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Ending Climate Change and Other Frivolous Pursuits

Posted on: Friday, December 12, 2008

Keywords: Environmental Justice, Climate Change

The refrain coming from world leaders at this year’s climate change negotiations, which wrapped up today in Poznan, Poland, is essentially this: “Don’t expect us to do much on climate when we’re facing a global recession.”  While not everybody expresses themselves as colorfully as Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, many leaders echoed his sentiments from earlier in November when he said, “It is absurd to talk about emission (cuts) when there is an (economic) crisis: it is as if someone suffering from pneumonia were to think about having a perm.”

Of course, these same governments weren’t really doing much even before the bad times hit. So far, their main response to the worst environmental threat ever has been to create an unworkable regime of trade in the very substance that is causing global warming. Carbon trading isn’t doing much to reduce emissions. It is, however, ensuring that the same corporations that brought us the climate crisis will continue to make money from any proposed “solutions.”

The claim that the world recession precludes effective action on climate change is especially galling when you consider that the two crises are actually one and the same. The “experts” like to present climate change as a purely technical or scientific matter. It’s actually an economic problem.

The climate crisis is rooted in the same free-market values that generated the current recession. Chief among them is the value of exalting short-term profit above everything else (including, apparently, life on Earth as we know it). Climate change, don’t forget, is mainly a result of the unsustainable use of fossil fuels.

No amount of carbon trading is going to change the fact that avoiding the worst effects of global warming is going to require using less oil. And because nearly everything that’s produced in our economy depends on using oil, combating climate change is going to require simply using less.

Last year, I went to a teach-in organized by the International Center on Globalization in Washington, D.C. It was called “Confronting the Global "Triple Crisis": Climate Change, Peak Oil, Global Resource Depletion & Extinction.”  Not exactly a barrel of laughs. But there was one part of the program that was extremely funny—and smart and engaging. It was Annie Leonard’s short animated movie, “The Story of Stuff.”

I highly recommend it as a way to explore connections between creating more sustainable economic practices and advancing human rights.   As their website says, “It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.”

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