It is remarkable how little progress has been made in reducing human-produced emissions, given that the science behind the ‘greenhouse’ effect has been known for more than 100 years. In fact ironically, the first economically significant oil discovery was made in Texas, just two years before Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist proposed the relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature in 1896. This was called the ‘natural greenhouse effect’, it’s the reason we can inhabit this planet. Arrhenius suggested at the time that a doubling of the CO2 concentration would lead to a 5°C temperature rise. Cutting edge science in the 19th century! In fact there has been very little change in the underlying science over the series of IPCC reports, the data has intensified and the models have become more sophisticated, if anything it is now emerging that the original predictions may have been low ball, we are already experiencing effects that were predicted to happen in a few decades. So why the slowness to respond?
A striking parallel appears to be the heinous violence towards women in some parts of the world, often by their families, the fathers and brothers who are supposed to protect them. Their crime? The desire to marry a life partner of their own choice! This is despite women having demonstrated the ability to take decisions, have productive careers and contribute to the economy in those countries, indeed even politically lead those very same nations. Why are some groups so slow to respond to their daughters’ need for change, and the evidence that there is no harm and much benefit from emancipation?
A common factor appears to be fear of change, in the first case a fear of increasing costs, stranded assets and a loss of control, in the latter it is also fear of losing status, assets and control. In both cases power is vested in certain sectors of society that will resist change because of a perceived or real loss of power.
We really need to flip the frame – move the world from fear of the required change to wanting and appreciating the benefits. The biosphere on Earth is beautiful, interconnected and unique, it’s the only one we know of, so it’s worth valuing and there are glimmers of hope where this is happening in unlikely places, Costa Rica has made progress reversing the effects of deforestation over the last two decades, growing its ecotourism potential. There are also a few heart-warming stories of girls in Bangladesh avoiding child marriage by getting a job in the global garment industry. In dry economic terms environmental and human capital is being valued and added to the policy mix.
Like the nuclear arms reduction treaties of yesteryear, it is clear that we need concerted global action to avert or manage catastrophic climate change. The only way to end the brinksmanship and current game of chicken is to arrive at meaningful targets and mechanisms at the UN Climate Summit in Paris in November 2015. In order to do this, the G20 Summit scheduled later this year in Australia, while focussed on economic growth and resilience, must include impact of climate change on the agenda.
Dr. Meera Verma, is our Guest Blogger and the Principal of Headland Vision, a strategic and project consulting firm for medium sized technology-development companies in the biotech, pharma and cleantech areas.