Gore - Non-Linear Climate Change Politics
By Bill Henderson
24 July, 2007
"We are vastly mis-educated as children into
thinking that problems are linear and can be solved by linear thinking. If ecology teaches
us anything, it is that we live within and are permeated by, right down to each cell,
non-linear systems that cannot be predicted or 'strategically addressed' ."
Paul Hawken Rachel's Democracy and Health News
Al Gore could be much more effective as
Climate change is a global scale problem requiring
unprecedented co-operation and organized self-regulation in limiting greenhouse gas
emissions and the only possibly effective program for change must practically be led by
the US. Climate change is a problem that requires the US, China, Russia, India and each
and every other country in the world working together for solution. But America was the
leader in developing our present fossil fueled global economy and of necessity must lead
in innovating the next, non-carbon emitting, economy.
First hurdle: the Bush Admin has done immeasurable damage
to both the emerging multilateral global governance and America's ability to be an
effective leader with it's unilateralist foreign policies (Kyoto, etc) and by choosing the
resource war path for us all with aggression in Iraq.
America must renounce this unilateralist path and justice
must be done to those who launched an illegal war of cynical self-interest before America
will be in a position to lead again in the solution of these building global scale
problems. Impeachment as catharsis? - improbable but at least a hopeful possibility.
Second hurdle: America's politics and political system are
In 1998 I wrote A SPEECH FOR AL suggesting
that in order to have a mandate and freedom to use his presidency to address climate
change Al had to first escape the present political straightjacket process. Mr. Gore was
not particularity effective within the Clinton government on climate change mitigation. In
2000 he didn't try to win on his own terms. This time Al is free to ignore the primaries
and the need to become a puppet owned/controlled by key constituencies.
But, third hurdle, so far, Americans have only awoken to
the undeniable reality of climate change and still do not have a full appreciation of the
seriousness of potentially crossing at any time, maybe even this decade, an unmarked
threshold to runaway climate change, beyond which there is no hope for
management/mitigation. Very few Americans as yet realize that we are losing control of
climate change and are close to crossing over a threshold that could mean extinction for
humanity and most species with which we now share creation.
Instead Americans are being conditioned to view climate
change as a long slow temperature rise with bad weather in 2050 maybe; with maybe some sea
coast flooding and no polar bears, maybe water problems IN THE FUTURE in the South-West,
and maybe it will be too hot to play baseball in St Louis in the middle of summer.
Climate change is not yet perceived as a danger dwarfing
terrorism in magnitude, dwarfing Hitler's fascism; as a danger requiring a wartime style
government, mobilization, and economic reconfiguration as envisioned by Lester Brown with
his PLAN B
governance innovation. Far from it, for Americans it's still the economy,
stupid and maybe whether a woman or a non-white can be president.
A Gore run for president will only happen and be
successful when this true appreciation of danger from climate change pushes far ahead of
more immediate economic and security electoral concerns. And, in all probability, this
more accurate appreciation of the climate change danger won't happen in time for 08 so Mr.
Gore is probably not electable as climate change president and is probably more effective
still as an outsider.
So hurdles, political sinks and peaks and vise-like
timeframes, but there is another problem with Al for climate change prez:
Even if he was electable, if we follow the emission
reduction policies Mr. Gore has been advocating, we will fail to reduce emissions on a
scale needed to ensure little probability of runaway climate change; we will not make
major reductions soon enough. Although Gore advocates reasonable and possibly effective
cap and trade instruments, this type of regulation will predictably be negotiated down to,
first of all, an ineffective cap, and then subverted when implemented by those who can -
and market pressures in turbulent times will provide both opportunity and incentive
Perhaps more importantly, re-configuring our
socio-economies through use of these instruments will take too much time if there is no
organized stabilizing plan to make a turnaround from the present sprawl construction based
economy possible. Relocalization is promising and cap and trade instruments will probably
get us there eventually, but too late for emission reduction on a scale needed. Not 90% by
Gore's present completely within Business As Usual climate
change mitigation policies reminds me of Dr.Jerry
Franklin trying to craft a workable BAU forest industry solution to
profound economic-ecological problems within an impossibly path dependent policy framework
- all you end up doing is fooling the public about what is possible. Continuing clearcuts
with a few straggly trees pretending to be partial retention. The illusion of meaningful
But say Gore ran with the message that only a wartime
coalition government capable of promising, first, a real program for US and global success
in mitigating climate change, AND second, a fair, stabilized relocalizing re-configuration
of the American economy in this war on climate change program - then, if elected, there
would be a mandate for a new approach to government, for a cap and trade with a high
enough cap to be effective with a much reduced chance of subversion, and much more scope
for innovation and change.
Just like in WW2 the economy would go on with the promise
of normality in the future - operating under a cautionary flag for a NASCAR analogy - but
real change would now be unblocked. Combine with enviro-health and economic security
benefits from relocalization - especially workable ways of reducing American dependence on
foreign oil - and you have a saleable vision of how we can get there from here.
Won't happen; can't get there from here; but at least this
improbable politics COULD be effective in changing course so that 90% by 2030 was possible
in the US. This improbable path would have the US leading in a reconfiguration of the
global economy that could provide the leadership, incentive and innovation to ameliorate
the worst possibilities of dangerous climate change.
But, as you surely know Mr.
Gore, if we fail this time there could easily be no future generations of
people and maybe, if positive feedbacks from latent sources of carbon propel temperatures
high enough, not even forests on this Earth any more.
The evolutionary paradigm is different from the
conventional optimization paradigm popular in economics in at least four important
respects (Arthur 1988): 1) evolution is path dependent, meaning that the detailed history
and dynamics of the system are important; 2) evolution can achieve multiple equilibria; 3)
there is no guarantee that optimal efficiency or any other optimal performance will be
achieved due in part to path dependence and sensitivity to perturbations; and 4)
lock-in (survival of the first rather than survival of the fittest) is
possible under conditions of increasing returns. While, as Arthur (1988) notes
"conventional economic theory is built largely on the assumption of diminishing
returns on the margin (local negative feedbacks)" life itself can be characterized as
a positive feedback, self-reinforcing, autocatalytic process (Kay 1991, Gnther and
Folke 1993) and we should expect increasing returns, lock-in, path dependence, multiple
equilibria and sub-optimal efficiency to be the rule rather than the exception in economic
and ecological systems."
Costanza et al. Modeling Complex Ecological
Economic Systems. BioScience 1993)