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December 24, 2007

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bcowan

Now that he has moved away a bit from "ought" and closer to "is" I think Posner and I may have something we can agree on: it is exceedingly unlikely that under present social, political and economic conditions there can be any grounds for optimism that global climate change will be mitigated or reversed. The tools available are weak and the conditions that would have to be altered are powerfully constraining against even the conceptualization, let alone the establishment, of alternative ways that nations might cooperate to restrain their self-interests for the sake of being together productively in the world. As Arran Gare, an Australian philosopher with process sensiblities, has pointed out, unless a new model of nationalism comes about, nothing about the great environmental challenges of our times can or will be done.

And as Posner's examples clearly illustrate, present-day resources for dealing with existing challenges are demonstrably inadequate to the unprecedented new challenge of global greenhouse gas emissions control.

But why should the holding of a discussion aimed at finding new relational resources, as at Bali, be sneered at, however merely aspirational, or futile, its results? Or is it the gullible (whoever they may be) who hoped for something more who are ridiculous?

I suppose reasonable people can differ about whether the Bali exercise was undertaken in good faith, but that does not seem (overtly at least) to be the basis of Posner's critique. Also, he appears not to be contesting in any direct way the seriousness of the global warming threat (maybe he is letting Roach et al. speak for him).

In sum, I am having some trouble seeing why he is in attack-by-irony mode (viz., claiming that impossibility of agreement on this subject is somehow "taboo" - Who actually thinks that?)

Well, it hardly matters whether he can think of reasons against international conferences on global warming. If something is not eventually done to expand and deepen the current resources for international cooperativeness on a wide variety of issues which globalization has made quite suddenly relevant, if not acute, then human social pathologies will have overcome human inventiveness at last.

Something like it is certain to happen anyway. Our species hasn't been around very long, as things go. There was nothing necessary that brought us about in the first place and nothing guarantees our survival. But people ought not to be ridiculed but rather be encouraged to entertain hopes, I would think.

Roach

I hope the Earth gets warmer.

Barry

"But why should the holding of a discussion aimed at finding new relational resources, as at Bali, be sneered at, however merely aspirational, or futile, its results? Or is it the gullible (whoever they may be) who hoped for something more who are ridiculous? "

Because Posner is on the side of those responsible for the situation described in the preceding paragraph:

"And as Posner's examples clearly illustrate, present-day resources for dealing with existing challenges are demonstrably inadequate to the unprecedented new challenge of global greenhouse gas emissions control."

Remember - step #1 in the denialist program was to deny that the climate is changing; step #2 was to claim that the changes were normal; step #3 was to deny that human actions were causal. We're now on step #4 - deny that there are any feasible actions that could help.

melissa

(1) All of the blog entries on climate treaties are fascinating, but strangely, don't seem to account for a country's built-in incentive to limit emissions. In other words, aren't we forgetting that people want to live in clean, healthy environments? Individuals may not care that much about long-term effects on global warming, but they do care about more near-term problems, such as keeping rivers and streams clean for drinking water and fish or other wildlife.

A look at our own history of environmental efforts shows that most of the successes have been on the local level, and only in response to a specific problem. During this country's industrialization, we didn't seem to care very much about the effect those coal factories or steam engines had on the environment. But slowly, certain communities seemed to be bearing the load. In California, for example, where there is both a high population and a dearth of public transportation, it became evident that something needed to be done about air pollution--pollution which was attributed to all the cars on the road. As a result, that state has been the leader in capping auto emissions. Other states with large cities such as Illinois have followed suit. But rural states, such as Kansas, have not enacted similar laws (or have laxer requirements) because they don't feel the effects as palpably.

Likewise, in Chicago, none of the residents seemed to mind the waste that was being dumped into Lake Michigan or the Chicago River so many decades ago. Though neighboring states such as Missouri and Indiana would complain, it wasn't until it became so bad for Chicago itself, that change occurred.

Thus, it is important not to discount the fact that countries that are in the process of rapid development (such as China, India, and Brazil) may not have many environmental controls at present, but that does not mean that as their own problems worsen, that they will not develop the same incentives to change.

(2) Similarly, because the environmental problems are so varied from place to place, and opinions even more varied, it seems nearly impossible for countries to reach a consensus. In the United States, there is wide debate about how much cost-efficiency should be sacrificed to environmentalism. If we cannot even agree on a single policy in this country, how can we expect to lay out a coherent position in an international forum? And, if other countries are similarly divided on how the problem should be handled, how can many countries come to an agreement?

If anything, it seems like we should be focusing on domestic efforts, or at most, regional treaties, rather than trying in vain to work out a global solution that will work for every country, permanently.

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