Πέμπτη, 22 Μαΐου 2008

My questions during a debate

between two leading international experts.

Climate change is real, but how should we respond to it? Debate on The Quest for Sustainability: Climate change v. Economic growth between two leading international experts from the Fletcher School.

Dr. William Moomaw

Professor of International Environmental Policy at the Fletcher School,

Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

(IPCC), Nobel Peace Prize 2007


Dr. Bruce McKenzie Everett

Professor of International Business at the Fletcher School and the School of Foreign Service

at Georgetown University, former Senior Executive of ExxonMobil

Organized by

The Fletcher School Alumni Club of Greece

in conjunction with the

Constantinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy

Held 13th of May, at the Grande Bretagne, Athens

Philip Dragoumis “ Prof Everett mentioned " we don't want people who are scared or politicians, such as Al gore who scare citizens with their opinions"
Here is my question:
I am deeply scared. Politicians don't fulfill this function, events such as Katrina, forest fires in Greece and many other undeniable environmental changes in the world around me, such as melting ice, deforestation & desertification, water issues and others, scare me enough. I keep realizing that extreme phenomena are occurring during my lifetime, surpassing previous records. I am even more scared it may get worse for my children. I therefore need politicians, who, share my fears and show they care about me as a citizen and who will take measures, at least try to do something for me, my children & my children's children.”

Prof Moomaw “Seeing the facts of what is happening on climate change (and terrorism and natural catastrophes) an be frightening, but fear does not help if it paralyzes us. Similarly guilt can make us feel bad, but seldom motivates us to take action. I believe that it is hope that motivates people. Hope that we can do something about our challenges that can motivate us. I see many more opportunities for addressing climate change than does Bruce, and I find many of those as very economically advantageous for companies. It is important to the extent possible to align the profit motive of corporations with the needs of society. As I indicated in the debate, we are now harming the economy and the environment by the trajectory that we are on.”

Prof Everett “There are two issues here. First, how do we know what to be afraid of? Second, how do we know which things we can control and which things we cannot? Many years ago, people were terrified by a solar eclipse. This is understandable when the Sun disappears during the middle of the day, and nobody is sure whether it will return. Science now tells us that this is a natural and benign event, not a threat to our existence. If people were so afraid that they sacrificed their cattle in the hope of appeasing whatever evil forces were causing the eclipse, these sacrifices would have been of no value at all.

Another interesting example is the plagues of the Middle Ages. These were certainly terrifying events – in many cases more than half the population was killed. But what should people do about it? The Black Death was caused by fleas carried on rats. Many European cities believed that the plague was carried by cats and tried to kill as many cats as possible. This made the situation much worse!

Science is the best tool we have to deal with these issues. My objection to Al Gore’s approach is that he overstates what we know about the problem so that people are more frightened than they should be. We know that there are natural climate cycles. Europe enjoyed what’s called the “Medieval climate optimum” around 1000-1100 AD and suffered the “Little ice age” around 1600-1700-AD. Surely these changes were not the result of the burning of fossil fuels. The task for scientists is to isolate the effects of atmospheric CO2 from these natural variations. Few, if any, meteorologists believe that Katrina was a result of human-induced climate change. Hurricanes follow a rather predictable pattern related to ocean currents. This pattern has been evident for many years.

If I have one criticism of the IPCC, it’s their unwillingness to challenge Al Gore and other people who blame every weather-related issue on climate change. There is a great deal of “noise” in the climate system, and that noise can occur over hours, days, years, decades, centuries or millennia. None of us is capable of understanding these variations by simple observation over one lifetime. The IPCC is trying hard to understand this problem, but as I argued in my presentation, they have not yet succeeded.

Philip Dragoumis “Private companies may be-- I agree with prof Everett-- better than gov in innovation & technology but their mission is not to help me. Their mission statement is their own profit and survival as a company, therefore I cannot trust only in them my future. Even more I don't elect them while I elect gov. The mission of the government I elect, in theory is to protect me, theirs is not. So, I need a good government to regulate my relationship with the companies. I also need the gov to keep the companies in good shape for what they can offer me, but to ensure that their drive for profit will not harm me, more importantly, the environment I have to live in. If the gov cannot do this, it is, I feel it is not fulfilling it's purpose. Yes? No? and Why?

Prof Moomaw “ I also agree with Philip, that there is no reason to expect that the market will automatically "do the right thing." However, markets respond to policies (the rules that society sets) and markets can be mobilized in very economically efficient ways to help achieve societal goals. We do ned society through the political process to decide where it wishes to go with climate change, and in democracies, we elect people who should represent those views. I need not point out that it does not always work out that way as special interests often dominate even when representing a minority view. Still, it is our major hope as one can see with the statements being made by all candidates in the US.

