Carpe Diem

Video from Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory

"We in the family recognize that Madiba belongs not only to us but to the entire world."
December 5, 2013

Mandela came out of an entire civil justice movement that evolved with nonviolent resistance roots in South Africa and India. (A brief chronology is on slides no. 6/7 of this presentation) His was an extraordinary life battling the system of apartheid. The ultimate victory in the struggle was the nonviolent resistance that broke down the old system and erected a new government and leadership. This was sustained because of his vision of equality for all, without vengeance.

So, we have the moment. We must seize it. For all of us and for our future on this earth.

The greatest problem to face our human family in history at this moment is the collective impact of  civilization's processes over our recent industrial history. The science of climate change has now proven that 2°C limit of carbon emissions now requires immediate reduction rates of over 8% per year from Annex 1 nations. This is not in dispute,as was discussed at Tyndall Centre for Climate Change at the Radical Emissions Reduction Conference (10-11 December 2013). It is how to globally agree and implement this.

Absolutely there is global political failure on emissions, has been the case for 20 years at the UN. How do we mobilize change? We don't have any more time, so fair limits have to be implemented very soon inside of an economic system that is diametrically opposed to preserving resources and planetary systems. One aspect that is emerging is that people across the globe are at the brink of revolution over this political failure, they're not the ones opposing limits. It has now become necessary for world governments to make the commitment under a framework that accommodates this issue. UN should move ahead and adopt allocations based upon the lower limit of a 150 Gt C total budget and include in that agreement the metrics of measurement of carbon, methane and other emissions. This is the Precautionary Principle, based on the premise that life is sacred for all.

This kind of change has been accomplished before by many countries in WWII in the interests of national preservation. The public voluntarily submitted to rationing and restriction in the service of a goal that was in the world's best interests. The entire social fabric of countries shifted. Governments and corporations abusing their populations were forced to cease. It turned out to be a resounding success. Too successful, because it entrenched a dysfunctional economic system worldwide that did not recognize finite ecological systems or regenerative processes. 

In other words, the recognition by governments that they must revoke fossil fuel subsidies and fund sustainable energies is an important one with the acceptance of the unavoidable scale of carbon reduction before us. To quote Herman Daly: We continue to invest in manmade capital rather than in restoration of natural capital. This further depletes natural capital and eventually drives down the value of complementary manmade capital, while spewing external costs all over the place.The reason that mainstream economists do not see this is that they think manmade capital and natural capital are substitutes rather than complements. With substitutes you don’t have a limiting factor, so they overlook the scarcity augmenting fact of limitationality.

An international dialogue does seem to be building along these lines:

Aubrey Meyer (Vision and equity)

This in turn means keeping within the limit of safe & stable atmospheric GHG concentration.Inevitably and inexorably this limit determinesa rapid global contraction of the GHG emissionsdriving climate changes and the convergent international sharing of that emissions contraction; all this together is the symmetry of C&C.

Miriam Lyons (Fairness and limits)

If the global response to climate change is not fair, it won’t happen. If it doesn’t happen, we’re all stuffed. And for it to be fair, those of us who live in countries pumping more than our share of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere are going to have to accept the principle of “contraction and convergence” — i.e. equal per capita emissions, which means that a 60% cut in emissions by 2050 translates to a 90% cut for Australia. This will require more significant changes than have been promised to date. It means economic reform of the scale seen in the 1980s or greater — designing markets, taxation, and regulation to make it cheaper to do business sustainably than unsustainably.

Mayer Hillman (Equity and limits)

The principle of equity must be applied in international negotiations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A system of carbon rationing for individuals based on this principle, and carbon caps for business and the public sector, would ensure that each country contributes its fair share in a global agreement.

Herman Daly (Economic models and limits)

It seems to me that Contraction and Convergence is the basic principle that should guide climate policy, and that this policy is really unchallenged in principle by any of the climate models under discussion. Granted that it is good to have accurate models of how the world works, and to work out the numerical balances of C&C. Nevertheless, I wonder at what point complex and uncertain empirical models become a distraction from simple first principles?

James Hansen (Pricing models and limits)

With the carbon price idea, if you give the money [collected from levies on CO2-emitting industries] to the public, I think that could happen. It’s a matter of getting public to be aware of this, and that’s why I support the Citizens Climate Lobby, which is trying to argue for this. Most people would get more money in a dividend than they paid in increased prices, and a lot of the increased price effect [is something] they wouldn’t actually see very explicitly. So I think they would not object to prices going up, and I think you would get to the point where a lot of fossil fuels would become become less competitive.  Right now, consumers don’t have much choice. But once we start moving in the right direction and have some alternatives, we will probably need to include nuclear power because electricity should become a bigger and bigger fraction of the total energy supply.  And in fact it is becoming a bigger and bigger fraction, but if we’re going to move off fossil fuels, it’ll have to get even larger.

Kevin Anderson (Fear of economic change)

A new paradigm for climate change: Many scientists who interface with policy makers run scared of suggesting emission reductions that challenge the veracity of the contemporary economic Zeitgeist. However, times are changing and the pronouncements of market economists increasingly fail to describe the complex world within which we live.

Naomi Klein (Radical political leadership)

It is time for a new generation of environmental activism to emerge, she said—one that is not dominated by acceptance of the prevailing world view, but one that breaks free from the “ideologically shackled environment in which we all operate”.

Failure to challenge an ideology based upon self-interest and an all-powerful market—reinforced this week by a deal struck by the World Trade Organisation in Bali to simplify the process of trade across borders—has hindered the environmental movement since its beginnings in the late 1980s.