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Man-made world : choosing between progress…
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Man-made world : choosing between progress and planet

by Andrew Charlton

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From my blog http://shawjonathan.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/andrew-charltons-man-made-world/

Andrew Charlton has a good eye for a quote. He was in the room at the Copenhagen Climate Conference at the meeting of world leaders that had been hastily convened to avert a complete breakdown of the conference. When Barack Obama arrived, late, Hilary Clinton said, ‘Mr President, this is the worst meeting I’ve been to since the eighth-grade student council.’ Apart from flaunting the teller’s insider status, the anecdote’s clear subtext is that the insiders, the powerful elite, are just as flummoxed by global warming as the rest of us. More than anything else in the essay, it drives home the point that the planet’s current environmental crisis will be resolved, if at all, by human beings bumbling forward as human beings have always done.

Charlton argues that the failure of Copenhagen was caused not by non-cooperation from the US or Europe or muscle-flexing sabotage by China, but by a failure to address ‘the central dilemma of our century: the apparently intransigent conflict of interest between the world’s rich minority who can afford to talk about scaling back consumption and the vast majority for whom increased consumption means emerging from grinding poverty. Because of this conflict of interest, he argues, ‘our global approach ot climate change has failed.

He doesn’t hold out much hope that ‘market mechanisms’, such as Australia’s price on carbon and further down the track emissions trading scheme, will achieve the necessary targets. He calls for a Plan B, which has thee elements: to rethink the key goal, from raising the cost of fossil fuel energy to making clean power cheap; to reverse the relationship between rich and poor countries, so that rather than trying to persuade the developing world to reduce emissions the west works with them to develop breakthrough technology to deliver cheaper energy to the world’; to pay a lot more attention to back-up plans in case of disaster.

The essay is well worth reading, but I don’t know if it moves us forward significantly. At times Charlton moves into polemic mode when the subject calls for careful persuasion: his figures occasionally slip from comparative to absolute when the argument requires it, he sometimes jeers at an opposing argument when engagement is needed. He apparently ignores grassroots, science-based initiatives such as Beyond Zero Emissions, a detailed plan to reduce Australia's emissions to zero by 2020 using existing technology, or Zero Carbon Britain, a similar plan for Britain. I can’t tell whether he would see these plans as examples of his Plan B or whether he includes them in the ‘glib rhetoric’ he attributes to ‘green groups’.

But this is all good and necessary argument, recognising that there’s a real problem and searching for a solution, which is immensely refreshing compared to the fake debate set up by those who believe – or pretend to believe – that ‘science is crap’. ( )
  shawjonathan | Jan 23, 2012 |
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We shouldn't be too hard on ourselves, my German colleague said to me. We have to be realistic about the problem. The world is split between those who want to save the planet and those who want to save themselves. In QE44 , Andrew Charlton exposes the rift that will shape our future - progress versus planet; rich versus poor. Who, then, will save us? Charlton shows there are two leading candidates: economists and environmentalists. Each says they know what is best for our grandchildren. Yet environmentalists see economists as merchants of greed with a blind faith in markets. And economists see environmentalism as an indulgence for the middle class of richer nations; those who enjoy the lifestyle afforded by economic growth, but take its source for granted. In Australia, this battle has plunged our politics into one of its most tumultuous periods, splitting the business community; driving a wedge between the left and right of the Liberal Party; separating Labor's working-class from its progressive supporters; propelling the rise of the Greens and stirring up their counterweight in rural protest. Across the globe, economists and environmentalists vie over who has the right response to climate change, population or food; security issues. In this groundbreaking essay Charlton argues that our descendants will only thank us if we find a way to preserve both the natural world and human progress.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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