentials I can claim are that I spend more time thinking about these things than many people, and my isolation on the ocean does give me a certain sense of perspective.
And it is that perspective that I am urging. We need to see the big picture. We keep getting sidetracked into time-wasting debates such as Climategate, petty politicking, and international disputes, fiddling while Rome burns. Imagine how an alien would see us – squabbling amongst ourselves while imminent extinction looms.
So come on, people, let’s get our collective act together, before it’s too late!