Why The COP 21 Meeting In Paris Will Not Solve The Problem
By David Anderson
21 November, 2015
Life or death questions are now facing human civilization.
In an attempt to find answers let us take an unusual route by beginning with a short story published in the year 1839 by the American author, Edgar Allen Poe, under the title; “The Fall of the House of Usher.” It depicts a tale of the end of a dynasty; in this case that of the House of Usher.
The story is also about physical, biological and mental decay; as expressed both in a worn and crumbling Castle and the lives of those inside. It ends with the last male survivor, Roderick Usher, succumbing to death in a struggle with the “grim phantasm, FEAR” as he is forced to “abandon life and reason together.” After his death, his friend – and the narrator, flees across a bridge over a tarn separating the castle from the open land around it. Looking back, the friend observes a crack in the castle wall open to the point where the entire castle then caves in upon itself. The story ends with the words: “my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder.”
This tale brings to the fore questions we should all be asking about our planet and ourselves: Is Poe’s description of that castle a metaphor for the state of Planet Earth today? Is our castle – as Roderick Usher’s was, about to crash down upon us? And are we as a society any different from the character in Poe’s story who found himself defenseless; overcome by the “grim phantasm, FEAR”?
To answer these questions, we must take a long hard look at the underlying cause of our own planetary as well as socio-economic dysfunction. We need to understand the similarities between Poe’s Usher story and our own story.
To begin, we need to go back to the beginning of our Industrial Revolution. There we will find the material cause of our problem, the widening crack in our wall. We need to examine the validity of the capital market system that grew out of that revolution. We are that system, that system is us. It is a system that we have accepted as having socially inherent value. In many ways it has become our religious belief system.
Something has gone terribly wrong with that system. The architecture that grew out of the Industrial Revolution on which free and open capital markets today justify their value to society and find their “raison d’etre" is shaking under its own weight. It is about to bring humanity down with it.
All around us are signs of its failure; from the unbridled exploitation of the toxic tar sands in Canada, to the despoiling of the earth by way of open-pit mining, to the increasing CO2 in the biosphere, to the acidification and pollution of the oceans, to the rapid extinguishment of many forms of life on the planet. And the failure extends well beyond these few observations. Planet earth is telling us something. It is pointing to its rejection of our capital market economic system in its present form.
In the beginning of the industrial revolution capital markets were too small to make much of a difference. Their unfettered operation helped bring material prosperity to the world. Now they have grown to a size where they are energizing ecologically and socially destructive forces of a magnitude that has never before been seen in the history of the planet. As a result, resource allocation is being misguided and misappropriated on a massive scale. Irreparable planetary damage is being done. Fingers can be pointed in many directions for this; human greed, political dysfunction, just plain stupidity, however, the rules under which capital markets have been operating since they took form must take primary blame
Humanity is crying out for an entirely new form of economic/monetary theory. Social/political/Religious theory must necessarily be a part. A response is coming from some enlightened intellectuals in the world community; however, there is at present no universal consensus, nor are there long term solutions at hand.
How much time do we have to come up with a revised system? Our species remains in a mental gridlock. Some highly accredited physical scientists say our present trajectory of biosphere destruction will present very serious planetary problems within the next fifty years and they even point to the end of our species after three hundred.
We need to recognize that unless we can change the way we price what we desire to consume, the crack in our wall will continue to widen and the day will come when the wall will fall. Pricing carbon to reflect negative external cost can be a first step.
The forthcoming Paris agreements notwithstanding, wherever one looks there is nothing on the drawing board that will eliminate carbon as the primary source of energy world-wide. Pledges given at prior meetings have not been sufficient to guarantee that CO2 will be held at 400 ppm. There is no guarantee other agreements will hold. The 500 ppm threshold is now a certainty.
A growing sense of unease about CO2 emissions is, however, building throughout the world. Very large numbers of individuals, “scientific” and “nonscientific,” are coming to the realization that global action to avert the inevitability of irreversible change in planetary temperatures must be taken. Many are coming to the conclusion that we will soon pass a threshold beyond which accelerated global warming will become irreversible. Sparked by this awareness; there is the realization that within the next decade, unless immediate and drastic action is taken, human civilization will soon be facing very hard choices.
Country-by-country it is becoming clear that “adaptation” arising out of separate limitation agreements is too weak an idea. Holding average global temperature levels to 2 C (3.6 F) above pre-industrial levels under such agreements is seen as unrealistic. Science based observations are pointing to the conclusion that without an immediate change in energy sourcing we are heading for a rise beyond that 2 C marker to about 5 C. (9 F) At that level parts of the planet will become uninhabitable for humans. Also; at that level uncontrollable Methane gas will be released.
