Monthly Archives: September 2010

Positive initiatives with empowering hints for change.

From hazards, I want to move to positives. CC disaster messages are unhelpful and depressing (I paraphrased!) when no solutions for helping are provided. I want to look at some innovative initiatives for green changes.

I’m starting with the launch of a new Australian initiative, Safe Climate Australia (http://www.safeclimateaustralia.org/) , that was launched on the 20th of July this year. Al Gore was the keynote speaker at this launch. The mission of Safe Climate Australia is to “mobilise Australia’s extensive technological, economic and political expertise and resources in planning the transition of the Australian economy to zero net carbon, the sequestering of dangerous levels of existing carbon from the atmosphere, and in assisting the building of a global consensus for restoring a safe climate”. Their board of directors includes ex-coal industry directors, ecological experts, marine biologists, business and economics experts and marketing directors. So far I could not find many initiatives on the website, but there is a ‘Run for Climate’ event coming up..

Another initiative is the Green Awards 2009, an Australian scheme exposing and rewarding great green schemes each year. The results are shown here, http://www.news.com.au/features/0,,5019059,00.html, with some incredibly admirable invention and behaviour change ideas. A notable runner up for the ‘green town’ award went to Bundanoon – a town that is banning water sold in plastic bottles! Wow! They’re introducing bubblers all over town instead, and encouraging refilling reusable bottles. The ‘green invention’ this year went to a Brisbanite’s biodegradable bamboo toothbrush invention.

The next initiative that is involving everyone and stirring motivation overseas is 10:10 (http://www.1010uk.org/1010/what_is_1010). This project aims to help everyone, including businesses and schools, cut 10% of their emissions by 2010. This scheme has not been without controversy – some politicians in the UK in one particular party have been dragging their feet on voting yes to legislation that will encourage emission cuts. But what I like about the scheme is that it empowers people with simple tips, a snazzy website that’s very interactive, creates a community of involved people and businesses and encourages every small step. Some people joke about adding tasks to to-do lists that have already been completed, so they feel better about their achievements – I say, why not? This website is a good example. You can tick what you already do/have done, and feel good about it.

And wouldn’t feeling good about our efforts so far be a further motivator?

Incidentally, I would love to use this gadget (http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/09/charge-electrical-device-while-riding-bike.php) to charge stuff up, just by riding my bike. Yes please! Then I can feel good about using less electricity and about getting fitter too!

The moral hazard of geoengineering.

I want to talk about risk, and moral hazards. The idea of a moral hazard, and this term is mostly used in the insurance (remember Beck, and those uninsurable disasters we are all ‘protected’ from?) and financial sector. Moral hazard refers to the idea that a person/group of people will probably behave differently in a risky situation if they are insulated (or insured), than if they weren’t. It’s the idea that someone whose car is insured might be less likely to lock it, than if it wasn’t, because they’re covered for some portion of the risk of getting the car stolen.

The other important part of the moral hazard idea is that the insured party usually not only acts less carefully, but has more information about their possible actions (and probable carelessness) than the insurers. This is what’s called information asymmetry (one party has more info than the other).

And a moral hazard is exactly what some call the idea of geo-engineering. I introduced this concept back in the early blogs – defined as a deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic CC. So what’s the reason some call it a moral hazard? New Scientist, a magazine/website not afraid to publish ‘fringe’ science, published this article on geo-engineering: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327245.600-do-mention-the-g-word.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news.

The reason some people see geo-engineering as a moral hazard is that they fear the idea of a quick and gigantic ‘fix’ to the planet’s CC woes may detract from or even stunt emissions-reduction policies and initiatives. They worry that when people hear of plans for a huge umbrella launched into space to cool earth, they will stop recycling, start using the car for everything – in effect, stop making their individual efforts towards carbon footprint reduction.

