Wednesday, December 2, 2009

On my road to Copenhagen

Un paio d'anni or sono una associazione canadese aveva indetto un premio letterario su chi debba essere ritenuto colpevole per il cambiamento climatico in corso. Visto che il premio per il primo posto consisteva in $10mila ho scritto la mia opinione. Oggi a poca distanza da Copenhagen ho rispolverato quel vecchio essay e con mia sorpresa l'ho trovato ancora attuale e qui di seguito velo passo... enjoy it:

-Who should have the greatest responsibility for reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions: governments, industries or individuals?-

Who is responsible for reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emission? The question is simple and the answer is not (as usual), but let’s try to imagine a different approach to the problem.
We all know that the main actors on the greenhouse gas stage are carbon dioxide and methane with methane being 9 times relatively more “toxic” for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. It makes me smile every time I think that one of the main sources of methane is cattle flatulence. That is a very awkward reason to blame for the Homo sapiens misfortune.
On a daily basis, we dig up and burn carbon reserves (oil) and natural gasses that Nature safely stored underground. Nature is partially to blame because it failed to locate its reserves deeper and more out of our reach. The result is that for the last 100 years we added “evil” gasses to the atmosphere hoping that it would cause no harm to the planet. That idea was na├»ve at the very least.
Now that the consequences of our behavior are quite evident we are going after the people who should be held responsible for the depletion of natural resources and the subsequent changes to the planet ecosystems. Well, in my country we say that “victory has many fathers, while defeat is an orphan”, meaning that likely nobody is going to stand up to take the blame for it.
Governments and industries are made by individuals thus the responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emission is on everybody’s shoulders. Obviously, some people have to carry a heavier load of responsibilities than others. In different ways and at different levels, we are all responsible, but in a highly democratic country like Canada, people have the power to propose and vote laws to deal with problematic issues.
By any means, the legislative machine is slow and not perfect but it is the factory for changes. Key issues like greenhouse gas emissions require brave decisions with attention to our future generations. When I was younger and part of the Scout association we had a motto that said “Leave the world better than you found it”. In many ways, such as freedom of speech and actions, I believe that the world is a better place than 50, 100 or 1000 years ago. On the other hand, our footprint on the planet is becoming unsustainable.
Studies on the human induced changes to our planet suggest that we are already beyond the point of no return in terms of our impact on biodiversity. Moreover, the growing world population is likely going to need access to those natural resources that have not yet been touched.
An important issue in dealing with energy consumption is how efficient we are in getting the highest return from what we burn. For many decades cars have been very similar in their engine structure having had no dramatic innovation. If we compare cars with the technical evolution that other machines such as computers have shown in the last 50 years the difference is impressive. Why have computers become extremely more efficient and cars have not.
The answer is: cheap oil. Since we falsely believed that natural resources were endless we didn’t feel the pressure for innovation and change. Even now that many people (oil companies included) are pushing for a change it is merely because the cost of a barrel of crude oil is flirting around the 100 dollar-landmark.
Following up on the idea of economical influence, I am now going to propose my own law which is very unpopular but with a seed of common sense. Gas price at the pump should be 3 dollars per liter or even 4 dollars! No politician would have the guts to propose such law but it would quickly and drastically reduce greenhouse gasses emissions.
Gas price should include the cost that it has on the environment. Oil and natural gas are like “party crashers”, they light up the party but they disappear when it’s time to clean up the mess. The party crashers should hold the greatest responsibility for reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. The extra revenues generated by taxation can be invested in restoring the environment and in research. My judgment is highly biased by my academic background but I firmly believe that research and innovation could produce a broader spectrum of possibilities to satisfy our growing energy demand.
Oil and natural gasses are not the evil to be fought, and it is needless to list the important petroleum byproducts that daily improve our wellbeing. It is not in our interest to completely remove oil and natural gas from our “diet”, but it is important to find a threshold between sustainable utilization and irrational depletion of natural resources. We have been culpably slow in acknowledging the problem cause of the delay between greenhouse gas damages to the atmosphere and our perception of the negative consequences.
In the recent years there has been a wind of change, maybe just a breeze, but it seems that society, governments and industries are finally ready to take action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. After all, we owe it to our future generations.

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