Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lost luggage

When your home is a suitcase, it feels not so good when that suitcase gets stolen. And that is exactly what happened today aboard train 326 just after leaving Kalmar. I had put away my black Samsonite suitcase ten meters down the aisle and apparently someone decided to take it along as he/she disembarked in either Nybro or Emmaboda.

Thus, a bit grumpy today. I had planned to write a blog post on the thawing of the Siberian permafrost and the recent scientific findings which show that subterranean methane has indeed started to leak into the atmosphere. For those engaged in climate research the implications of this are potentially alarming. Methane is a powerful green house gas with a global warming potential 25 times that of carbon dioxide. If the tundra continues to melt it may trigger a self-reinforcing feedback loop by which ever more methane is released, also from methane currently trapped in ocean sediments, all causing dangerous and abrupt climate change.

It is an understatement to say that we urgently need a political response. At the conference in Barcelona I attended a panel called “The Calm Before the Storm?” on liberal democracy and the challenges posed by climate change. There, once again, I realised how pessimistic many in “the green camp” have become about the chances of turning this development around. Not only do they fail to rightly appreciate existing socio-economic dynamics, their own “solutions” all seem to dependent on some kind of quasi-mystical change of humanity and the realization of their own perfectionist ideals about the good life. As I have argued elsewhere, to turn the question of climate stability into some sort of “ethical test” of humanity is irresponsible at best and highly cynical at worst. Clearly, history does not give a favourable record of earlier attempts to facilitate deep changes in attitudes and behaviour.

With this in mind, any political response must transcend existing green thinking by rejecting the trade-off between nature and people that they project. Instead of de-modernization and a return to the material standard of the fifties (a common example among green theorists) we should immediately seek advanced technological paths to long-term environmental sustainability, paths that will allow rapidly industrializing countries such as China and India to continue to build a decent living standard for their people while reducing their local as well as global environmental impact.

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