Climate Do-Gooders?

The best strategy to deal with climate change is to make the rest of the world as rich as New York, argues Bjoern Lomborg, the Danish political scientist and author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist". In his opinion, what we need to do is to ensure that people elsewhere can afford things like shoring up their coastlines and buying air conditioners.

In a September 11 article entitled "'Feel Good' vs. 'Do Good' on Climate" for The New York Times, columnist John Tierney, accompanied by Dr. Lomborg, took readers on a walk to "an old wooden building near the Brooklyn Bridge that is home to the Bridge Café" on Water Street, so named because it once stood next to the water along the shore of Lower Manhattan.

While the point of this article would appear to be that New York has done a good job of keeping the water away from the city "Dr. Lomborg and I had to walk over two-and-a-half blocks of landfill to reach the current shoreline," he says Tierney's actual point, after further reading, is that New York is protected from the effects of climate change, including the rising water levels, because it is a rich city, and America a rich country.Lomborg argues that ''[w]ealth is a more important factor than sea-level rise in protecting you from the sea. You can draw maps showing 100 million people flooded out of their homes from global warming, but look at what's happened here in New York".

Hurricane Katrina showed New Orleans and the surrounding area, as well as the rest of the world, that simply shoring up coastlines is not effective. Far more effective is the movement of populations away from areas at risk and using the tools that nature gave us to mitigate and avoid flooding, such as mangroves.

As for air conditioners, they are a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, drawing mainly on coal-based electricity supplies, especially in the rich US and no-so-rich China (not to mention the coolant emissions that destroy the ozone layer).

So what good is it to make populations richer if the products they use are increasing GHG emissions, and thereby climate change, and their lifestyle choices put them in the way of the consequences? Just because the US is rich doesn't mean that it can effectively combat the consequences with its money alone.

Dr. Lomborg, "dismisses the Kyoto emissions cuts as a 'feel-good' strategy because it sounds virtuous and lets politicians make promises they don't have to keep". But if everyone were to play their part, from individuals, to companies, to multinationals, to governments, the world could move from "feel good" to "do good".

Cadbury Schweppes, for example, has set a high bar for GHG emissions by promising 50% absolute carbon reductions, a 30% minimum of which must come from in-house actions. They are also set to reduce packaging used per ton of product by 10% and use 60% that is biodegradable. Suez, on the other hand, has converted a Belgian coal-fired powerplant to one firing biomass to reduce its GHG emissions. Alcoa is building a smelter in Iceland that uses hydroelectric power to run, creating zero GHG emissions.

The list of companies, both small and large, making an effort is long, regardless of the government policies they are coming up against. For example, The United States Climate Action Partnership, "a group of businesses and leading environmental organizations," is calling on the federal government to put into place national legislation requiring significant GHG reductions.

But the most of the 33 companies that have signed up are not stopping there. They want regulatory frameworks, but at the same time they are implementing their own GHG reduction programs. The fact is that by coming together into the partnership, they will have a greater impact, both on getting the government to move and on working together to find sustainable solutions.

Massachusetts and Florida have also implemented GHG reduction programs, as has Mexico. This points the way for other states, regions, and yes, countries, to try their hand, join the groups already pioneering solutions and learn from their work while providing their own solutions to the greater pot of ideas.

The WBCSD, the Geneva-based, leading business organization on sustainable development, has published "Policy Directions to 2050: A business contribution to the dialogues on cooperative action", detailing the WBCSD's views on the need to build future frameworks, develop and deploy technology, manage emissions at all levels and build a sustainable market-based system to help countries and sectors reach their GHG emissions objectives.

WBCSD President Bjorn Stigson sees the coming together of business to push governments into action as a positive step. With these initiatives, perhaps we will finally see governments "mustering up the political will to take the steps needed to establish a truly global and long-term approach on climate change," he said.

Via:: New York Times as reference and, editorially, the World Business Council For Sustainable Development. Image credit::Bridge Street Cafe On Water Street at night, Time Out

Tags: New York City