The result: Ocean rises before the end of this century will displace a quarter or more of the world’s population, with the first to suffer being the hundreds of millions who now live within three feet of sea level. At the same time, many of the world’s major cities will be inundated.
Throughout the planet this spells a grim future for Homo sapiens as well as many other life forms. Massive starvation leading to uncontrollable migration pressure will occur. Societal disruption – as we now see in the Middle East today – will be leading to global military conflict of immeasurable proportion.
For the billions at the bottom of the pyramid, incomprehension of this future can be excused. In the case of the Middle East, Africa and many other parts of the planet, it is compounded by low education levels, religious belief (comfort by way of Deity) and exponential population growth arising from the tradition of large family size. There is an irony here. Their progeny will be the first to suffer.
This incomprehension also extends into the upper levels of world society. For these individuals there is no excuse. Many are associated with the carbon industry - at all levels of involvement. Individually these carbon beneficiaries are responsible for the endangerment of all life forms on the planet. This also extends to many of the “privileged” at the top of the world economic pyramid. With their private jets and yachts and mountain and ocean-side homes, life is too good to care.
There is, however, some good news. A methodology that could become a final solution – being vociferously resisted by most of the above, is now beginning to elicit world attention and response.
By factoring negative external cost into every originating carbon based energy related trade both domestically and internationally; over a ten year period carbon would be eliminated as a world-wide energy source. This could be accomplished within the established framework of the world capital market carbon trading system. It is the only way that buyers can be made to recognize the actual external cost of what that they are purchasing and consuming.
This approach is congruent with the functioning of our existing capital market system. We need not do away with this system (As Communism attempted to do); rather, we can take advantage of it by placing it under our control. By factoring negative external cost into every originating carbon-based energy related trade, the greater built-in cost would become a part of the cost of production up and down the line and add to final price. (No national internal subsidies allowed)
Given the fact that carbon in its various forms is today traded on a world-wide basis, this can be accomplished nation by nation through an international body similar the ones that have formed since the end of World War II.
As noted above, powerful groups are preventing this from happening. In opposition is the political power of the carbon industry and those industries feeding off of that industry. After all, firms such as Exxon, BP and Halliburton will be severely affected; individuals like the Kotch brothers and the Saudi Princes too. Many oil rich nations will collapse; Russia for one. Texas oil wells will stop operation. Fracking will cease.
Revenues based on negative external cost can be used to meet present and future global needs arising from the planetary damage being done. Also, they can be used to assist nations in making economic/social adjustments. Immediate examples are a number of Island civilizations in the Pacific being inundated – populations will have to be resettled - and many countries in the Middle East now dependent on oil revenues to sustain their population by way of food imports. Given the fact that we have already reached the 400 ppm break point and are headed for 500 ppm, these future costs will be staggering. Funding must begin now.
This pricing methodology will force markets throughout the world to turn to carbon free sources of energy. As they adjust, high carbon input products will leave the market and be replaced by products with low or no carbon input. Other carbon free technologies will then become competitive.
Countries that do not join in by taxing internal carbon production should have their exports to compliant countries taxed by way of import duties in recognition of unmet negative external cost. Internationally algorithmic agreed upon formulae established by compliant countries can serve this purpose.
Before us is the most serious threat humans have ever faced. In terms of planetary and human pain and suffering it has the equivalency of a large scale atomic war. A body constituted like the UN or World Bank must come forward. There is no time to waste. The initiative has to be global. Military muscle may have to be employed or at least threatened against those nations that conspire to avoid the system.
The future of human civilizational is at stake. Carbon pricing on a level here described can be the first step in implementing changes in our capital market system built on a reconstituted human civilizational ethic that recognizes negative externalities throughout the marketplace.
For over one million years before the present age we were nurtured and sustained by our planet. We now find ourselves outside of this million plus year interdependency with nowhere to go.
Whatever meaning we as human beings are to have in the cosmos over time is now being tested. This capital market change is a way to begin to extricate ourselves from our dilemma and to transition our society into the New Age to come.
David Anderson brings together a wide range of interests in his writings, namely; theology, history, evolutionary anthropology, philosophy, geopolitics, and economics.
He has written three books. A fourth titled “Our Planetary Challenge - Moving Beyond a Fast Approaching Critical Fork in Our Evolutionary Road” is near completion. (see http://www.inquiryabraham.com/new-book.html ) It is about a necessary geo political, social, religious, economic paradigm shift for human survival.
David is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Hawaii (Harvard Asia Pacific) Advanced Management Program. Over a thirty year career he was an international risk manager and senior executive at several of America's premier multinational institutions.
Sources available on request Lesprit351@AOL.com