With events in the British Election dominating the Headlines you will be forgiven for having missed a couple of other recent events. On Wednesday 12th May the 987 page American Power Act was unveiled. This is the latest incarnation of Barack Obama’s much hoped-for Climate Change Act. Note that they couldn’t come to call it “Climate Change”. “American Power” sounds so much more like Arnie Schwarzenegger is delivering it with an Uzi. Indeed it is a Climate Change bill unlike anything else. In fact it is utterly remarkable and only could be the result of the American Political system. Imagine launching a new Bill designed to cut your dependence on Fossil Fuels but then use the opportunity to authorise MORE drilling for Oil. Yup. Welcome to the crazy world of Stars-and-Stripes Realpolitik. Not only will they drill for more oil to fight climate change but they will also levy import tariffs against any Country out there who dares gain an economic advantage by decarbonising their economy first. Yes, you read that right. The mind boggles. Ironically Schwarzenegger actually came out AGAINST the new powers to drill for oil. You just can’t trust anyone these days. But there you have it. Progress, of a sort. Andy Revkin in the New York Times describes it as “a classic piece of American legislative compromise, with multi-billion-dollar incentives and investments and favours”. Quite.
Meanwhile, one day earlier (and a heck of lot closer to home) the Hartwell Report was launched. That’s “Hartwell” as in Hartwell House – the grand Hotel and Conference Centre just out side of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. This remarkable report (that we will load to our own “Downloads” section so you can make your own mind up about it) suggests we need to completely rethink our approach to tackling Climate Change. It should be of no surprise that Professor Mike Hulme (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia) who authored “Why we disagree about climate change – Understanding controversy, inaction and opportunity” ( ISBN 978-0-521-72732-7 Cambridge University Press 2009) is one of the co-authors. The 14 academics from Europe, North America and Japan also included Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger (The Breakthrough Institute) who wrote “Breakthrough – From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility” (ISBN-13: 978-0-618-65825-1 Houghton Mifflin Company 2007). This combination should give you a clue about just how radical the Hartwell plans are. They suggest we should abandon the narrow objectives of cutting Carbon Dioxide and fighting Climate Change with international agreements. This, they say, is doomed to fail. Instead they suggest a plan to uplift “human dignity” by working to develop renewable energy and make it cheaper than fossil fuels. This should be paid for with Carbon taxes. They also suggest focusing on cutting back on some of the atmosphere’s shorter-lived, but far more potent, Greenhouse Gasses – such as soot.
It is an intriguing and pragmatic report but no doubt it will have the Environmentalists up in arms as it does slaughter a herd of sacred cows. The authors argue that since the collapse of Climate Change talks in Copenhagen and the revelations of “ClimateGate” we need a new approach. Probably no argument there. I think we have all become a little jaded after twenty years of poor progress on the matter. However any move away from the negotiated process that puts CO2 at centre stage is regarded as anathema by many. “The paper’s focus away from CO2 is misguided, short-sighted and probably wrong” said Bill Hare from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. The Hartwell Paper initiative was supported by funding from the Japan Iron and Steel Federation as well as the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. Even worse – lead author Prof Gwyn Prins (London School of Economics and Political Science) is an adviser to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the UK charity chaired by infamous Climate Change-denier Lord Lawson that aims “to help restore balance and trust in the climate debate”. Whatever wise words in this report they will be dismissed by many due to some of the authors’ links with Climate Change skeptics and big fossil-fuel-intensive industry. This is probably unfair as there is some smart thinking here. One interesting point they raise is one we first read in Peter Taylor’s “Chill – A reassessment of global warming theory – Does climate change mean the world is cooling, and if so what should we do about it?” (ISBN 978 1 905570 19 5 Clairview Books 2009) and this is that our society is challenged by ANY Climate Change – regardless of cause. Hence all the arguments about what causes Climate Change, and whether it is warming or cooling, are entirely academic. Therefore we must be prepared for an awful lot of adaptation and general toughening-up.
We live in interesting times. The latest shenigans in Westminster have rather obscured what is going on. If anything the change in Government here has meant no great change in Political direction on issues close to Transitioners’ hearts. Sure, the coalition dropped plans for Heathrow’s third runway but expect most other policy to be pretty much indistinguishable from those that Labour would probably have adopted. It remains to be seen if the Hartwell Report will effect thinking over the next five years of this Parliament. It certainly will be respected on the other side of the Atlantic. Neither will be strongly advocating the cultural and relocalisation changes close to the hearts of us Transitioners. It will be a long time before politics truly embraces the behavourial changes at the end of the age of the consumer society. For the moment we may have to satisfied with change – any change. It just won’t make everyone happy. Maybe we need a new civil society coalition to reflect that which is setting up shop in Downing Street… A middle ground where the deep Greens meet the climate change skeptics in a marriage made in hell for some greater good… If only both sides can bury their dogma in favour of pragmatic action