Unmentionables Behind Unmentionables in Copenhagen; Fee and Dividend
By John Taylor; 2009 Dec 17, Masa'il 06, 166 BE
How Can we Make the World a People Place?
I wanted to post every day during this fateful last week of the climate summit in Copenhagen, but yesterday I had a worker in to install a new window in our basement, I had to go take back some materials to the Wainfleet Library, then Marie and I went Xmas shopping in Hamilton. Both kids had their Xmas concerts, of which we had not been notified before the shopping trip solidified, so Tommy stayed with his friend and participated with him; when we got back we all dropped by at Dunnville Secondary School for the end of Silvie's concert. All the while, a migraine was gently creeping up on me. To top it all off, I had no blog posting to consol me. Contributing to the pain was the awareness that financially this had been one very expensive day.
While we were driving back from Hamilton, though, I heard on CBC the following interview with climate expert James Hanson. You can listen to it on the Web, at:
Essentially what Hanson says is that it would be a blessing if they fail to come up with an agreement in Copenhagen, since the U.S. is pushing cap and trade. If tried cap and trade would make climate control all but impossible. This crazy scheme was devised for their own profit by members of the "revolving door" between Wall Street and Washington, he says. It is so complex that it would take about eight years just to put it in place. Essentially it is a masked energy tax, except that instead of government or the people profiting, the golden boys at Goldman-Sacks and Morgan Chase would be raking in profits from the trading -- a "pork fest" in the words of a writer in this month's Atlantic Magazine.
Instead, Hanson suggests what he calls "fee and dividend," a tax on burning carbon that would go straight to the public in the form of dividends to fund the up-front costs of improving insulation, green energy, electrification, and so forth. This, he says, would actually be aimed at solving the problem rather than profiting from it. None of this, nor his new book, Storms of My Grandchildren, is yet mentioned in the Wikipedia article about Hanson, at:
Somebody should update it. In fact, reading this Wiki carefully I see that it is biased against Hanson. For example, it cites a New York Times reporter saying that he is increasingly isolated among climate scientists. Why a journalist, rather than, say, other climate scientists? The elite media's main product, the manufacture of consent, thus creeps into Wikipedia itself. Nor does it even mention his idea of fee and dividend.
I am reading and thinking about this climate debate all the time lately. I have no expertise on the science, but I have to comment on the politics.
When Europeans first came here, you could go to the shore of Lake Erie and club all the fish you wanted just by swinging randomly into the water. Fish stocks have declined steadily for centuries since that was physically possible, except for one species: the red herring. These are especially abundant when it comes to climate change. I am sure you could club enough red herrings to feed the world by swinging a club randomly into the political waters at Copenhagen. This is such a pity, since our collective fate is hanging in the balance at this conference.
Hanson compares cap and trade to indulgences -- buying divine forgiveness with a sin-reduction marketing scheme -- in the Middle Ages, which made believers happy, enriched the priests, but in the end, it was eventually realized, did not reduce the sum total of sin. Elsewhere he compares it to slavery, as if abolitionists said, let us reduce slavery by thirty percent and make some money while we are doing it. No, it is simply a moral issue. Either selling indulgences or keeping slaves is right, or it is wrong. You cannot bargain with right and wrong, at least not successfully.
Since I figured out how to view it online, I have been watching a TV program that always used to bore me to tears, Steve Paikan's The Agenda, which has been on TVO for decades. With the power the computer gives you to skip over the bores, blowhards and lickspittles who, usually, define the agenda, I have actually begun to enjoy this program, at least the good parts. Lately I was delighted to see Paikan interview on his show climate expert George Monbiot, author of Heat, whose column in London's The Guardian I read regularly. Having mostly encountered Monbiot in print -- his repartee to dunderheads is devastating -- I was half expecting to encounter a personality like the Tazmanian Devil, ferociously destroying everyone in his path. To my surprise Monbiot was meek and mild in demeanor; he met personal attacks, the virulent criticism endemic to the climate debate, with admirable poise and apparent equanimity. If he is acting, he deserves an Academy Award.
Anyway, in his latest column, Monbiot offers some comments on the agenda behind the agenda at Copenhagen ("This is about Us," 12 December, at Monbiot.com). He says that the great unmentionable is growth. Old divisions between left and right are old hat; what we have now is a struggle between expanders and restrainers. Expanders say that we can halt climate disaster and keep on growing, while restrainers say we should hit the brakes.
