Monday, September 30, 2013

Will Governments Provide The Leadership Than Corporations Are Looking For On Climate Policy

The press has been filled with reports on the latest report from the IPCC on the risks that we face from climate change.  This article by Nicholas Stern who wrote the influential report on climate change that increased our awareness of climate science, and the threat of climate change, summarizes the IPCC's latest report.  We are reaching a tipping point that will lead to irreversible and disastrous changes unless we act quickly to cut carbon emissions.  Stern believes that, with few exceptions, most corporations understand the issues and that they are looking for governments to provide the signals that they need to move more aggressively in the direction of more sustainable industrial policies.  The UK has put a stake in the ground by adopting policies which will be helpful.  Political leadership from the US and China, which are the largest emitters of carbon, is essential for the development of  policies that will point our large corporations in the right directions.  President Obama understands the risks that we face, and he has been making efforts in the US to provide the right set of signals to our corporations.  The risks from climate change in Asia are so serious that they cannot be ignored by leaders in China. Stern ends his article with a glimmer of hope for the development of a more sustainable industrial policy.

I don't know much about the politics in China but I am deeply concerned about politics in the US.  It is understandable that corporations most directly affected by policies that limit carbon emissions will resist government efforts to push the US economy in a more sustainable direction.  What bothers me most about the ability of the US government to work successfully with our large corporations to develop sustainable policies is political resistance.  A large segment of the US population has adopted beliefs , influenced of course by those able to shape public opinion, that are almost religious in nature.  They are not subject to change by the kind of data provided by the IPCC.  They associate efforts to reduce carbon emissions with a more general liberal conspiracy that threatens their way of life. Those conspiracy theories have been carefully nurtured by politicians who benefit from them. It will be difficult for politicians dependent upon a distrust of any policy tainted by an association with liberalism to reverse course on climate policy.

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