Do our leaders care about the environment?

Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is not satisfied by the lack of attention given to environmental and social issues at the current Poznan talks.

I was right in my article on sustainable development, our leaders only think about the economy, the economy and the economy. Climate change is a HUGE threat, it should have their attention.

Governing is all about foreseeing the future problems and acting proactively to avoid them. In this regard, not many of our leaders are doing their job.

Here is what the AFP notes on an interview given by Pachauri:

The head of the world’s top climate scientists says he is stunned at the trillion-dollar cheques that have been signed to ease the banking crisis when funding for poverty and global warming is scrutinised or denied.

In an interview on the sidelines of the UN climate talks here, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said he was both astonished and dismayed at the imbalance.

“It seems very strange, what has happened in the past two or three months,” he told AFP.

“It defies any kind of logic, if you look at the type of money that the world has spent on these bailouts, 2.7 trillion dollars (2.13 trillion euros) is the estimate, and it’s been done so quickly and without questioning.”

Pachauri recalled that when the Millennium Development Goals for attacking poverty and sickness were being drawn up, a panel chaired by Ernesto Zedillo, the former president of Mexico, suggested “a fairly modest estimate” of 50 billion dollars a year in help for poor countries.

“But everyone scoffed at it. Nobody did a damn thing,” Pachauri said in the interview on Monday.

(…) The December 1-12 talks in Poznan, taking place under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are intended to serve as a springboard to an ambitious new treaty to slash emissions of greenhouse gases beyond 2012.

The deal is scheduled to be completed in Copenhagen in December 2009.

(…) Only seven years are left, warned Pachauri, for global emissions of greenhouse gases to peak and then start declining, in order to stem warming to around two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels.

Tackling the problem would cost less than three percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2030, a fleabite when compared to the bill that would come from drought, flood, rising sea levels and storms, he said.

Pachauri added that he was pressing for a meeting with US President-elect Barack Obama to drive home his message. “If I can get 10 minutes with him, that’s all I’ll need,” he said.

The discussions are not exactly going in the right direction. Indeed, the AP notes on another article:

Negotiators from 190 countries agreed a year ago to complete a new global warming treaty by the end of 2009 that would force governments to reduce carbon emissions.

That deadline now appears to be slipping away.

“It was too optimistic to begin with,” said Eileen Claussen, the president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, whose organization closely monitors the U.S. Congress on climate issues.

(…) Yvo de Boer, the U.N.’s top climate official, has said it is critical to have a new framework by next year, though he doubted a full text could be reached by then.

In any case, be sure that I will keep you posted on that most important matter. So for this and for much more, stay tuned !

7 thoughts on “Do our leaders care about the environment?”

  1. From the talk going around Washington, it looks like President-elect Obama is very concerned about the environment and is going to make a concerted effort to work on a solution. Hopefully he will put people to work for him that have a handle on the issue and can make the changes necessary to turn this ecological disaster around. He certainly has his hands full with multiple crisis situations to solve.

  2. I write about this issue a lot in choice and citizenship.

    What must always be remembered is that in a democracy, “our leaders” are elected, and therefore are not leaders, but followers.

    They follow expressed public opinion. Expressed public opinion in the West is in favour of low interest rates, low unemployment, low inflation, low commodity, manufactured goods and house prices, and so on.

    For example, I have had the following conversation with a fellow Australian.
    “Do you think it’s good to buy Australian?”
    “Do you think Chinese workers should earn more than $150 a month?”
    “If you go into the shop and there are two shirts which are just the same, except that one is $10 and the other is $50, which do you buy?”
    “The $10 one.”

    We the public act in our own interest, and the saying is, “actions speak louder than words.” Our elected representatives follow our expressed wishes. So our elected representatives favour dropping tariff barriers, so we can get our $10 shirts, and they don’t press China on worker’s rights and conditions.

    Imagine that you are elected President of the United States in 2000. You are aware that global oil production is peaking soon, and to the US with 4.5% of the population but 25% of the oil consumption, this will be a big problem. When supply falls short of demand, you can

    (a) reduce demand, or
    (b) increase supply.

    Reducing demand means telling your people “no more burgers and SUVs.” Increasing supply means invading Iraq. But “no more burgers and SUVs” will get you kicked out of office. And then your successor will abandon all your policies anyway. Remember that Carter put solar panels on the roof of the White House. But he lost office, and Reagan took them down, and got a second term. Oh well, may as well invade Iraq, then.

    They’re not our leaders. They’re our elected representatives. They represent and put into action our expressed wishes. Our expressed wishes are for burgers and SUVs, for an endlessly-growing economy and endlessly-growing consumption and waste.

    Our expressed wishes are not sending billions of dollars to starving Africans, or trillions on new renewable infrastructure.

    Always remember that – they are not leaders, but followers, elected representatives. This is why each season I write to my local, state and federal representatives and tell them what I think. This is surprisingly effective; I read once an interview with a state MP who said that if he got more than 30 letters on any one topic he’d bring it up in parliament, because he knew that for each person writing there were a hundred who felt the same way but didn’t write, but who’d remember the issue at the next election.

