Eaarth by Bill McKibben
Yes, we’ve foreclosed lots of options; as the founder of the Club of Rome put it, “The future is no longer what it was thought to be, or what it might have been if humans had known how to use their brains and their opportunities more effectively"
In 2006, British home secretary John Reid publicly fingered global warming as a driving force behind the genocide in Darfur, arguing that environmental changes “make the emergence of violent conflict more rather than less likely. The blunt truth is that the lack of water and agricultural land is a significant contributory factor to the tragic conflict we see unfolding in Darfur. We should see this as a warning sign
So the obvious replacement for Plan A—for the now vain hope that the rest of the world can emulate us and messily grow its way into lives of relative comfort and security—is a Plan B, a grand bargain where the global North decides to share with the global South. And in return the South agrees to develop on a different, cleaner path. This has been the subtext of global climate talks since the very start, back in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Reduced to the simplest terms, the deal goes like this: You give us enough windmills, and we won’t burn our coal. You rebuild our factories so they’re efficient, and we won’t burn our coal. You come up with some other attractive ways to lift us out of poverty, and we won’t burn our coal.
“The fact is, they’re not particularly disposed to experiments that, they fear, will close off the only routes to progress they’ve ever had,” they say. In essence, poor countries would be required to sacrifice Plan A—the plan we’ve sold them on for decades, the Washington Consensus idea that they would get rich the same way we did.
So let’s try to think how the new planet looks to someone living that kind of life. On the one hand, you probably realize that the weather is changing, and that it’s causing real problems. On the other hand, you’re very poor and eager for some small part of the comfort the rest of the world takes for granted.
As the New York Times wrote at the time, “The poverty expressed in the World Bank’s measure is so abject that it is hard for citizens of the industrial world to comprehend.” (Indeed, a person living at the poverty line would be seventy-five cents short if he tried to buy a copy of the New York Times.)
But in the rich world we still have some margin; record rains in my town may wash out the road, but record rains in Mozambique not long ago washed out huge quantities of land mines that had been planted in nearby fields during the country’s recent brutal wars. People swam into fields and died. To make matters worse, as one local official explained, “the government had spent thousands of dollars mapping the minefields just before the rains started last month. We had everything under control but they’re all shifted now and some are even washing up on local beaches around the lake. Farmers are terrified to plough their fields again because they don’t know what is under the silt
“In effect, parts of developed countries would experience developing nation conditions for prolonged periods as a result of natural catastrophes and increasing vulnerability due to the abbreviated return times of extreme events.”
In early 2009, just as Obama was getting set to unveil his energy plans, word came that 2,340 lobbyists had registered to work on climate change on Capitol Hill (that’s about six per congressman), 85 percent of them devoted to slowing down progress.
“The historical verdict is unassailable,” writes Smil. “Because of the requisite technical and infrastructural imperatives and because of numerous (and often entirely unforeseen) socio-economic adjustments, energy transitions in large economies on a global scale are inherently protracted affairs.”
As Larry Summers, now President Obama’s chief economic adviser, put it while he was still Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary: we “cannot and will not accept any ‘speed limit’ on American economic growth. It is the task of economic policy to grow the economy as rapidly, sustainably, and inclusively as possible.”
And Arnold at the United Nations: “We hold the future in our hands. Together we must ensure that our grandchildren will not have to ask why we failed to do the right thing, and let them suffer the consequences.”
Here’s his opponent, John McCain, a few months later: “We and the other nations of the world must get serious about substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years or we will hand off a much-diminished world to our grandchildren
July 2009, Oxfam released an epic report, “Suffering the Science,” which concluded that even if we now adapted “the smartest possible curbs” on carbon emissions, “the prospects are very bleak for hundreds of millions of people, most of them among the world’s poorest.”