December 12, 2011

Durban's Anti-Climactic Changes

The climate conference at Durban, South Africa, has produced yet another series of glowing press releases, bursting with the rhetoric of solemn commitments to get all over this climate change thing ... but not right now. South Africa’s foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the chairman of the conference, declared: “We have saved Planet Earth for the future of our children and our great grandchildren to come." In reality, the United States, China, and India agreed to agree on a treaty that would be implemented no earlier than 2020. Until then, efforts to reduce carbon emissions would continue to be voluntary.

All this unfolded against a backdrop of increasingly dire warnings from scientists. Preventing a two degree Centigrade increase in average global temperatures has always been seen as essential to avoiding damaging climate change. If you believe the scientists, that ship has pretty much sailed if the best we can do is business as usual. Putting off binding limits for another eight years is a flawed policy given that time is most defintely not on our side.

Consider that the only reason we have made any headway on reducing emissions is because of the global recession that has cut demand for manufactured goods and cut down on people's driving to work because they have no jobs to drive to. Now listen to the political rhetoric. "Jobs, jobs, jobs." "Exports, exports, exports." "It's the economy, stupid." The fervent dream of every politician on the planet is to restart the engine of perpetual growth, an engine that runs on fossil fuels. How long do you think the politicians will stick to the promises they made at Durban if they have a real chance to improve their gross domestic product by half a point and it requires pumping more carbon emissions into the atmosphere?

So the idea that we have "saved Planet Earth" may be just a tad premature. Truth be told, Planet Earth doesn't need saving. It can fend for itself quite nicely, thank you. We the people are the ones who need saving ... mostly from ourselves.

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