    In my local council area a Post Office box had been taken away because they only got half a dozen letters in it each week, it wasn’t worth the trouble. But a little old lady used to put letters in it every day or two, now it would be a 600m walk for her, a bit much with her walking frame, and she wrote to her local councillor, who ignored her, and then the local paper, who did a story about her. Suddenly there were 100 letters to the state MP, who then brought up the issue in state parliament. The mailbox is back now.

    They are not our leaders. They are our elected representatives, and they will act to represent our expressed wishes, even on issues of the most astonishing triviality. If they are failing, it is because we are failing.

  3. On thought, I would add that the problems of poverty are not ones which can be instantly fixed by spending money on them. That’s a bit different to a bank collapse.

    I mean, that difference is not really the reason that our elected representatives ignore Third World poverty and worry about banks, the reason for that is as I said, they’re representing the public’s expressed wishes.

    Nonetheless, the problems of poverty in the Third World are more to do with people. Simple things like building a bridge are difficult. If someone said to me, “here’s $10 million, go build a 300m bridge across that river, it has to be able to support 100 tonnes of traffic at any one time,” sure I can hire 1,000 workers but I just don’t know how to build the thing, how to survey ground or organise 1,000 workers for best effect.

    Third World countries don’t have enough qualified engineers, enough people used to organising large projects. People say, “well since we don’t really know what we’re doing, the bridge we build will fall down in a couple of years anyway, I may as well get some of the cash for me.” So if you just give them $10 million to build a bridge, the most disappears in that incompetence, and a bit of corruption, too.

    Often our solution is to educate the people at our Western universities, the problem is that they tend not to return to their countries. An interesting article was written about this. What it comes down to is that if you’re (say) a Sudanese woman who comes to (say) Marseilles and qualifies as an engineer or a doctor, you end up with a choice between returning to Sudan and facing $100 a month salary, corruption and violence, or staying in France with $5,000 a month salary, able to send $2,000 of that home to your family, and in France a more or less honest system and peace. You’d have to be very idealistic to go back.

    Incompetence locally, the best and brightest leaving and not coming back, plus corruption – these are things which are not solved simply by throwing cash at them. The cash enriches the elites but does not help the people at large.

    Whereas, “the bank ran out of money, let’s give them some” at the least seems to be a problem which can be solved with wads of cash. Of course really it isn’t. Giving cash to a bank who gambled the last lot is like giving money to a drug addict who’s hungry – you haven’t addressed the basic cause of the problems, and are only treating the symptoms. But it seems to be different.

    Unfortunately our elected representatives follow us, and so like us they look to the moment, not the long term. “Why didn’t you see this coming?” the people ask of governments who allowed CDOs and other dodgy stuff to happen. Well, why didn’t the public see that treating their mortgage as a low interest credit card – “the house value went up $40,000, let’s borrow another $40,000 and buy a plasma screen tv and a round-the-world trip!” – was going to cause trouble in the future? They only followed us.

    Once we really understand that our elected representatives do in fact represent us, we understand the problem, and know the solution.

  4. [Irony inside] What? Edouard, are you asking our politicians to have a long term vision? Longer than the term of their election? Risk the friendship & support of influent firms which would be the first to be handicapped by non short-term profitable measures? But, but… they would risk being not reelected or furthermore, they would risk not having another “cool job” after the end of their term… that’s asking too much don’t you think? [/Irony inside]

    What we see here is analog to what we can observe on the Economy side: short term thinking, egocentricity and fast paced return on investment. You cannot take care of the environment with such a way of thinking not more than you can build a stable economy.

  5. oh, that’s a lot of comments. Many thanks Beverly (welcome to this blog!), Kiashu and my good friend Tim ! 🙂

    Let me answer to your comments by arriving order:

    > Beverly: I also believe President Obama will make a lot of things on environmental issues, especially climate change. His speeches for the past few months make me confident about that.

    But, even if he is the President of the United States, he is only a man. It will take many more like him to go forward.

    > Kiashu: that’s two long comments. Thanks for that ! 🙂

    I agree with you, our elected representatives follow us, but as an Idealist writing at one am, I was – and still am – thinking that they should lead us as Churchill, De Gaulle, Roosevelt, Mandela and so on did when our countries were in danger.

    People with guts – or balls, or both – that see the issues at hand and want to do their hardest to solve our problems.

    But you are right, we have to change first. And this article makes me confident that change is coming.

    > Tim : many thanks for your first comment here. 😛

    Your ideas are similar to Kiashu’s: we have to change first. (we, as we the people)

    I have a series of article on that: enabling the people to change towards the right direction. I will make an announcement soon !

    So many thanks once again to the three of you. I look forward to read you again ! 🙂

  6. Obama Sounds the Sustainable Development Horn
    Sustainable Land Development International
    December 2008 Newsletter

    During the tension-filled press conference to announce key members of his economic team on November 24th, U.S. President-Elect Obama laid out the broad strokes of his plan to revitalize the U.S. economy by focusing on massive investment in development infrastructure designed to boost the economy short-term, and better position the country for long-term prosperity:

    “Beyond any immediate actions we may take, we need a recovery plan for both Wall Street and Main Street, a plan that stabilizes our financial system and gets credit flowing again, while at the same time addressing our growing foreclosure crisis, helping our struggling auto industry and creating and saving 2.5 million jobs – jobs rebuilding our infrastructure, our roads, our bridges, modernizing our schools and creating the clean energy infrastructure of the 21st century.”