Behind this division, he says, is an even more unmentionable unmentionable, a fight over how fierce we are as a species. Shades of the UHJ's Peace Message, which said essentially the same thing back in 1985. The idea that human nature is inherently warlike is indeed at the heart of all this squabbling. Instead we need to see ourselves, and each other, as capable of innovative solutions. The Baha'i International Community warned in a paper read at international conferences in 1991 and 1992 that "boldness" and "creativity" are the only way ahead for such meetings,
"... unless creative new steps in the restructuring of the international order can be taken, environmental degradation alone, and its long-term implications for social and economic development, will lead inexorably to a disaster of appalling dimension."
But to me the real unmentionable now is the very idea of world government. The only way to govern the planet is on a planetary level. This is the elephant in the room. The more obvious it is, the more determined all sides become to avoid recognizing it. For heaven's sakes, even if the plan were the right plan and everybody agreed with it, how would you ever get compliance? There are almost two hundred countries, and without enforcement any one of them can do what Canada did after Kyoto, that is, sign up, agree to act, then later on say, "Sorry, we do not want to." Canada was not punished for this betrayal in any way.
The BIC, speaking of the much easier and more successful Montreal protocol devised in the 1980's, gave some further reasons why such agreements are hard to come to, even if everybody complies.
"The present ad hoc process for environmental legislation can only become more unmanageable. Numerous proposals have been offered to provide global mechanisms to create and support a sustainable pattern of development. Some experts advise strengthening the existing UN system by upgrading the mandates of agencies such as the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), reconfiguring the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), or using the Trusteeship Council to administer certain global resources. Others suggest creating new bodies such as an environmental security council, a World Court of environmental justice, or an international environmental negotiating body to prepare, adopt, and revise international legislation on issues requiring global action.
"However well motivated and helpful such proposals are, it seems apparent to the Baha'i International Community that the establishment of a sustainable pattern of development is a complex task with widespread ramifications. It will clearly require a new level of commitment to solving major problems not exclusively associated with the environment. These problems include militarization, the inordinate disparity of wealth between and within nations, racism, lack of access to education, unrestrained nationalism, and the lack of equality between women and men. Rather than a piecemeal approach conceived in response to the needs of the nation-states, it seems clearly preferable to adopt an umbrella agreement under which specific international codes could be promulgated." ("International Legislation for Environment and Development Baha'i International Community," Aug 13, 1991, Statement presented to Working Group III of the Third session of the Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)
They were reflecting and updating, of course, the Master's original peace message, the Tablet to the Hague, where He laid out the Baha'i principles as a more comprehensive model for international efforts for peace.
The longer this problem remains, the more problem grows, the more difficult real change becomes. If any government can have an election and the new regime can pull out of international commitments without problem, without consequences, the bitter reality will be: the more democratic the country is, the more likely it will refuse to respond to climate change.
As a result, nobody is talking about the only possible way ahead, to reform democracy itself, from the ground up. As it is, democracy is corrupt and, like a cancer, only promotes more corruption. We need to purify democracy before we do anything. The only way to get moving ahead in climate change is to form a world government with as much or more of a democratic mandate than any authority underneath it. Anything less is just not going to cut it.
By all reports, even the organization of the Copenhagen conference itself reflects the failings of the present order. It is run by the UN, which according to what I read, invited some three times as many participants and observers as there were seats in the conference hall. So, hundreds, even thousands of very well-qualified people from all over the world were literally left out in the cold, shivering, with nothing to do but wait.
And you cannot complain to the UN. That is impossible. A friend of a friend of mine tried to do so. He was told in no uncertain terms: "Sorry, you cannot talk directly to us, you have to go to your national government and let them do the talking." In other words, the UN is not a people place at all, nor does it pretend to be. It is a nation place.
The challenge before us, then, is to make the world a people place. A people place would not strand attendees of the world's most important meeting in freezing weather, as if to say, "The planet may be warming but our hearts on the level of international governance deeply frozen in the Ice Age." In a word, we need better meetings.
IMHO the real unmentionable behind the unmentionables in Copenhagen is meeting technology. We need to improve how we come together and deliberate. Taking a plane somewhere and hoping that the organizers of the meeting can accommodate you would have seemed primitive back in the Middle Ages. And the meetings have to include everybody, all seven billion of us. As Baha'u'llah put it, we should gather in a comprehensive gathering of humanity. Comprehensive means everybody. Everybody should have a say, everybody should participate. With the internet and electronic communications technology, this does not seem like it would be too difficult to accomplish. At the same time, we must involve every expert as well. Experts should have a say in how these meetings are organized. The opinions of experts should be rated according to the usefulness of their expertise, and they should lead the discussion. That is what my book-in-progress, People Without Borders, is all about.