Time for a change of pace
There has been plenty of talk about climate change in the past couple of years. High-profile events like the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to a UN body and to former US vice president Al Gore for their efforts against global warming helped raise awareness of the issue.
But ignorance and scepticism still abound. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center, which specialises in sampling attitudes towards the press, politics and public policy, reveals that only 71 per cent of US citizens believe global warming actually exists. What is more puzzling still, this figure is down 6 per cent from a year ago.
Even where denial is less of an issue, as in the UK, there is a lack of urgency associated with the problem. In a grey northern European country, the term global warming can easily conjure up images of longer summers with balmy evenings.
If terminology is to reflect the scale of the challenge facing humans, we should start talking about “climate catastrophe”, as Richard Pike of the Royal Society of Chemistry has warned. He thinks there is a need to stop “dithering” and start preparing for the problems climate change will cause.
The trouble is that the worst effects of climate change tend to spare the worst emitters. “Roughly 75 per cent of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change are located in Africa, a continent that produces the least carbon dioxide emissions,” states a report by research firm Maplecroft.
Action to mitigate the effects of climate change as well as stem its causes has been increasing but is still inadequate. Despite contributing more than $400bn (€254bn) to green projects between 1990 and 2007, the World Bank is failing to ensure that goals and requirements are met, according to a recent report. Failures have been especially bad in sub-Saharan Africa, it adds.
The US, only recently surpassed by China as the world’s biggest CO2 emitter and still by far the largest per-capita contributor, ranks 12th in Maplecroft’s list of countries that are the least vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. It is easier to live in denial when you don’t get to face the consequences of a phenomenon in your everyday life.
Undeterred by his fellow countrymen’s tepid interest in the issue, Al Gore has urged the US to aim for carbon-free energy generation within ten years. Warning that the survival of his country “as we know it is at risk” and that “the future of human civilisation is at stake”, Mr Gore insists that this ambitious goal is “achievable and practical”. In a speech in Washington in mid-July he said businesses would embrace it once they saw it made economic sense.
On 16 July the European commission finally published its sustainable production and consumption policy package, which calls for a new approach to product design, manufacturing and use. Again, it aims to marry the criteria of environmental sustainability with the imperatives of economic success by spurring EU firms to be front-runners in the global move towards greener products.
A Necessary Revolution is what US author Peter Senge, a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, calls for in a recent book. He argues that dead-end business-as-usual tactics have run their course. “Transformational” strategies are essential to make the world a flourishing, sustainable place.
As he puts it, it is time for governments and companies to work together “to implement revolutionary, not just incremental, changes in the way we live and work”.
Nadia Weekes, editor