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Haggling at the Climate Change Talks

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I have been pessimistic about climate talks for a while now. But my beliefs don't matter and rightfully so, because there are enough of us out there who just nod our heads and smile wryly as we watch the human race go through this extended debate about lifestyle choices, human ingenuity and predictions of global catastrophes.

So here we have countries from all over the world attempting find a balance between development and emissions. When you get countries who are at peace behind closed doors, you get to watch a lot of endless bargaining. In this case, they bargain about how to distribute pain, so future generations have less of it. No one wants to over-commit because, well, who wants to give more than necessary. By necessary, I mean just being able to appease the global community and by global community, I mean the diplomats of the countries that matter.

Every country wants to give only enough to appease both its own myopic citizens and the other countries who are themselves myopic to all but themselves. The talks do repeatedly break down, not because people don't care but because all people, and by extension, all countries, are inherently selfish. It is a "tragedy of the commons" dilemma — the kind that basic economics textbooks teach us.

But the selfishness is often justified. People are myopic for reasons beyond basic human nature. Developing countries where people still struggle to make a living will never understand the complexities that affect their livelihoods. Developing countries cannot afford to be farsighted, not when they still haven't reached lifestyles of opulence. In Inglehart's terms, there is still a far journey between survival and self-expression.

For any binding contracts to succeed, the developing countries need to be cleverly incentivized, because why would a poor country ever agree to go green at the cost of remaining poor? And the rich countries already having gone through industrialization without any environmental constraints, have a shaky moral ground to be able to impose upon the developing world.

But let us believe that climate talks are successful, and that contracts will be drawn out which will be agreed upon by all. Even then the world will not become a better place to live in any time soon, there will be no songs of joy and no dances to commemorate a cleaner, greener and beautiful tomorrow. Emissions will still rise, albeit more slowly, and other plans will still need to be adopted. The only reason why these plans are not already in place is because they don't exist yet. But we need to trust human ingenuity, Its all we have.

Thus the next step would be to continue investing in the creation of a lot of plan-B's, independent of political intervention at both the global level and at the national level, giving scientists a free hand in getting as creative as they can, with a final goal of creating a world that continues to provide for all of humankind's needs. There might even be some money invested into the development of alternative ecosystems — ones which accept climate change as an inevitability and adapt to suit our needs.

An ideal world wouldl be one in which environment-friendly countries can isolate themselves from the rest of polluting world. I guess the future of a peaceful planet might just lie in countries somehow managing to free themselves from the negative externalities imposed by the rest. Climate change talks will be meaningless in such a world, but until then, we shall watch our diplomats haggle over issues that really will not solve any problems, only delay the inevitability of having to depend on science, technology and ingenuity to rescue us.

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About P Chandra

  • Sanam Shendge

    Aye!! Go ya…

  • TC

    Well. It is the poor island countries that will suffer because of all this discord between countries. Only the powerful get to decide at a global scale. The rest shall sink.