Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Adequate answers?

My contention is that the scale of the largest problems a social structure or culture can create is larger than the culture is able to deal with. Let's take the example of climate change. For years now, countries have done very little substantively to address the issue. Sure, there may be some countries that have adopted renewable energy standards, while some have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol and have made progress towards reducing their climate-changing emissions. But unfortunately, we can still wave many Small Island States like the Maldives bye bye--the levels of greenhouse gas emissions has steadily increased over time, and we are probably not going to keep surface temperatures below semi-acceptable levels:
“I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions,” [IEA chief economist] Birol told the Guardian. “It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below two degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.”

The IEA says that for a two degree increase to be averted, global energy-related emissions in 2020 must not be greater than 32 Gt. This means that over the whole of the next decade, emissions must rise by less than they did between 2009 and 2010. (emphasis added)

The agency also estimates than 80 percent of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are “locked in” – that is, they will come from existing power plants or those currently under construction. This will make it even harder to meet the two degree target, Birol says.
For me, climate change has been caused because of a continued reliance of society on technology. Sure technologies have become more efficient, afforded people longer lives, increased mobility, the ability to talk to people from across the world, and so on; I cannot deny this. But it would be foolish to not think that many of those technologies have resulted in ecological degradation and climate change, be it electricity generation, mining, and transportation. Technology and society have a dynamic role--one shapes the other in an endless interplay. At the same time, however, our answers to the problems of technology have created more technologies...and more of them...and more of them, rather than ask deeper, more powerful questions.

What this represents is a mindset that is ingrained in the social structure. This ingraining takes away our ability to think about what is causing the problems we face. Instead, we try to forcibly bin or address the problems we've created using the structures in place. Add on top of this political processes and inequality of power, and we are mired in gridlocked decision-making, in which traditional forces of society are called upon to address problems it could not foresee. I can see how "internalising the externalities" (say by having a carbon tax) can alleviate problems of greenhouse gas emissions, how "efficiency" can lead to decreased extraction of materials from this Earth. But are the mindsets [a reliance on technology, "It really doesn't matter if I do anything to reduce my environmental impact, what we need is a large movement," etc.] and social structures [like large government, like "industry," like "free (ish, kinda, maybe sorta) markets," etc.] we have really adequate enough to deal with the problems we've created? I am not so sure.

What does this mean we do in our daily lives? It means that we continue to question what is thrown at us, that we continue to question the motives of large entities (for many governments and corporations advocate for "solutions" that do not hurt the bottom line), that we make choices here and now that would be obvious in a more sustainable world.

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