Global warming. It's made out to be scary.. apocalyptic really, with scientists all around the world spelling out doom and gloom for the upcoming century. Sea levels rising, more freak storms, entire environments changing drastically...
Healthwise, the World Health Organisation predicts a resurgence of infectious diseases due a lack of adequate drinking water (not just to evaporation... algae thrives in warmer conditions) and the spread of mosquitoes, lowered nutritional standards due to drought and ineffective agricultural techniques, and increases in international conflicts as millions, more likely billions are displaced and forced into hunger and starvation.
The IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, has for years been giving independent, scientist backed analysis and projections about this issue. But they've been routinely ignored by governments all around the world, despite their worrying projections. Reasons for this include the fact that there's opposition to the idea that it's even occurring due to humans in the first place and the lack of a concerted, global political will to make things happen. And there's greater things starving countries have to worry about... if rich countries aren't even following their recommendations, why should they?
But one other major reason these projections and reports are being ignored, is that so far they've only been focused on the problems, rather than suggesting a solution. The panel has historically been solely focused collecting data, projecting outcomes, and making recommendations on how much the world needs to decreases its greenhouse gas production, rather than suggesting universal, effective methods for dealing with the issue, which would give the world a path to follow for dealing with climate change.
The ideal behind it, and the idea for making this report itself, is awesome. We're not only looking at what's happened and what's to come, we're setting ourselves a path forward to dealing with the issue, something I believe is key to fixing any problem. Here's a great video summarising the major suggestions they made. You can read the full report here.
Basically, they recommend that the world increase the proportion of low, or no carbon-emitting energy sources such as solar, hydro-electric or nuclear energy (where that's not achievable, a switch to natural gas based systems is recommended), decrease the already inflated amounts of carbon dioxide in the air already through afforestation (and less deforestation), the increased use of bio-fuels and the recapturing and storage of emitted greenhouse gasses (watch the video for how that works) to combat the major cause of greenhouse gasses (around 40% of them) - energy development.
In terms of transport and industry, which together account for 53% of greenhouse gasses, they don't tell us how to achieve the targets, as they did for the energy production part of their recommendations (probably because they're more diverse issues that don't have the same end point of electricity, so can be done in many ways). In terms of reductions to industrially sourced carbon emissions, they advocated more recycling of wastes, the implementation of better technologies, the increased sustainability of buildings and their energy consumption and the sharing of technologies to make each industry most efficient for the amount of greenhouse gasses they would inevitably produce. In transport, they did recommend shifts to more efficient carbon based fuels, higher density transport through building of public infrastructure.
But in the end, these recommendations will just get ignored.
Just like the previous 24 years of scientifically backed IPCC reports.
And this is why.
These recommendations are backed by the work of over 250 scientists, and have taken years to take effect. They're a great step forward, because we've finally given policy makers a set, international guideline on how to reduce greenhouse gasses, something they can be held accountable for by their voters (in developed countries at least, we can afford to implement some of these changes)
They neglect the basic idea that in order to get any change in the world, you need to make it cost effective, profitable, something that you can't afford NOT to do.
Governments will only pass bills that the people want... or they won't get reelected. not when another party promises to give people a more stable economy, and things they need (infrastructure, jobs, security) and want (tax cuts).
Yeah, people want change to happen in global warming (well, a good chunk of people do), and yeah a lot of people are concerned about it, but not many are willing to bear the costs of it.
Businesses, well, they're businesses. They want to make money. And right now - green energy just doesn't translate to profits...
This cost benefit analysis, done by the German government concludes that, on the basis of cost alone, renewable energy is just not worth it.
So for change to happen - these recommendations not only have to be good for the environment - but also for the economy, and people too.
The funny thing is, there are actual, cost benefits in their recommendations already.
This report, published in Nature in 1997, made nearly 20 years ago by the way, placed a dollar value on the services the world's ecosystems provide - a figure of 16 - 54 TRILLION, 1997 dollars. The world's ecosystems, and how we use them at the moment (including their protective "services" by the way - not just for sustaining our fishing/farming methods) will stand to change substantially for the worse due to global warming by the way - quicker than ever before.
Putting a dollar value, even a HUGE on like that, on protecting our ecosystems, still doesn't stand up to profits that are visible to us right now.
Not once in the whole report is the long term financial benefit of switching to these better, greener models mentioned. Though they did mention the fact that technological advances have occurred and made these changes cheaper and more affordable to implement Not once did they say that switching to sustainable, low carbon emitting energy sources, like solar and hydroelectric, will give almost free energy that will last in the long run - something that WILL offset the huge capital required to set it up. Not once did they mention, or provide analysis of the fact that the recycling of products in industry results in less resources and money spent acquiring raw materials, or that sustainable, environmentally friendly buildings and building methods will last longer, and save on energy costs than ones that aren't done in such a manner. Not once did they mention that providing financial incentives to the general public to implement environmentally friendly means of living will result in less expenditure on fixing the environment outright which is occurring right now (read this article on China's environmental problem causing direct financial harm, and an increased health burden - this is in addition to the 7million deaths, and probably many more hospitalised, by air pollution - all costs that end up directly impacting the health sector).
All these savings will only increase as global warming begins to take a further hold. Yet these benefits aren't analysed in cost benefit analyses, and this report failed to take that into account too.
They gave us a way to beat global warming, but they gave us no real incentive to do it.
The other method talked about, the recapturing of carbon emitted by large generators, is also expensive to set up initially. But, especially with rising prices of coal and natural gas, and the rising price of mining fossil fuels too as they become more scarce, this could effectively provide a new, renewable source that can be almost perfectly clean too.
Upgrading to newer boilers reduces energy use and makes manufacturing cheaper, fully utilising heat in generators and motors increases energy production and also cuts costs. Blended concrete (concrete currently accounts for 22% of greenhouse gasses produced by industry), though it takes longer to set, stands longer and is stronger than traditional limestone based concrete and reduces carbon emissions significantly in this field. Again, a very economically viable improvement that drastically reduces greenhouse gasses too. Recycling steel, which accounts for 15% of total industry greenhouse gasses, and making oil refinery processes more efficient will also add to this [source]. These methods all benefit the environment, as well as companies bottom line, and this aspect should be mentioned, and be encouraged in legislation too. They don't just benefit the environment, but also the economy in the short and long term.
Indeed, the only way you can make something happen, is to make it too expensive NOT to do it.
Why you can't afford NOT to give blood <-- Click to read.