Children's Tug of War

Just before the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, parties in The Netherlands submitted a proposal to parliament to establish a Dutch Climate Act (Klimaatwet). The idea is to embed long-term climate targets in the law in order to overcome the political tendency to prioritize short term targets over long term ones and the tendency to wait for other countries to act first. The proposal was rejected by one of the ruling parties as unrealistic.

The problem with the draft is not that climate change shouldn’t be prevented, but that the issue isn’t approached as a conflict between human development and the protection of the planet. Instead it is approached as a conflict between environmentalism and industrialization. In an earlier blog, I argued that a new conversation is needed for this very reason. In this post; I would like to draw your attention to the implications of failing to make this distinction.

  • The draft Climate Act (Klimaatwet) downplays the seriousness of the problem by suggesting that Dutch living standards would not be affected, by claiming that the feasibility of the energy transition has already been demonstrated, by discounting indirect overseas emissions, and by suggesting that political will is the only missing ingredient for success.
  • It fails to define the whole extent of the problem by suggesting that the current legal framework will be adequate for persuading the public to save energy and by failing to explain how the importance of climate mitigation and of other development objectives will be balanced.
  • Finally, the draft Act makes climate change more difficult to solve by early attempts to silence any opposition, by suggesting that leading by example is more important than cost-effectiveness, by excluding certain energy options and by setting arbitrary targets for parts of society.

Mitigating climate change is costly; even if it is done effectively. I do understand the eagerness to act, but there won’t be much progress if our actions continue to be based on an outdated philosophy. It makes sense to progress the most effective options for reducing CO2 emissions first and to invest heavily in research and development of new techniques. As long as there are cost effective options, it doesn’t make sense to adopt technology that isn’t cost effective or to rule out the cleanest technologies that we have. Local targets should support the global endeavor and not be counterproductive.

George Eliot

But what we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope.