Climate change will take care of itself, says expert

  Mike Hulme
The Professor is in Bangalore to talk about ‘Why We Disagree About Climate Change Understanding controversy, inaction and opportunity as part of the First Jeremy Grantham Lecture on Climate Change, organised by the Divecha Centre for Climate Change, IISc and the British Council.

Deccan Herald caught up with the Professor on issues of climate change and the upcoming Copenhagen conference on climate change, that is generating a lot of heat among nations and policy makers. Excerpts from the interview.

DH: The Copenhagen summit is coming up in December. In which direction do you think should policy makers be heading? Is a consensus possible?
The attempt to get an agreement should, in my personal opinion, be abandoned all together. It is near impossible to achieve any sort of agreement on issues of climate change, because, there are so many political issues, technology issues, global justice questions, and so many powers are at play, including indigenous organisations, nations, political groups, and it’s a bit unfair to land it all on the climate change desk. I think there will be a lot of disappointment post Copenhagen.
 
So, what then is the solution? How should we be approaching climate change?
The ideal thing is to look at the smaller opportunities, for instance look at bilateral ties between individual countries on specific sectors.
Take the phasing out of hydroflurorcarbons (HFCs) for instance, that come under the Montreal Protocol. Even the United States is a signatory of that. There are ways to handle the issue of climate change, and these are all indirect, smaller, not necessarily neater methods, but methods more likely to bring about change and progress.

The entire concept of climate change itself is an abstract one. Would the common man, for instance, sitting in his Bangalore home, worried about the depletion of his dear city’s lakes really understand what climate change is all about?
Exactly. Which is why, I feel that climate change is not just a ‘science’ concept. It is a cultural phenomenon too. And the local becomes really important. In Chennai, for instance, there were lots of concerns about stormwater drains being flooded during the monsoon. In South Asia, cyclones kill thousands.
We are exposing the poor and the vulnerable to risks. Now, why are we infatuated with climate change? Are we concerned about climate change because it affects the poor? In that case, let’s take care of them and climate change will take care of itself.

In the UK, for instance, we have something called transition townships. It is a social movement, where the focus is on local quality of life, and the stress is on communal living.
 
You say, there is need to approach climate change holistically. Elaborate…
There are a whole lot of associations, from religious, economic, technological to even doubts about what ‘development’ is really all about. Because, when we talk about religion, we are talking about traditions, belief systems. There are sections that actually think the end of the world is a good thing! And that it is actually God’s way of giving us the message. So, why are we fighting climate change, they ask.
 
Economics is really important, don’t you think? How does one marry efforts to mitigate climate change, and the economics involved? India’s stand, for instance, was, ‘how will we agree to caps on emissions, when we have millions of poor…
Yes, I understand India’s stand. In a nation where there are so many people below poverty line, it becomes difficult to impose emission cuts. The important thing here, and I shouldn’t be preaching, is that India should look at redistribution of wealth.
The Stearn review on the Economics of Climate Change is a good starting point to discuss the link between economics and climate change. It is not the last word, really, because it was commissioned by the UK government, unlike the IPCC or the UN. The report says that the benefits of strong, early action on climate change considerably outweigh the costs.

But then again, when we talk economics, we are immediately making ethical judgements. Let’s say, we discuss the biggest mascot of climate change, the iceberg. What is the value of an iceberg? Market forces may say nil, but, we all know what it’s value is. Similarly, the rural life in India, and so on.
The important thing is that climate change reveals a lot of difference, and it is important to treasure these differences between north, south; rich, poor. Science isn’t more important than human values. I’d like to say climate change is a means to an end, and not an end in itself.

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