Guest Blog by * Chris Goodall, writer for the Guardian and green party candidate British election.
Okay, I lost the election. But what I lost was not a seat in the British Parliament. I lost something much more valuable: the chance to push for a climate bill like the one now being framed in the United States.
2010 was the coldest European winter in 30 years. Here in cloudy, dank Oxford, snow puzzled everyone by remaining on the ground for weeks. Many people now choose to interpret this extreme weather as a false reassurance that 2010 will not meet predictions and become one of the hottest summers on record. Apparently, there's an inbuilt human bias towards optimism, something programmed in our genes, and we British have it in spades. It is what protects us from fatalistic despair in our most desperate moments. It's what saw us through the Blitz.
In addition to this inherent optimism, British voters simply have little time to worry about the habitability of the planet fifty years from now. Most wonder if public sector pensions should be frozen so that we can continue with public services tomorrow. As always, long-range preparations lose out to the urgency of crisis management.
This is true everywhere. In Australia recently, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently complained that 'climate change remains a fundamental economic ... environmental and moral challenge for all ... people' even as he surrendered in the battle to establish a global cap-and-trade system.
All around the world, it seems, awareness that the world has reached its environmental limits vies with a pathological inability to prepare for the climate crisis. The issue is too distant and intangible for most people. Most importantly, it will cost substantial amounts of money while providing visible benefits only for our grandchildren.
Of course, people can be surprisingly unselfish. But our limited reserves of altruism are always directed towards those whose lives we touch daily: relatives and neighbors. As a consequence, our most natural course is not to restrict consumption of fossil fuels, to live green lives, or to participate in global campaigns to cut emissions. Rather, we respond to the generational threat of climate change with what might be called 'the Chinese option', the intention of becoming as rich as possible, in order to leave sufficient wealth to help our descendants escape the climate disasters that await us all a few short decades from now.
My book, Ten Technologies to Save the Planet tries to provide more practical strategies for coping with climate change now. It looks examines different ways of substantially affecting the world's demand for fossil fuels and the best means of capturing CO2 from the air.
The book is based on two propositions. First, that humankind is going to want huge amounts of energy for use in homes and businesses. We just aren't going to win the climate battle by restricting lifestyles, and we may as well admit that... Second, many environmentalists do not like capitalism but the free market system is the only one with the energy and resourcefulness to come to grips with emissions controls in the limited time left to us. Environmentalism needs to respect the human desire for comfort and accept the unpalatable truth that working with the free market, rather than opposing it, is likely will be more successful in uncoupling economic growth from ecological destruction.
None of that matters now. The new British Parliament is a hung jury that will accomplish little until after another election is held (possibly next fall). The time for appropriate action is slipping away. As it did long ago when the specter of fascism threatened everyone, the world once again needs the leadership of countries the United States.
Meanwhile in America, people like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) campaign to stall bi-partisan climate change legislation until the midterm election claiming that the Gulf Oil spill is a more important issue requiring the full effort of congress. Once again, Republicans encourage America to 'go slow' until they can win sufficient influence to obstruct the best election promises made by President Obama's Democrats.
Can America be fooled once again by the mouthpieces of a corporate-owned congress?
* Chris Goodall's latest book, Ten Technologies to Save the Planet is published in its US edition by Greystone Books, now available at amazon.com.