Sunday, March 26, 2017

Is a "carbon law" one of the needed keys to climate protection?

A new ‘carbon law’ similar to Moore’s law* in high tech, sees carbon emissions halving every decade, while green energy continues to double every five years.

Just at the time when climate change and global warming have slipped off the geopolitical radar, and when Trump has joined the ‘deniers’ by gutting the EPA in his proposed budget to the U.S. Congress, and has given final U.S. approval for the Keystone pipeline construction, a voice of something reasonable, optimistic and potentially feasible can be heard whispering in the madness of the current political climate of military build-up, election tampering, truth-trashing, and galloping Dow numbers.

There is a down side to this prediction that carbon emissions will halve every decade while green energy doubles every five years. Glib, facile, easily dismissed as simplistic, and still unproven (when compared with five decades of digital history), the ‘carbon law’ is neither a law nor a given. Human nature will have to come to fully appreciate the economic benefits from the exponential growth of green energy products, and integrate into their conventional thinking the down-sizing of the coal industry, for example, and the elimination of fossil-fueled vehicles, both of which currently ride a wave “aardvarkian” and myopic political cash.

Countries like India, where human survival may be more ‘on the edge’ given the massive number of lungs breathing toxic air may signal the death knell of coal, just as the face masks already required by Chinese civilians in some of their major cities flash photos of their streets lined with covered faces, as a matter of survival, the number of “canaries in coal mines” will have to grow exponentially for the carbon law to prove itself. If the whole world, and especially the intransigent political leaders of major countries like the U.S. and Russia, can be persuaded that their political futures depend on their endorsement of clean energy projects, then lofty words in agreements reached in Paris will not become archived as Kyoto’s were.

There really is a fundamental divide between current needs for jobs and economic growth and recovery in some regions and the longer term need for a clean environment. Achieving the latter by climbing over the back of the former will leave millions out of work, out of income, out of dignity and out of hope. Can we really countenance such a monumental human disaster in the short run, in favour of the long-term goal of clean water, clean air and stable temperatures that do not rise above 2 degrees annually?

This divide is currently playing out in left of centre political camps, for example, in both Ottawa and Alberta.

Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, recently received an award from the fossil fuel energy sector in Huston, for his loudly proclaimed goal of balancing the two competing interests, a healthy economy and a healthy environment. Premier Rachel Notley, the NDP premier of Alberta, is also championing both the Keystone approval announcement from the. U.S. State Department and the White House and  the Energy East proposed pipeline that would move Alberta crude to eastern Canada for refining. Having taken power in a province that has not had a left-leaning government in recent memory, Notley has risked the ire of her national party colleagues in Ottawa, some of whom remain in the “purist” camp on the environment, in opposition to all pipelines. Their single-minded approach, however, could well be the death-bell for the party on the national Canadian political horizon.

“Walking while chewing gum” is the cliché for governments’ managing two competing files simultaneously. (And there are those who would argue that governments do not do even a single thing very well!) The nexus of the problem of managing two competing files with finite resources in a straight-jacket of time is the old maxim of oscillation. Oscillating between the two is too often the result. And words that attempt to cover over the oscillation provide only short-term political cover.

Military combat on the battle field, in the towns and cities, for example in Iraq and Syria, resulting in the death and displacement of millions, while minimalist puffs of peace negotiations like clouds waft through the board rooms of European hotels and conference centres, generating little more than hollow headlines and decreasing hints of hope for peace….these dramas are hardly evidence for an international community starved for an end to the carnage, bloodshed and the culture of violence that provides space, time and easily targeted human victims, now dubbed collateral damage. This model, too, provides little if any real promise of willingness or ability or shared responsibility for resolution, given the deep trenches that separate both the battlefield actors and their international allies.

On the top of every geopolitical leader’s ‘to do’ list the words, “Eliminate terror” is likely to be found. The political ideology that spurs each leader and his/her government will help to shape and measure the size of the effort to which each country is prepared to commit to achieve that one goal. Clearly, the effort and the commitment, including the intelligence and the ingenuity, needed to achieve this important goal is, so far as the general public can see, not achieving its goal. Mosul may be one of the setbacks experienced by ISIS recently, yet we all expect their venom to spread.

Wiping out Islamic terror is neither easily nor quickly achievable. And there is no international binding agreement as to the strategies and the tactics for that goal. Similarly, there is little doubt that international binding agreements will be reached in reversing climate change and global warming. The human agency for preventing that choking and suffocating dystopia seems so disparate, and so diluted and so far out of sight for the average political leader and the media that remains enmeshed with today’s ratings and headlines, as to render any proposed ‘carbon law’ to a brief pastel line on an otherwise grey and black canvas of political narcissism.

“Short-term-ness”, as a defining trait of our political and economic planning and policy initiatives, including the operation of much of our social policy agencies, seems to be one of the more significant cages of entrapment for our time. And, as the old “boiling frog” proverb demonstrates, the poor frog does not know he is dying until it is too late, and the boiling water in the beaker has killed him.
Our collective consciousness about the future, rendering it too far out to fathom or to impact effectively, especially given our intense focus on the immediate, the chores that are right in front of our eyes, ears and bellies, requires a significant shift. We cannot leave the medium and the long-term future in the hands of the ‘gods’ of the future.

We have to own it. It is our’s to own and to claim responsibility, if not for our personal lives and survival, then for our grandchildrens’ survival. And there again, we are limited by our capacity to surrogate for our survivors, given the intense and ominous threats that seem to be growing like a gathering storm on our own horizons today. Political agendas that are defined by the short-term, narcissistic and hubristic psychoses of our leaders and many of the voters are little more than short-term pills feeding a variety of fears and phantoms, each of them planted by those same leaders whose unreal and disproven “reality” is a tent that will suffocate them, and all of us should we be blind and deaf and dumb enough to climb into it.

We need to acknowledge that these short-term political “wins” are also long-term failures, and our trophy-rooms, no matter how filled are the shelves with our ego-monuments, will be little more than dust-traps to our vanity, if our vision extends only as far as our pride.

It is a vision disentangled from our extrinsic trophies, or “executive orders” or our “latest bonuses” or our “prized possessions” or even our “electoral victories” as well as separated from our fixation on the digital crawl of stock vicissitudes, and the latest vacuous tweet from the White House, or even the latest uber autonomous car crash that will help us to achieve the needed perspective and perhaps one or two allies.


And only after we have pried the hands of money and status from the levers of power, dependent as they are and always will be on the “immediate fix” that accompanies and supports their latest “high” (including those highs generated by ‘herbal tea and cookies) and put those levers into the hands of those whose interests and visions stretch far beyond the next election and the next headline and the next “jewel in my crown” might we be able to see hints of a collaborative and a shared and a liveable future, whether some deploy the thinking of the ‘carbon law’ or other equally adaptable constructs that emulate those of our first nations whose reverence for all of nature is and will always be central to our survival.


*Moore’s Law, based on an observation by Intel’s Gordon Moore in 1965 that noted the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention. Moore's law predicts that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future.

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