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Sunday, November 14, 2010

NIMBY and the Chindia Problem

A NIMBY mutation stalks the halls where diplomats from all the nations try to decide who should do what to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This variant is uttered by the major developed nations (USA in particular) and it is a bit like this: 
Not-going-to-take-any-steps In My BackYard unless everyone (meaning especially that other big polluter, China, and the potentially big polluter, India) does the same.
In return, China is framing the issue as one of rights: developmental rights of developing countries.
They say that the West is trying to deprive the poorer nations of this developmental right when they try to force them to agree to mandatory emissions levels. First let us exercise our developmental rights until we have reached economic parity per capita with the West, and then perhaps we can talk about cuts in emissions, they say.
It's a tough argument to counter, because it smacks of an appeal to fairness.
The Nub of the Tussle

The tussle in the diplomatic halls revolves around two things:
·         numbers: Who has to reduce emissions, by what dates, and from what levels, and who is to pay the costs, and
·         obligations: Is everyone going to be legally bound to reach those targets by those dates, or will a country's best-efforts undertaking be enough?
The U.S., under both Bush and Obama, want equal treatment with China in that neither was and is prepared to have the USA legally bound to targets unless China is also legally bound. 
China and India are arguing for legally binding commitments by the developed nations, but lesser commitments by developing nations, and they put themselves in this category.
To Cap or Not to Cap, that is the Question

The West has argued that everyone must agree to a total cap on global emissions of greenhouse gases, which the developing nations have resisted:
Developing countries have repeatedly resisted calls for a global cap on emissions, because they deduce - accurately - that it implies a cap on their collective emissions: total cut minus industrialised countries' cuts equals their cuts.

The maths says that when all is said and done, this would result in them accepting lower per-capita emissions for decades than Western nations, which they see as hindering their chances for equitable development.
In our view

In our view, these disputes will not be resolved because no one nation believes that it has to agree to anything that is not in its best interests.
To reach agreement therefore will depend on one of two possible things happening: whether the leaders of the bigger nations can agree between themselves on a deal which all can sign, or whether pressure will be exerted on the bigger polluters to stop their pollution of the globally-owned atmosphere.
The first course is improbable, in my view.

The Need for Pressure

The second course – individual nations reducing their own emissions without any global agreement to do so – is more likely, and will only come about due to pressure within such nations for their leaders to do so. 
Such pressure will come from each such nation's citizens, exerting upwards pressure at local, state and federal  level.
The dialogue of the deaf

In both cases, the dialogue of the deaf has to be changed so that people start talking about what principles should be applied to the resolution, rather than simply repeating their positions. Getting to Yes in this case means principle-based negotiations, rather than position-based ones.
Who has to do what to save the earth. We should not and cannot escape this central question.
Our Hero's ideas

In Obelisk Seven we have Nick Kangles, the hero, raise these issues in the international television show on global warming that he is using as his personal vehicle to raise awareness of the threat of global warming. 
He does it partly by introducing a segment in the show which he calls playing the game of Is it Fair?
We borrowed a few ideas for our novel from the EDCC - the Collaborative Program on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change - which was established by the Rock Ethics Institute of PennState University.
The EDCC deals with the approach which every person and every nation should take in considering its own role in saving the earth from global warming. These are the questions we posed in  our novel based on that Program:
  • Is it fair that the people who will be most harmed by global warming did very little to cause it?
  • Is it fair that the poorest will pay the highest price for global warming?
  • Is it fair that everyone should bear the burden of reducing emissions, rather than those who pumped out most of the greenhouse gases paying a higher price?
  • Is it fair that the developed nations have decided to allocate most of the global atmospheric commons to their corporations to pollute, instead of first agreeing that the air of the earth belongs equally to all humans, not mostly to those in the northern part of the earth?
  • Is it fair not to take steps to reduce emissions, if this failure to act has a good chance of harming future generations?

Some guiding facts

And any discussion of who has to do what to reduce global warming must also consider these guiding facts:
  • Fact one is that the developed countries have pumped out most of the carbon dioxide which is still in our atmosphere, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution until today.
  • Fact two is that those who will be harmed by global warming live all over the world, not just in the south.
  • Fact three is that those who will be harmed the most, did relatively less to cause the rise in emissions.
  • Fact four is that there will be a change in the near future, with China and India pumping out more greenhouse gases than most countries, if they continue to expand as they have been for the past twenty years or so.
Let's hope that enough local groups take up the challenge to persuade their local, state and federal governments to take immediate, positive steps to reduce their own emissions, and to adopt similar guiding principles when discussing relative responsibilities with other cities, states and nations.

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