Archive for December 26th, 2009

Climate Change : ‘"The Story of Stuff", "Paradox of Choice" and "Hard Choices"

26 December 2009

Copenhagen was in focus because of the climate change talks. Talk they did, but whether climate will be saved or not is debatable. Frankly, we want governments to change policy course to save climate, but are we willing to make sacrifices needed to make it work. The Natural CO2 budget i.e. the amount released in the atmosphere by natural processes and reabsorbed by natural processes is, I was recently told by a geologist friend, about 800 billion tons per year. Our activities add to that about 28 billion tons per annum. Further I am told some 20 percent of this extra CO2 is being reabsorbed by the excess capacity of oceans. That still leaves additional 22 billion tons of CO2 burden in the atmosphere as green house gases that trap heat to warm the climate. This is what is causing the problem. The pressing need is to reduce this emission of 28 billion tons, and until we get on that path hold it at least at that level.
At 2006 level, the per capita CO2 emission burden worldwide worked out to 4.18 tons. However, this average figure hides huge disparities across regions, countries and within sovereign borders. Although clean technologies, fuel sources used, etc. introduce variations; it is still possible to use per capita emissions as an accurate but somewhat rough indicator of Standard of (High) Living or rather of Rampant Consumerism. USA leads the tally at 18.67 tons/capita, followed by Australia (18.64), Canada (16.08), Saudi Arabia (13.3), Russia (11.03), Japan (10.14), Germany (9.92),……., China (4.18), and India (1.29). Equity demands that those who pollute more should sacrifice more. Naturally, advanced economies will have to curtail their fanciful consumption more drastically to bring it in line with world average. But if we look at numbers within countries too, then we will find that even in aspiring economies like India the share of well off urban dwellers in carbon emissions will be well above the world average. Thus we too need to sacrifice our “climate changing” lifestyles. We need to turn to “Need Based” consumption from Consumerism driven by “Planned Obsolescence” and “Perceived Obsolescence“. The movie – Story of Stuff – very tellingly brings home some truths about these concepts.
Even if technologies were to emerge that would allow us to return to unbridled consumption, would it be advisable to do so. Is our happiness enhanced by endless buying sprees or are we seduced into it through clever conditioning? While this question is not directly answered in Paradox of Choice, it certainly brings home that variety of chimerical choices far from putting us in control of what we want actually erode our happiness.
The last talk takes a look at different technologies or applications under development in laboratories that may allow us more alternatives or options to deal with climate change, but finally asserts that it won’t even then make it possible for us to escape making Hard Choices with attendant consequences.