In Search Of A Green Economic Stimulus
By Stephen Leahy
17 March, 2009
Inter Press Service
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Mar 16 (IPS) - The high-level scientific climate conference that concluded last week in Copenhagen warned that humanity is rapidly approaching an irreversible, 1,000-year-long climate catastrophe.
The good news is that this dark future has an escape hatch: make major and immediate reductions in carbon emissions.
However, climate change activists worry that instead, trillions of dollars, endless hours of media coverage and all of policy-makers' attention are being devoted to the economic crisis. That's a bit like trying to get a clearer channel on the radio as your car is about to slam full speed into a bridge abutment, they say.
And while the current economic crisis affects tens of millions of people, the economic system has long been nothing but a "global Ponzi scheme," as Paul Reitan, a geologist and climate expert at the University of Buffalo, commented recently.
This system, rooted in the concept of never-ending growth, was always guaranteed to collapse because humanity is living off Earth's limited capital - natural resources and services provided by healthy ecosystems.
"Let's be practical, we live on 'Lifeboat Earth'" and need to base our values, norms and institutions on this reality, asserts Reitan.
Acknowledging that reality, and the reality of the approaching climate catastrophe, are essential to averting a very, very bleak future, experts say. However, that acknowledgement is slow in coming - particularly from political leaders and policy makers.
Politicians have failed to comprehend the severe consequences of failing to cut world carbon emissions, Nicholas Stern, the former chief economist at the World Bank, said during last week's Copenhagen climate summit involving more than 2,500 climate experts from 80 countries.
Stern, the author of the 2006 "Stern Review", the first comprehensive economic analysis of the potential costs of climate change, says his review dramatically underestimated the costs and the risks of inaction.
"Do the politicians understand just how difficult it could be? Just how devastating four, five, six degrees centigrade would be? I think not yet," Stern said in his address.
John Ashton, special representative for climate change at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, echoed Stern at the meeting, saying: "If politicians and policymakers do not try to deal with the world to which science is the only reliable guide ... they will take bad decisions, and in the case of climate change, catastrophic decisions."
And yet the global recession offers a golden moment to create an ecological economy where preserving the integrity and health of ecosystems, such as the climate system, comes first and to redesign the economy so that it fits within this.
Aside from averting climate catastrophe, the redesign has much to offer. The very strictest carbon reduction targets will boost employment, spark innovation and boost revenues, concludes a new study by the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research, affiliated with the University of Cambridge.
Hard reduction targets that push carbon emissions at least 25 percent lower than they were in 1990 by the year 2020 - as recommended by U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - will speed up the distribution of low-carbon technologies, while increasing government revenues from taxes and permit sales. The money could be used to pay for new technologies and to lower other indirect taxes, "ensuring the fiscal neutrality of these measures," said Terry Barker, the Cambridge centre's director in a statement.
Barker believes that a truly green economic stimulus will also generate funds for helping developing countries adapt to the new conditions that are inevitably on the way.
"This 'New Marshall Plan' for the climate would be beneficial for all parties," he said.
Barker sees U.S. President Barack Obama's 'Green New Deal', which sets aside 60 billion dollars for renewable energy, technology research and a massive energy efficiency programme, as the start of this new Marshall Plan.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon agrees, and after a recent meeting with Obama said they were of the same opinion that ‘green’ investments are an essential part of any economic stimulus package: "If we are going to spend such tremendous sums of money, let us be smart about it."
But there are powerful interests allied against being "smart" and redirecting civilisation from the brink. In the U.S., these interests include the fossil fuel industry, the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, which are spending millions to lobby U.S. policy-makers to prevent significant action on climate.
A recent analysis by the Centre for Public Integrity estimates such efforts topped 90 million dollars in 2008. Now that Obama is in the White House, working to delay climate action has become the new big moneymaker for Washington lobbyists.
Most advocates and observers agree that it will take extraordinary acts of political will, likely triggered by massive public civil disobedience far beyond anything ever seen, to take smart, practical and realistic action on climate.
Copyright © 2009 IPS-Inter Press Service.