Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Climate change - where's the incentive?

I regularly read the articles posted on the Lib Dem voice, normally a day behind (thanks to the useful email function).  I agree with the vast majority of articles (at least the thrust of their sentiment) but even those I don't I find myself empathising with, however one posted yesterday I found totally ludicrous.  This was a post on climate change (can be found here).  The author's main points to combat climate change are:
  • Everyone should become a vegetarian
  • Give up air travel
  • Stop overseas tourism and trade.
Now I am not worried about global warming/climate change, I for one have great faith in mankind's ability to innovate.  Case in point at the start of the 20th century major towns in the developed world were struggling to cope with the pollution from their transport, although manure was useful it was being created in such abundance that it was causing real problems. The environmentally friendly solution was of course the motor vehicle.  

At the same time I am not saying that pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from whatever method is good for the atmosphere, far from it but at the same time the suggestions made by the author are just not feasible.  People react to incentives, there is no personal incentive for them to make these changes.  At the same time with the developing world currently consuming massive amounts of fossil fuels any change in consumption in the West is likely to have minimal effect in the grand scheme of things.  We definitely can't preach to them to cut their emissions when we've had years of prosperity as they've suffered.

The only way I can see for improvement is to incentivise firms to produce more environmentally friendly vehicles and other technology.  There is a chicken and egg problem with either electronic or hydrogen cars (people won't buy them til they are sure they can fuel them and they wont be able to fuel them until lots of people are buying them) which is why I feel that the government needs to put serious consideration into the future transport of our nation and then when the money is more available to make major investments into the required infrastructure.  I realise that hydrogen cells are impractibly expensive, so why are these not just developed for aviation?  These are not measures that the public can take but they will need the Government to take the lead. 

My overall feeling is that we should be looking at better technology, because we should always be looking to innovate, it's what makes the human race different.  But at the same time if we don't come up with alternatives I still fancy that we will be able to perform some kind of geoengineering that will cool the planet, possibly as described in Superfreakonomics regarding .  I don't think it is feasible to try and convince the entire population of the world to change their behaviours, or even that this is cost effective as we may have already missed the boat.  At the same time many changes can be made by individuals that help cut their emmissions ("carbon footprint") and also work out cheaper - these can be implemented, but for the changes to have wide scale effects it needs emphasising how the individual benefits.  I know that I sound selfish but for every Ned Flanders there are plenty of Homer Simpsons, one who cares about others plenty who don't.

One more claim by the author is that we wont be able to feed the possible massive increase in people during the next century.  This has been a common cry throughout the centurys, whilst I again admit that it may get harder I still think productivity, technology and science will improve and as we always do the human race will develop to meet our needs.  

Call me nieve, call me stupid, but the human race is one thing that I have faith in.

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