The Greening of the South

Here’s something interesting — a well-informed and honest article from a significant British magazine (Prospect) that looks hard at the core political challenges of global climate stabilization and then draws some actual conclusions. And it’s written by Simon Retallack, who knows his way around both the climate policy debate and the climate movement.

Retallack, now head of Climate Change at the UK’s Institute for Public Policy Research, did not come blithely to the Greenhouse Development Rights perspective, which he here recommends. He’s way too much of a realist for that. But Retallack, as it happens, is an honest realist, one who rejects most of the goods currently being sold under that label as being long, long past their use-by dates.

Per-capita emissions come into his argument. How could they not when they’re five times as high in the US as they are in China, which is supposedly eating America’s lunch. But the real issue, now absolutely clear, is not equalizing emissions but rather phasing them out. And quickly. The real issue is redefining prosperity, or at least development, in a climate-constrained world.

By the way, Retallack’s take on emissions trading is particularly interesting, especially given that he has deep roots in the British climate movement. He’s not an academic policy wonk, but neither is he an automatic enemy of emissions trading. And his contribution here is to focus on criticizing the alternatives to trading. It’s not a definitive move, but it’s an overdue one, and he deserves credit for making it.

So place Retallack within the swelling ranks of those who welcome the critique of “false solutions,” but insist as well that it’s time to take the next step, to propose financial mechanisms capable of supporting rapid global mitigation and adaptation. The ranks of those who recognize that, come what may, the climate end-game is going to be played out soon, within the institutions of this our very capitalist world.

Which reminds us of Susan George, a long-time global justice leader and theorist who’s also been staring into the climate abyss, and drawing her own difficult conclusions. It’s well worth your time to listen to those conclusions, which you can do here.