If global warming were an election, we’d all be nodding sagely and pontificating, “People vote their pocketbooks. That’s what everyone cares about.”
Money tends to reduce all arguments to the basics; either you’ve got enough, or you haven’t. What happens, then, when climate change is found to be a pocketbook issue? To what degree can we expect people to understand that the origins of everything in the known universe are also the origins of our economy? It’s only logical that when the universe ceases to provide us with the materials needed to live a sustainable life, the jig, quite simply, is up.
An inability to care for the forests, oceans, and our fellow creatures can only wind up being an incapacity to care for ourselves.
Lest there be any doubt, let’s state for the record that whether we pay now or we pay later, addressing global warming is going to cost many truckloads of folding money. Less if we begin to address it now, more if we wait until things get very unpleasant. For those of you who like things short and sweet, there it is. Our badly broken, overspent economy is in no condition to deal with a world that’s hemorrhaging greenhouse gases.
Anyone who likes a few facts with their sweeping generalizations, please continue reading.
Just the facts, ma’am
This is where a report just released by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature comes into play.
Scientists that sit on the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission have authored a review of the current scientific literature. Published in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed journal Science, their conclusion – that there can be no economy or, for that matter, human well-being, without nature – has far-reaching ramifications. For while deforestation, agricultural expansion, and escalating greenhouse gas emissions are all nails in humanity’s coffin, the coffin itself is our growth-oriented economic system.
We take and we take, with no thought to the future. Just as hunters once thought that American skies darkened by flocks of millions of passenger pigeons would always provide them with a living, greedy corporate and individual citizens see the mining of Canada’s tar sands – for example – as merely the next logical step. In fact, it’s the beginning of the end for our fossil-fuel driven economy.
And it’s a way of living that lacks a strategic vision for both near term and long term survival.
One-fifth of all animals are threatened with extinction, according to the Commission’s report. Six million animals. A look backward reveals that vertebrates have declined in abundance by one-third over the past 30 years. At a meeting just held in Nagoya, Japan which was attended by signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity*, World Bank President Robert Zoellick acknowledged that, “Biodiversity is not an add-on. Preserving ecosystems and saving species are not luxuries for the rich.”
Takes centuries to build, seconds to fall
What are biodiversity and ecosystems? They’re an abundance of species with places for them to thrive. When life exists in harmony with its environment, we know that the environment cannot possibly be toxic, despoiled, or used up. Life lived in balance with what nature provides, without a need for artificial inputs, is the sine qua non that all is as it should be.
That balance can be maintained so long as we take only what we need, not what we want.
Abundance and redundancy, signs of a healthy ecosystem, allow for the removal of some of what nature provides. All living things are the beneficiaries of this exquisite system. But going beyond a balanced survival, and taking for the satisfaction of pure greed – as only human beings do – leads to the current imbalanced situation we find ourselves in.
Paul Leadley, of the University Paris-Sud in France, led the Species Survival Commission’s study. He and the 22 members of the Commission maintain that a part of the solution to cooling the planet must include the restoration of forests and grasslands.
Speaking on behalf of the members of the Commission, Leadley added that a carbon tax is essential to effectively cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Taxes, you say? Remember the old saying: what goes around, comes around. Not only does climate change affect the economy, but the economy can help to mitigate climate change.
Carbon taxes would constitute one small part of a new, sustainable economy.
Lester Brown describes this new economy in his book, Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. It’s a complex subject, but we can make a start in understanding it if we take the words reduce, reuse, and recycle seriously. Those three words pretty much tell the whole story. They represent ideas which must be incorporated into every facet of life, in personal life, corporate life, and in our representative government. From now on, everything from paper napkins to steel beams will enjoy a continued existence – though in a somewhat altered form!
The study concludes that time is of the essence. Waiting to act is no longer an option. Effective, enforceable policies could make all the difference, which is why the Commission proposes the formation of a UN panel called the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. It would be the responsibility of IPBES members to advise government heads with a, “unified, authoritative voice,” says Commission member Henrique Pereira of the Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal. Perhaps if presidents and prime ministers could say, “The IPBES made me do it,” they’d have the cover they need to do the right thing.
*I should mention that the United States is not a CBD signatory nation.
Brown, Lester R. (2009). Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.
Leahy, Stephen. (2010). Runaway Global Economy Decimating Nature –World Bank Offers a Solution.
Leahy, Stephen. (2010) Tackling Climate Change Only Way to Halt Species Extinction Crisis and Declines.
Pereira, Henrique M., et. al. (2010). Scenarios for Global Diversity in the 21st Century.