This short piece will certainly not help the reader gain any greater understanding of the United Nations: its strengths, weaknesses, successes and failings. I’d love to get my wits wrapped around the UN, largely regarded, I believe, as insufficiently aggressive in taking action into pressing world affairs, even where it’s clearly and urgently needed. But regardless of one’s opinion of the organization and its shortcomings, I’d have to think that the article it released today should have some level of impact on our thinking.
For instance, is it true, as the report posits, that humanity is near to breaching the sustainability of Earth, and needs a technological revolution greater and faster than the industrial revolution to avoid “a major planetary catastrophe?” That’s pretty strong stuff.
The report, “The World Economic and Social Survey 2011: The Great Green Technological Transformation,” places a great deal of blame on our energy use – particularly oil, coal, and gas.
“It is rapidly expanding energy use, mainly driven by fossil fuels, that explains why humanity is on the verge of breaching planetary sustainability boundaries through global warming, biodiversity loss, and disturbance of the nitrogen-cycle balance and other measures of the sustainability of the Earth’s ecosystem.”
“A comprehensive global energy transition is urgently needed in order to avert a major planetary catastrophe.”
I would think that this would get people’s attention. But, of course, I’m known to have been wrong before….
The most worrying is that it seems that more and more people don’t trust the media and environmental agencies anymore, all the more since the failure of the Copenhagen summit. I am currently working in carbon management company in South Africa (http://www.climateafrica.co.za/ , http://www.climatestandard.org/ ) and more and more people come up with stuff like “Why should we reduce our ghg emissions when volcanoes are responsible for more CO2 emissions than human activities?”. I don’t know where people hear that but i suspect anti-ecologist to be behind such statements. I did some research and volcanoes are responsible for 200 million tons of emissions whereas human activities represent 30 billion tons. I hope that the media will cover such questions more accurately, so that people become really aware of the problem.
Over a span of decades, this sort of over-the-top scaremongering has proven continually ineffective. An adage attributed to several sources defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over with the expectation of better results.
As analysis by the Breakthrough Institute and others has shown, the fact is that the technology for the most part does not yet exist to cost-effectively replace fossil fuel and other systems that do pose some environmental and other hazards. Promoting ‘diffusion’ of supposed ‘green’ technology whose costs far outweigh their potential benefits will only serve to cannibalize other more productive investments in development. These analysts have recommended an aggressive increase in R&D and innovation to help meet these needs. The price tag they estimate for the required effort is on the order of $100 billion.
Yet in the current economic and financial environment, commitments to even that level of funding have so far proven hard to get — much less the trillions the cited report claims to be required, but are most unlikely to be forthcoming.
More publicizing of breakthrough solutions that actually work cost-effectively, candid progress reports of promising innovation efforts, and particularly, expanded opportunities to participate in Open Innovation activities, are among the tactics likely to do more to encourage further commitment to innovation than will apocalyptic jeremiads.
I don’t know about you but I have lost count of how many times the United Nations called for action and how nations around the world ignored those calls…
The continued lack of commitment to carbon cuts by the USA and the EU reluctance to embrace greenhouse emissions cuts by 30 percent are bad omens.
It seems only China is moving forward, albeit it is refusing stricter enforced measures.
Just a technical question: what is the amount of a trillion, is it US scale : a million of million or word scale: a billion of billion concerning the cost: 1.9 trillion/year, which makes a slight difference?
@Bernard, I’m not sure I understand your question, but one trillion = 10exp(12). The latter is equivalent to 1,000 billion.
@Edouard, re “It seems only China is moving forward,” emphasis should be on ‘seems’ as opposed to reality.
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