    In concluding, Obama described his plans by specifically injecting the word “sustain(able)” five times:

    “Not only do I want the stimulus package to deal with the immediate crisis. I want it also to lay the groundwork for long-term sustained economic growth. We’ve got to make sure that the investments are made to sustain economic growth over the long term…And then what we also have to do as part of this package, and this is going to be one of the major charges to my economic team, is that we reform how business is done in Washington and how the budgeting process works, how projects are done, so that we have a path towards a sustainable and responsible budget scenario down the line…So the way to think about it is, short term we’ve got to focus on boosting the economy and creating 2.5 million jobs, but part and parcel of that is a plan for a sustainable fiscal situation long term, and that’s going to require some reforms in Washington. Any additional money that we put into the auto industry, any help that we provide, is designed to assure a long-term, sustainable auto industry and not just kicking the can down the road.”

    Obama’s blueprint for economic stimulus has received approval from many quarters, both domestically and abroad, including the People’s Daily which reported, “The brilliant part of this plan is that, not only is Obama viewing the current catastrophe as a crisis, but as a historical opportunity.” According to this line of thought, the plan is to combine the financial cushion of the bailout, with the social benefits of education investment and medical insurance, together with energy independence and environmental protection. This holistic triple-bottom-line approach reportedly “will lay a solid foundation for the long-term sustainable development of the US economy.”

    Follow the Money

    We will be watching closely to see if the new US President has the ability and political will to follow through when members of Congress push back as established coffers are inevitably threatened as a result of these proposed changes.

    On the other hand, there continues to be increasingly powerful demand for change such as that being proposed. According to a post-election note entitled “Achieving a Sustainable Global Economy” from Ceres, an investor network controlling $7 trillion with the mission of integrating sustainability into capital markets, “The stumbling financial markets show the consequences of unfettered pursuit of profits in a system that has no debits on the ledger for environmental degradation and no credits for a social conscience. We must accept the offer made last night by the president-elect to “join in the work of remaking the nation.” And we must hold our new leaders to their promise to reform the instruments of our society to assure a future that is livable, safe and just for everyone.”

    Regardless of political affiliation, we all must accept the offer to remake our nation, and collectively hold our leaders’ “feet to the fire” to deliver. SLDI, a developer-led and cooperatively-owned technology and information resource company, is now fully positioned to transform the industry that creates the very infrastructure of our civilization. Sustainable development starts with our global infrastructure. If it is unsustainable, ultimately nothing else can be.

    Your participation and comments are welcome.

    Terry Mock
    Executive Director
    Sustainable Land Development International

    Promoting land development worldwide that balances the needs of people, planet and profit – for today and future generations.

  7. “I was – and still am – thinking that they should lead us as Churchill, De Gaulle, Roosevelt, Mandela and so on did when our countries were in danger.”

    That would be lovely. However, notice that you can name a few elected representatives who were genuine leaders, not followers. How many Prime Ministers has Britain had besides Churchill? How many Presidents and Emperors and Kings has France had besides De Gaulle? How many Presidents has South Africa had besides Mandela?

    Genuine leaders help, but they are rare, so we ought not to rely on them. If I have fallen on the train tracks before on oncoming train, a brave person may come and drag me off. But it would be prudent not to lie there quietly waiting for that brave person, and just to move myself if I can.

    I always react against people hoping for great leaders, because all too often it’s an excuse for inaction. “I could do great things! If only I had a great leader. Until then, I’ll just watch tv.”

    I would also argue that the good leader is one who can only come about as an expression of the people’s will. That is, Roosevelt could not have brought in the New Deal unless the people were screaming for action. A close study of the events of the Depression shows that people were doing a lot for themselves long before Roosevelt was in charge. They were resisting evictions, tossing out bank managers, starting their own local currencies, and so on. Roosevelt had a mandate for change if only to avert actual revolution.

    Likewise, before Churchill was PM, the prevailing mood of the public was a desire to fight the Germans. Chamberlain lost government because his desire for peace at any price, and the inaction in the Phony War, these did not match the public. He’d stopped following them. And so Churchill could be PM.

    So even in the case of these Great Men you name, they took power and brought in the policies they did as a response to public pressure. They too were followers and not leaders.

    But even supposing that Great Leaders exist. There is also a danger in waiting for the Great Leader. For every good leader, there is a bad one. Some of them are Hitlers and Stalins. When we wait for someone who tries to shape events against the will of the people, that person may do so out of malice. Sometimes we don’t know which they are until the damage is already done. That’s the danger with Great Men.

    It is better to not wait for the Great Man, and instead to recognise that our elected representatives are followers, and will follow the public whichever way we lead. It is time we lead them somewhere good.

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