Friday, November 16, 2012

Hurricane Sandy--Gives Cause for Reflection

Aerial view of some of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy along the New Jersey coast (Photo source: Rollins).
In the recent aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Roberto Mendoza González attempts to show the idiocy of the world's current economic course and a more rational course which embraces a broad reality rather than ignoring it. One way forward in dealing with global warming is for the electorate in different countries to not vote for candidates and parties which deny global warming or propose ineffective market mechanisms to deal with global warming. Instead the electorates vote for candidates and parties who support a holistic, bi-centric approach to humanity and the environment, which is based on systematic interdependence.

Climate Change: A Reflection

Some authors internationally renowned suggest that climate change (CC) is probably the most serious global environmental problem facing humanity. Additionally, they argue that the main perpetrators of this environmental phenomenon are Europe and North America, due to their industrialization in the eighteenth century and the impact that this entailed.

Despite increases in global temperatures since 1900 (0.7 ° C) and considering that the nineties was the warmest in history, there are skeptics who argue that the (CC) is not a global emergency. This follows from the analysis by Nigel Lawson, who based on measurements of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC for its acronym in English) argues that there has been no increase in global temperatures since 1998. Further, he suggests that there are different sources of variation with respect to climate, such as solar radiation, volcanic activity and even natural cycles of increase or decrease in the Earth's temperature. Finally, none of the high-impact tropical cyclones could be specifically attributed to (CC).

However, there are several considerations that must be contemplated before we assert whether or not the (CC) is the cause of global warming. First of all, it is timely to note that the (CC) is the greenhouse gases which are associated with economic activities. 57% of emissions result from fossil fuels and 30% of deforestation. The economic model that has prevailed in recent centuries, coupled with consumer values ​​that permeate our society, make natural resources commodities (commodity) which have only exchange value and no value per se (or intrinsic value). In large part, this has been the result of an anthropocentric approach that emphasizes human needs without considering the environment around us.

However, there are alternatives that could change this type of behavior pattern that degrade the environment and threaten our very viability. First of all, we must re-conceptualize our relationship with nature, recognizing that it has limits and that we depend on its available resources. Switching from an anthropocentric model to a bio-centric one where we assume that there is a systemic interdependence would help reduce the devastation and damage that prevails.

In addition, a holistic approach in which we restore ancient worldviews of oneness with the earth, creating a bio-empathy is a sine qua non of a new sustainable approach. What is sought is an ethical code of conduct based on the intrinsic value of nature, to develop an ethos of environmental consciousness that allows the restoration of natural processes of regeneration and carbon uptake.

However, public policy paradigms prioritize economics over other factors. This is very clear in the measures taken to stop or reduce global emissions. It aims to address the market with market mechanisms, which seems somewhat paradoxical, since it would be like attacking fire with a box of matches. One measure that has underpinned global carbon market is that each country has certain amounts of emissions that can be discharged into the environment. It is noteworthy that to exceed the limits of a mechanism of carbon sale, which allows rich countries (high emitters) to acquire shares of emissions of poor countries (small emitters), would make the phenomenon of climate change bleak scenario in the future. If the free market dogma assume that supply and demand and an invisible hand will regulate overall carbon emissions, we are then doomed to watch as the (CC) induced by man become an externality that will not be corrected either by institutions, or the market.

There are two positions or views with respect to (CC).

One is the reform, which suggests that environmental problems can be combated without fundamental changes. Its antipode (UCR), presupposes radical changes in human-nature relations for sustainable social life. It is clear that without substantial changes, natural resources and the viability of future generations will be compromised. Only in the past three decades humanity has consumed a third of global terrestrial resources, 40% of the streams are no longer drinkable, 80% of the forests have been cut down, 75% of fish stocks have been depleted, in the Amazon trees are cut down two thousand trees per minute, and I could continue with the a long list of data. If we are to reverse these statistics it is essential to raise awareness among younger generations, forcing governments to underwrite larger agreements, recognize ourselves as part of nature and not owners of it, accept its limitations and above all create democratic mechanisms to curb the insatiable appetite for profit by large corporations and companies exploiting all resources irrationally.

If climate change is a reality or not is irrelevant. We should adhere to the precautionary principle which states categorically that "the absence of scientific certainty should not be used to postpone the prevention of environmental degradation." What kind of world would you want your children to live in a few years? A collective action effort could reverse the severe damage caused. Onus is on you, me and everyone.

By Roberto Mendoza González
Master in Public Policy and Governance (University of Sheffield) and Foundation for Democratic Advancement Research Associate.

Question for Readers:

How can the status quo and special interests of western governments be overcome, and thereby allow for true innovation and progress in public policy?


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