Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On

The United Nations Climate Change Conference at Durban ended with some self congratulations; “we have made history” claimed Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, and she may have been right but perhaps not in the sense that she meant it, which was that the conference had saved “one planet for the future of our children and our grandchildren”.

In essence there has been an agreement to agree at some future stage, probably 20120, on emission reductions and curbs.

Now every law student is taught that an agreement to agree is no agreement at all – simply a statement of hopes and dreams, and while there is nothing wrong in hoping an dreaming that humanity will curb its greenhouse gas emissions and restrict global warming to no more than the infamous two degrees, unfortunately what the planet actually needs now is action, and not the stuff that dreams are made of. Perhaps the planet needs less of us because “we are such stuff as dreams are made on” and the dream of a future is rapidly turning into a nightmare.

The problem is that delay after delay is going to do nothing to solve the problem. Each year the accumulation of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere increases and that in turn effects three major factors which will make climate change happen faster.

The first is that warming will melt more of the tundra and taiga in the northern hemisphere and in the Arctic region which will release methane, an assiduous greenhouse gas, trapped in the permafrost and at the sea bed.

The second is that as the planet warms the great jungles of the equatorial region will decline and be able to sequestrate less carbon dioxide than they do now.

The third factor is a sociological one; the later we bring into effect climate change measures the more our economies and our behaviour will find it harder to adapt to those necessary measures that will restrict greenhouse gas emissions, such as using more clean renewable energy, less fossil fuel and wood burning, and introducing sensible but potentially controversial actions like restricting the engine size and emissions of motor vehicles. The later an agreement is reached the more likely that nations will postpone necessary emission reducing measures; there are emerging some notable exceptions to nations that are going ahead with emission reduction notwithstanding the lack of international agreement. These nations include Scotland and China, each of which is doing more than a fair treaty would require of them.

Two factors which no politician and no climate change conference has ever addressed, and will be unlikely ever to address in the next few years, is the need to curb economic growth and population growth. Economic growth is now considered the panacea for our economic woes. It is not; it is potentially a cancer which can kill our planet as it gets out of control. Population growth is another great danger to our survival and that is a fact of mathematics, not ideology.

If emission curbs on a large scale are impossible to agree upon, then it now becomes the duty of every inhabitant to effect emission reduction in his or her own life. It is not going to be easy or comfortable, but the alternative is worst.


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  1. […] Solar Energy FactsRobert Kyriakides’s Weblog […]

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