However, there is little evidence that this would actually happen – studies by the Royal Society have shown that for most people, the idea of a geo-engineering fix can help spur people on, that little bit more, in their carbon reduction efforts. The Royal Society was quick to point out that their study was only small, so the results must be taken with that in mind, but it’s pleasing to think that geo-eng possibilities might not halt other carbon reduction efforts.

New Scientist published an article called ‘Hacking the planet – the only climate solution left?’ about geo-engineering (http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126973.600-hacking-the-planet-the-only-climate-solution-left.html). This article showed some ideas that are currently on offer for geo-engineering solutions, as well as highlighting the possible problems that may occur with previously untested technologies. The authors argue that the solution, if we can’t cut emissions quickly enough, may lead to technologies that haven’t been fully explored for their own consequences (like releasing massive amounts of sulphur particles into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight). John Latham of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, argues that geo-engineering could be quite cheap, too.

However, The Royal Society jumped back into the fray with another report on geo-eng, on the 1st of September (http://royalsociety.org/document.asp?tip=0&id=8770). Their report, specifically on geo-eng, looked at CO2 removal (from the atmosphere) techniques, and solar radiation management (reflection of light/heat back into space). These are abbreviated to CDR and SRM respectively.

The one year report found that:

–          CDR techniques have relatively low risk and uncertainty, and work on the actual CC-causing problem, but will work slowly

  • Examples: enhanced weathering, CO2 capture, land management

–          SRM techniques act quickly and may be useful in acute crisis, but have unknown consequences and may only reduce some problems; they would also not address wider effects of CO2 (like ocean acidification)

  • Examples: space based methods, cloud moving, stratospheric aerosols

Recommendations include increased mitigation and adaptation efforts, not considering geo-eng as the only alternative, researching geo-eng more and developing codes of practice for this research and testing. Chair of the study, Professor John Shepherd, said, “Some geoengineering techniques could have serious unintended and detrimental effects on many people and ecosystems – yet we are still failing to take the only action that will prevent us from having to rely on them.  Geoengineering and its consequences are the price we may have to pay for failure to act on climate change.”

The moral orders of CC.

I think Joseph Gusfield’s got it, spot on, with his ideas about controversies arising from moral structures in society. His framework about controversy fits right into the CC debates. Gusfield (and unfortunately I am only going off the Gross article for this – I couldn’t find the text or copies of his original book anywhere through UQ lib or databases) proposes that ruling classes create moral orders. These moral orders are more about serving their own powers/interests than serving the communities that follow them. In this way, society’s direction and motivation is in the same vein as the needs and interests of the ruling class.

Gusfield points out usefulness to this structure: our brains would be overwhelmed if they had to decide on merit alone, each time a situation came up, about whether it was right or wrong, appropriate or inappropriate. A moral code lets us decide quickly without evaluating each one every time.

However, he also has a problem with this – he says they have a ‘resilience’ that can defeat all plausible alternatives. To illustrate, he shows that the issue of drunk drivers, far from being the scourge of the roads, overshadow many other factors responsible for highway death (freely available alcohol, lack of public transport, car-focused society, industry rabidly encouraging car use) to create this social problem. The problem being death on the roads, NOT the drink drivers.

The ruling class in this case, is industry, and it’s not in their best interests to discourage car use, nor promote public transport. Gusfield names a worse effect of moral order: by creating highly emotive situations for people, this blunts the opportunity for reasoned debate about the very issue at stake. The media, he says, has a lot to do with dramatising this polarisation.

To bring this back to CC – it’s not in capitalist economic nor political interest (our ruling classes) to encourage simpler ways of living. Of living on less. Of cutting down on building, consuming, creating, trashing. And the high feelings that are evoked to stifle real debate about what to do about CC are beautifully exemplified when I read about CC deniers saying that it’s all a big hoax so the government can steal your money and ‘freedom’ (as I read one day). So instead of debating what we could do, regardless of man-made CC or not, we debate about conspiracy theories of whether we will be free, and what kind of ‘agenda the scientists have’.