Friday, August 9, 2013

Paul G. Harris's "What's Wrong with Climate Politics and How to Fix It"

Paul G. Harris is author/editor of many books on climate change and global environmental politics. He is the Chair Professor of Global and Environmental Studies at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

Harris applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, What's Wrong with Climate Politics and How to Fix It, and reported the following:
If politics is anything useful, it’s about getting things done. This is true both within nations and among them. Debates and diplomacy are useful starting points, but there isn’t much point to them if they don’t solve problems or make the world a better place. Sadly, when it comes to climate politics, so far all that has resulted from a quarter-century of negotiations is a series of ongoing discussions that, while better than nothing (because the problem might be even worse without them), have failed to prevent growing pollution of the atmosphere. Things will get much worse before they get better, not least because millions of people in the world’s poorer countries are joining people from the West in becoming world-class consumers and polluters. Notably, millions of Chinese are beating Americans at their own game: “shop ’til you drop.”

What explains this failure of climate politics? The answer is complex, but page 99 of What’s Wrong with Climate Politics and How to Fix It identifies one of the most important answers: you and me. More specifically, page 99 tells us that what’s most wrong with climate politics is, to an enormous degree, the disproportionate consumption -- and thus pollution -- of the world’s affluent people. Together, we are ruining the earth’s climate system, in the process bringing hardship to our children and grandchildren, and great suffering and even death to millions of the world’s poor. The farther one looks into the future, the wider and deeper the suffering will be.

One way of looking at this is that climate change is the greatest injustice that humans have ever committed, both on themselves and other species. But let’s be clear: the greatest injustice is caused by a minority of people – the world’s affluent. To put this in context, page 99 quotes from another book, Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth?: “by the time a typical British family sits down to its evening meal on 3 January, they will already have been responsible for a volume of greenhouse gases being pumped into the global commons of the atmosphere equivalent to that produced by a similar-sized Tanzanian family in a year.” The typical American family would do even more harm, as would of course the typical rich family almost anywhere. As page 99 reveals, “globally the amount of greenhouse gas pollution from one person can vary by a factor of one thousand, depending on that person’s level of consumption.”

So what’s wrong with climate politics is what’s wrong with many things: the world’s most affluent people are living high on the hog while the world’s poorest suffer the consequences. That’s wrong, but as the other pages of What’s Wrong with Climate Politics and How to Fix It show, it’s not only bad for the poor. It’s also bad for the affluent polluters themselves. We spend far too much time working, spending and consuming stuff, and far too little time doing and consuming the things that make us happy: spending time with friends and family, eating healthy food and giving service to our communities. Our lives of excess are not a route to happiness any more than a life of poverty is going to satisfy the world’s poor. Simpler lives for us, and healthier lives for them, together point the way toward greater human happiness and, incidentally, finally doing something big to limit future climate change.
Learn more about What's Wrong with Climate Politics and How to Fix It at the John Wiley & Sons website.

--Marshal Zeringue