Open Future NZ  

No region anywhere in the world is decarbonizing it's energy supply in a serious manner. The future is closed if we can't solve this problem.

Sending Ourselves the Wrong Signals by John S Veitch

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Open Future believes that the breakdown of the financial system we saw in 2009, was related to the obvious global warming that is occurring and to our failure to find an easy solution. Our faulty financial data gives us completely wrong signals about what we should do.

All of our leading traditional industries are part of the problem. Accounting systems simply ignore the externalised costs of business activities. The term "externalised" means that the firm has no obligation to meet those costs, so from a production point of view they don't exist. The "signal" to change will never come from data that doesn't exist.

Hence we've set up a system which chooses not to use knowledge that would help us adapt. We prefer "not to know" even if somewhere in our consciousness we do "know" and suspect the result of "knowing" more precisely might be costly. Failures of this kind prevent adaptation when it should occur and lead to greater long term problems.

Survival Options
Our survival as a species depends on how we care the planet. Pavan Sukhdev of Deursche Bank, an economist specializing in ecosystems claims that deforestation around the world destroys natural capital of between $2 trillion and $5 trillion every year for a fraction of that in forest products. This loss of capital stock is completely ignored in the way we "account" for our activities. If we use resources faster than they re-develop and we choose to ignore the cost because "its free". At some future time nature will send us an unwelcome message.

Captured Governments fail to Govern
This 2009 depression gives us a real chance to rethink what we are doing. Herman E. Daly has lots of interesting ideas in his proposal for Steady State Economics. We have strong evidence that governments will NEVER act to restrict the destructive economic activities of commercial interests. They act too late and with limp intentions. Take the fishing industry as an example. In the North Sea and on the West Coast of the USA, repeated warnings about over-fishing were not sufficiently heeded and eventually the fish stocks collapsed. The European Union having failed to control it's fleet at home now sends them to West Africa. The result is the same. The fish catch off the coast of Senegal was 95000 tones in 1994 and only 45,000 tones in 2005. Over the same period the number of fishing boats from Senegal halved, and the amount of fish in the diet of Senegalese people has also declined.

Taking the Medicine
When people are told what they need to do to reverse climate change they normally say; "It won't happen" They plead that no government would be able to bring in such strong restrictions on the way people live and survive after the next election. So, atmospheric pollution will continue, the Greenland ice sheet is likely to melt, sea levels will rise, water stress will increase, and global food supplies will fall. Millions of people will die and that will be "politically acceptable". We will call that an act of nature, and excuse ourselves. History shows that we'll choose ignorance. We choose not to see what we are doing.

The Kyoto Protocol is a failure. The National Academy of Sciences finds that; "No region on earth is decarbonizing its energy supply" as the Kyoto Protocol intended. No government anywhere in the world has made a serious attempt to do what's essential. Until the public FORCE them to act no government will.

In my own view, only strong democratic countries with informed citizens are capable of FORCING decarbonizing policies into law.

Measuring Natural Services
Prof. Robert Costanza of the University of Vermont, believes that the 2009 financial crisis is an opportunity to put the economy right. The natural world he says, "is not free" and we have to introduce the concept of natural capital into our balance sheets and to our profit and loss assessments. Robert Costanza gave his estimate of the annual value of natural services as $33 trillion. This is about TWICE the GNP of all the countries in the world. Whatever the amount, the fact that the current practice is to value those services at ZERO is clearly wrong, and leads us to make errors of judgment whenever we make decisions based on financial data.

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