Decent folk who hope that our leaders will institute collective international action to address the carbon crisis are used to disappointment. So the inconclusive outcome of the Durban summit and news of Canada’s exit from the Kyoto protocol will cause sadness, but no surprise. And as the science becomes clearer, so the extent of political manoevering and obfuscation increases as politicians seek to justify why they have not yet acted. And although there is really very little that I can add to raise anyone’s spirits, I note wryly that Durban is not all that far from the Cape of Good Hope. And I think a little hope is still allowed.
The nations of the Earth can only do what it is economically and politically possible for them to do. And no more. In the same way that some natural processes are energetically possible, but are forbidden by the second law of thermodynamics, so there are some political changes which cannot happen, even though we might desire them. So I feel that there is no point in ‘wishing’ that politicians would do what is environmentally called for – this is just to subject oneself to perpetual depression. Canada’s exit from the Kyoto protocol demonstrates this explicitly. It is politically impossible for a massively carbon-polluting democracy like Canada to just pay out billions of dollars and receive no ‘benefit’. And similarly the USA, China, and India are just not ready or able to act.
But I believe that what is possible is changing – and expanding – daily. The very concept of the peoples of the Earth acting collectively is now conceivable and not crazy. The idea that there could be a shared environmental hazard is now accepted. For countries that are just getting used to the idea that actively planning to destroy all life in other countries might not be such a smart thing, we are doing OK. Techniques and methods for measuring and counting carbon emissions are still in their infancy. And there are thorny problems such as who ‘owns’ the emissions from ships or planes, or the goods they carry? Collectively we have moved a long way in recent decades. And the time for real action is probably now less than a decade or two away.
As consciousness changes, and as the climate change signal emerges ever more clearly from the noise of cyclic variability, I feel sure that countries will eventually act. Of course each year we wait the task becomes harder, but I feel that we will eventually get our act together. At least I hope so.