Friday, 6 November 2009

Why nothing will ever happen in Copenhagen

I think this post will make it clear why Copenhagen is going to be a useless summit. It's long, but read it. Resolving the climate change issue depends on three main actors: public sector (governments), private sector (businesses) and consumers (individuals, well…us).

1) Public sector: It is clear that there is no political will in this matter otherwise this whole issue would have been resolved years ago. The lobbies are too strong (oil lobby in the US, mining lobby in Australia, Farmers' lobby in Brazil, and so on) and the politicians have their hands tied. If they agree to more environmental policies then the lobbies will find a way to block the bill hammering the public that it will cost their jobs. And if it costs jobs, then the politicians won't get re-elected and, as selfish as they are, they want to stay in power. So there's never going to be any drastic environmental policies coming from governments. Here is a chart of the anti-climate change lobbyists, the bigger the circle the more money invested in lobbying:

2) Private sector: Businesses are for-profits organisations, so there's no blaming them if they chose the most profitable way out. So as long as it is cheaper to pollute, they will continue to do so and they won't make the first step towards greener production – unless they are forced by the governments (which, as we saw in the 1st point, is not going to happen).

3) Consumers: We humans are selfish and greedy, so if we are going to endorse a change, it has to be for the better. So recycling, consuming less and more expensive, and changing our general behaviour and lifestyle means lowering our standards of living. Hence we are never going to do it unless we are forced by our governments (which, as we saw in the 1st point, is not going to happen).

So what can we do?

We could stop thinking about economic growth the entire time. Our happiness shouldn't be measured by our GDP. A new wave of academics is emerging in France and some other countries promoting the décroissance, literally translated as: decline in growth. This may be too much, I just think that we should keep growing at normal rates and not necessarily doing everything humanly possible to increase our GDP every quarter. We can just grow slowly and sustainably. We could also use other indicators than GDP or consumer confidence to measure our lives. But let's face it; this is unrealistic and not going to happen (this party got 0.04% of votes in Greater Paris area, Ile-de-France).

Or since everything seems to be driven by money and greed, we have to make the green sector a lucrative and profitable one. There are four main activities that destroy our environment: the energy industry, the logging industry, the mining industry and the fishing industry.

1) Why is it so appealing to use fossil fuels (oil, coal, etc)? Because it's cheap, easy to extract, reliable, mostly located in poor countries that the West can exploit, manipulate and control and because it's a big business involving a lot of money. So what can we do in the green sector to compete with such a money-making industry? Increasing the price of oil clearly failed last year (oil at $144), so let's focus on developing the renewable energy sector. But how? The only way I see this possible is through the private investor. The more people invest in these technologies (through the market or private equity) the more we will allow these current small businesses to grow on their own. The money invested in these companies will mostly be used in R&D making these new alternative technologies cheaper, more accessible and reliable. Hence, after several years, they will have a big weight in the markets and in our societies and governments will have to consider them as a serious business. Big energy companies could also be attracted by this newly money-making industry and start switching their businesses to alternative energy. Like Exxon Mobil which is getting into the algae business to produce the 2nd generation biofuels. These companies could also buy the smaller new start-ups that are already on the market and grow with them in this new sector.

2) Why is it so great to cut down the trees in an unsustainable manner? First of all, there are two main reasons why we are logging our forests today: for paper use and to plant crops mostly used for livestock.

a. For paper: It is possible to use wood, cartons and papers as much as we do today (but still rather reasonably) if we manage our forests sustainably. Some do and they are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or other certifying organisations. But many still don't and go to poor countries, mostly in South East Asia, pay "lots of" money to some villages, cut down all their trees and leave without even replanting – these villagers are poor and need the money now. What needs to be done is simple: make it expensive for logging companies to be non-certified. It is then up to us, the consumer, to buy only FSC certified paper but also strongly encourage the big companies and small businesses to do so as well. This way, if the paper is not certified, the company that sells it will be making losses (beware though, many logging companies create their own "independent certifying agency" with lower standards than the FSC and grant themselves an official recognition).

b. For planting crops: It's a tough one because Man is supposed to eat meat, it's not a crime. But one thing is sure; we are not supposed to be that numerous on earth, hence making it unsustainable to keep eating meat at the current rate. We can't stop, but we can reduce our meat consumption or buy more locally produced meat in free range farms where the livestock ate natural food.

3) The mining industry: It is one of the most important industries because there is steel, iron, copper, palladium, aluminium, nickel, zinc, etc. in every single thing that we buy (not food obviously). We don't think about it because the metals are processed first and we don't buy a kilo of palladium at the supermarket. The mining industry is very polluting; they pull out toxic gases and acids which are released in the air and dropped in the rivers and oceans. They overexploit some areas and when they're done with them, they don't clean-up or make sure the area is secured. It is a very polluting, money-making, lobbied industry that acts like this because it is cheaper than to buy new, less polluting equipment and clean-up after they leave. As we know, the government won't regulate and we can't reduce our consumption of metals (unless it is by reducing our general overconsumption habits, which is unlikely), we can't find alternatives, we can't boycott, there's really nothing to do. Unless maybe goodwill from the business owners – but that is rather far-fetched.

4) Why do we keep overfishing our oceans? Fishing sustainably doesn't mean no fish at all, it means letting the animals reproduce at a faster rate than we catch them. People will still go fishing and eat fish, but if we don't stop our current practices we might end up without sushi and with unemployed fishermen – I'm sure the lobbies don't put it that way. Something is already happening in that field; Unilever allied with the WWF to create the Unilever's Fish Sustainability Initiative (FSI) and buying fish only from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fisheries. It is an amazing initiative from Unilever, one of the largest food retailers in the world, to take such strong stands – and more companies should do the same. Like for the logging industry, it is up to us to buy only the certified fish, making it unprofitable for the other companies to survive on the market.

In conclusion, the governments can't do anything because of the lobbyists and because the politicians want to get re-elected. So I don't think we can rely on them at all.

Big businesses are not the bad guys, they're the rich guys with the actual power and they will go wherever the money is.

So it is up to us to manipulate big corporations and get them on the green side of business. We are the only ones with the power to do so, because we are the consumers and we have the money. Sure, it will be expensive for us at the beginning because FSC and MSC certified product are slightly more expensive but at the end if we all buy clean and sustainable products, they will get cheaper because they will be the norm – and so will be using energy from renewable resources. It's really up to us to make an effort and change our lifestyles for a better future.

See, that's why Copenhagen is useless. It's all up to us, not up to the leaders meeting in Denmark.

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