Van Jones, a high-profile victim of US Administration timidity, may not longer be Barack Obama’s green jobs guru, but he’s still ours. In this context, we note that his bestselling book, The Green Collar Economy, endorses Greenhouse Development Rights (see page 164) in glowing terms. Why, because GDRs…
recognizes that the desperately poor around the world have a right to develop themselves economically, even if they add slightly to carbon emissions. In other words, they have a right to bring themselves up to a dignified level of consumption. Meanwhile, it is the rich who must now bring their emissions and consumption down to a dignified level.
In a new approach to synthetic environmental science, a prestigious research team fronted by the Stockholm Resilience Centre‘s Johan Rockstrm has just published a fascinating paper on “planetary boundaries,” in Nature, under the title of A safe operating space for humanity.
Planetary boundaries are “values for control variables that are either at a safe distance from thresholds for processes with evidence of threshold behavior or at dangerous levels for processes without evidence of thresholds.”
To meet the challenge of maintaining the Holocene state, we propose a framework based on planetary boundaries. These boundaries define the safe operating space for humanity with respect to the Earth system and are associated with the planets bio-physical subsystems or processes. Although Earths complex systems sometimes respond smoothly to changing pressures, it seems that this will prove to be the exception rather than the rule. Many subsystems of Earth react in a nonlinear, often abrupt, way, and are particularly sensitive around threshold levels of certain key variables. If these thresholds are crossed, then important subsystems, such as a monsoon system, could shift into a new state, often with deleterious or potentially even disastrous consequences for humans.
This paper is short, and definitely a “must read.” The nine “boundaries,” by the way, are climate change; rate of biodiversity loss (terrestrial and marine); interference with the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles; stratospheric ozone depletion; ocean acidification; global freshwater use; change in land use; chemical pollution; and atmospheric aerosol loading. The three areas in which we are already over the line are, unsurprisingly, climate change, rate of biodiversity loss, and interference with the nitrogen cycle.
The Nature paper, and a collection of expert comments on it, is available here. A much more detailed scientific paper can be found here.
The rumor (at the moment, it’s September 17th) is that next week at the G20 meeting, President Obama is going to propose an international agreement to end fossil-fuel subsidies. This would be brilliant, if it was done properly, and would go a long way towards rectifying the wealthy world’s typical unwillingness to consider “alternative” approaches to climate finance.
And there is, indeed, hope that it will be done properly. The New York Times reports that Michael Froman, the White House’s deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, said in a Sept. 3 letter that:
The move away from subsidies should be managed to protect those most vulnerable to price increases… The G-20 should commit to take the lead in eliminating non-needs based fossil fuel and electricity subsidies and to provide technical assistance to non-G-20 countries taking steps to reduce fossil fuel and electricity subsidies.
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