Prof Everett “ I agree in principle. The question is how much government regulation is necessary? Adam Smith argued persuasively that private individuals operating in a free market achieve socially optimal results, but not because they are altruistic. Competition in the marketplace forces companies to provide consumers with what they want at attractive prices or they will go out of business.

Government has some roles to play: defend the country, ensure a stable currency, enforce contracts, protect us against criminals and, yes, deal with environmental problems. We have had great success in the west in reducing air and water pollution through careful regulation. Overregulation, however, strangles economic growth, limits consumer freedom and keeps us from attaining the living standard we might have. The Soviet Union is the most severe example, but our own experience in the US indicates that government is not all-wise, all-knowing and all-caring. Politicians too have their personal ambitions and use the power available to them accordingly. That is why democracies limit the power of governments. If we are to impose severe controls on carbon emissions, governments will have to be given enormous power. My guess is that we will never get these powers back and will regret the decision

Philip Dragoumis "The world, if based on renewable energy rather than fossil, will become more just, clean, stable and sustainable." Yes or no?
prof Moomaw “ To the question about renewable energy, my answer to Philip is definitely YES, we would have a more secure and sustainable world if we relied much more heavily on renewable energy. Greece is ideally suited to utilize, solar, wind and geothermal power. Sitting on geological faults, it is not well suited for nuclear power even were it to be an affordable and technologically desirable technology. The geothermal potential in Greece is tremendous, and hardly used. Certainly wind power is more affordable than a lignite plant that captures carbon dioxide, and produces few if any air pollutants as well. It also does not harm the land, or pollute the water during mining. Solar thermal is also cost competitive for hot water especially in Greece, and much less subject to political or terrorism disruptions than natural gas. Solar electricity costs are dropping, and Greece should look to Spain and Morocco as places that are using the sun's heat to generate steam and electricity. We will reduce international tensions, and could lower military budgets. if we shifted to renewable energy.

Prof Everett “We need to remember that the fuel component of renewable energy is free and infinite, but the capital component is not. Poor people have access to the Sun, but not to capital. With today’s technology, renewables are a privilege of the wealthy, not the poor. The poor need inexpensive energy. The Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo did not like railroads because he believed they “allow the common people to move about needlessly.” The common people like to move around, and they don’t consider it needless.”

Philip Dragoumis “It was briefly mentioned that with melting ice in the Arctic, new opportunities for profit, commerce and exploitation of natural resources will ensue. If some countries such as Russia, the US, Canada, Norway, Denmark may indeed profit by global warming, how can we sincerely combat warming and ensure international security if there is no adequate global treaty on who claims what in the arctic and on what grounds. In the best scenario those countries will compete with no international law to regulate their relations. This may bring In fact, there should be a no-touch agreement, as in theory it should be agreed that the melting is result of global activities and the area should eventually be restored with the contribution of all nations, to it's original frozen condition, even if this takes humanity 200 years or more to achieve. In two words, the world, for it's urgent security, needs an international no-touch treaty about the arctic. Yes , No and why?
prof Moomaw “While there are countries and corporations that may profit from the melting of the Arctic, there are also increasingly countries such as China and India that are beginning to profit by making efficient appliances, lighting and renewable energy technologies. We need to start putting limits on the amounts of emissions we are allowed to emit, and then encourage companies, innovators and each of us to adopt practices and technologies that help to achieve those goals. you and I can not directly influence how our electric power company produces electricity, but those who can afford it can install some solar panels and generate their own electricity without emissions. All of us can reduce our total demand for electricity by replacing outdated inefficient items with more efficient ones and by using them more wisely, or by simply deciding that we no longer need the latest set of electronic toys.

We can put together an agreement to stay out of the Arctic, and I would favor doing that, but for it to be successful, we also need to dramatically reduce our demand for oil and gas. That requires effective governmental policies that provide alternatives for people.

I might point out that the corporations that have reduced their emissions while continuing to produce more goods, find that up to this point, most of it has saved money. That too is a powerful motivator. The Climate Group in the UK (with whom I do some work) is a partner with many corporations and state and local governments has a set of case studies that is very useful in getting a sense of what is working to motivate organizations to deduce their emissions.

I agree that having an Arctic agreement would be a very good thing to have. One might hope that it could be as successful as the Antarctic Treaty that bans the development of resource extraction for 50 years, and suspends territorial claims.

The Arctic may seem remote to people in greece, but its alteration by climate change will affect even the Mediterranean region with sea level rise. The potential for Greenland ice to raise sea level by 7 meters is a truly frightening possibility.

Prof Everett “I disagree for two reasons. First, in my view, human freedom and well-being are the highest goals. We should not give up the opportunity to raise human living standards, particularly in developing countries. Second, it may very well turn out that the melting of the Arctic ice is a natural phenomenon. Even the IPCC admits that they do not understand this phenomenon. We should not see the climate as something fixed and immutable – it changes all the time. Our task as human beings is to adapt.”

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