As the UN Climate Summit — which designed to establish a new international climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol — commenced on Monday in Durban, South Africa, many large nations appear determined to stall the implementation of a new climate change framework. In what can only be described as a willful pursuit of the tragedy of the commons, developing nations such as India and Brazil have joined forces with rich nations in an attempt to stall climate talks until 2015 at the earliest. While the developed and developing nations attempting to stall the current round of negotiations have different reasons for stalling the discussion on climate change, they are united by a common trait: their reckless shortsightedness.
It is not an original idea to claim that the 2007 financial crisis was perhaps the worst thing to happen to the environmental movement since the invention of CFCs, but that hypothesis is worth repeating. At a time when the global economy is still trying to recover from the worst economic crisis since the depression there seems to be very little time or political capital for governments to expend on reversing climate change.
Politicians are much more concerned with keeping their citizens employed than they are with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and their constituents are complicit in this lack of action. The fact of the matter is that choosing between employment and a cleaner environment is not a difficult choice for most.
The result is that politicians are often hesitant to enact environmental legislation that will place greater burdens on businesses by requiring them to implement costly pollution-reduction mechanisms, which in turn could reduce hiring. The irony in all of this is that by weakening their own economic position during the financial crisis, businesses have seemingly strengthened their stranglehold over government. With economists decrying the precarious position of the world’s economy, governments are increasingly hesitant to do anything to stand in their way.
This economic environment has created a scenario in which developed countries are still struggling to reduce high unemployment rates meaning that environmental legislation, and the possible burdens it places on businesses, is risky to enact. On the other hand, developing countries, especially China, view the economic crisis as an opportunity to catch up to the developed, Western countries. Developing countries such as India and Brazil see no reason as to why they should be required to develop in a sustainable way when already developed countries were not required to develop in such a manner. Developing countries are also quick to point out the fact that their per capita emissions remain far below those of their richer counterparts.
It is indisputable that there are valid economic reasons behind the position of each country attempting to stall the Durban round of negotiations. However, there is no reason in pursuing a course of action that directly affronts the scientific community’s dire consensus concerning climate change. With that in mind, it is time for everyone, politicians and constituents alike, to leave economic ideology behind. The economists did not tow mankind out from the doldrums of ignorance; the scientists did. They literally invented the engines that run the economy, and they are pleading with the world to change its course of action. It is time we started listening to them again, or, perhaps, if society fails to listen, the economists can turn our abundance of shortsightedness into a commodity and begin trading that amid our smoldering climate.
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