Sunday, July 01, 2007

climate change

Henry Porter makes a decent living from writing a weekly article in the Observer in which he tells us how Bad the state is and how important our ancient liberties are. Imagine my surprise to discover in this week's column that he appears to hold the view that "If the government had pursued national carbon emission targets with the Jesuitical fervour of its plans to stamp out smoking in public places, we'd be in a lot better shape."

It's a deeply weird column, actually. Pop stars are good, but maybe they are bad because they use aeroplanes, but maybe they could sell more energy efficient lightbulbs. Politicians are bad, because a man who doesn't believe in climate change thinks that they try to be too much like pop stars, but Al Gore has integrity because he did a movie. The only way to stop climate change is through personal action, but the reason the government hasn't done anything about climate change is because it is caused by big business.

One thing that this reflects is that if you think that the biggest problem facing us is the over-weening power of the state, then working out how to tackle climate change gets a bit tricky. It goes various ways - some say that climate change is a myth, some that individual action is what's needed, some that it is all hopeless because nothing we do will make any difference.

The American scientist and writer Kim Stanley Robinson recently published the third in a series of books about climate change. He identified three main strands to the work to mitigate the effects of climate change - new technology, social justice and protecting the natural environment. Governments have an important role in all of these, helping to direct future research and make sure that scientific breakthroughs which could help aren't suppressed for commercial advantage; helping to promote social justice so that, for example, women all over the world have full and equal rights (the only possible way that the global population could be stabilised), and protecting the environment and trying to support ecological diversity during a period of abrupt climate change.

At its heart, this is a far more optimistic and practical vision for how we can meet the challenge of climate change than the alternatives - whether they be those who think technology alone will save us, that we need to turn back on the last two centuries of technological progress, or that there is nothing we can do. And if even Henry Porter is being won round, maybe we're starting to get somewhere.