Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Inevitable Thaw in Global Warming

As I've said before, it is an indisputable scientific fact that the world is getting warmer, that the trend is likely to continue, and that humans are partly if not mostly responsible. The only real question is what, if anything, should be done about it.

The new Harvard Business Review has a whole section on it, featuring my b-school hero Michael Porter, and futurist Peter Schwartz who I respect greatly, but -- am I crazy? --I can't find a single recommendation that wouldn't be worth doing even if the world were not warming. Reduce transportation costs? Manage water resources wisely? A smart firm should do those things, period.

Sorry, there are a few exceptions. Michael Porter suggests that in some industries, new government regulations promoting carbon trading could make it more profitable for, say, a forestry company to plant rather than harvest trees. But that's a fake example that applies to any government policy. Farmers already plant unwanted crops when the government artificially subsidizes them.

Now I see that in our local Mercer Island City Council election of all places, we have candidate Patti Darling making this her number one campaign issue. How ridiculous is that? Reduce our carbon footprint, she says!? What on earth does that have to do with zoning, traffic, taxes--the issues that matter to me? Name one thing you would do on Mercer Island to reduce carbon emissions that wouldn't be smart even if there were no global warming? I dare you: think of a specific proposal that can't be justified for better, more practical and short-term reasons.

By the way, I'm ignoring the important fact that anything we do is so trivial that it will be completely irrelevant to the global climate. Sure, we can "show leadership" or whatever, but our sister city in China will be happy to out-pollute our leadership if it offers a way out of poverty.

Even if the entire world were to unite on this issue, most people agree that significant climate change is inevitable no matter what we do. But here's my point: we're not interested in an issue whose significant effects take decades, where mitigation steps are important for good reasons that have nothing to do with climate, and especially when it's clear to us that politicians and businesses are using this as crude attempt to sound like they care.

So I have a prediction: the 2008 election season will be the high point for "Global Warming" as a significant campaign issue. By 2012, and certainly within a decade or two, public attention will return to other, more meaningful problems. Sure, sea levels might rise and polar bears might die, but 2050 is a long, long time from now and we'll have long since given up on politicians who can't describe their platform more pragmatically.

Bonus question: how come nobody runs a City Council campaign on solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, or better relations with China, or reducing third world poverty? Any of those issues would have immediate relevance to many of us (and our relatives) today, could drive practical local initiatives (like sister city programs), and would have sustainable long-term benefits to children.

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