Climate Management 101 — 2. Externalities and Evaluation of Connectivity.
In the first blog of this series, I posed that addressing the climate change problem required a sustained diligence of management. In setting the foundation for that management, I maintained it was important to embrace a portfolio of approaches to the problems and the development of a portfolio of policies and practices that comprise the “solution” to the problem. There are both short-term and long-term considerations, and policies and practices that are part of the short-term may or may not be sustained in the long term.
The climate change problem does not reside in isolation. Concerns about climate change follow from easy consumption of fossil fuels. The climate change problem is tightly correlated with energy use and, therefore, economic success. Energy demand and energy policy are controversial issues independent of any concerns about climate change. Because the time scales of the energy problem are short and because the economic implications are large and tangible, it is natural for energy issues to take prominence over the climate issues. Alternatively, because many of our approaches to address the energy problem are also beneficial to the climate problem, it is easy to fall into the comfort that the climate problem will be solved as a residue of our addressing the energy problem. Energy policy and energy security sit along with climate change as major national and international issues, and solutions to the energy problem do not necessarily address the climate problem.
Another issue that resides with energy and climate change is pressure on natural resources and societal capabilities. This can be framed in terms of population pressure, social inequity, poverty, and a host of other frames. In a recent conference, Coping with Climate Change , at the University of Michigan, I was struck by the lack of discussion of population and the demand to consume. I was a child in the 1960s, and along with nuclear annihilation, the “population explosion” loomed over the dark headboard of my bed. We don’t seem to be able to talk directly about population anymore.
If you look at the primary foci of that summit, Energy, Water Quality, Public Health, and Fisheries, each offers a range of existing stresses anchored in too much demand relative to resources. Climate change is not the cause of these stresses, but climate change is likely to amplify these stresses. Climate change offers new entrée into the problems, but it is not the primary, near-term challenge that is faced by those who work in these fields. Again, this is a set of problems that sit with a relationship to climate change, but climate change is but one of several stressors. Population and demand for resources, the imperative of economic development, have a much more direct relationship with stress on natural resources and societal capabilities than climate change.
This relationship between climate change and energy, the stress on natural resources, and the stress on societal capabilities provides a major challenge to managing the climate change problem. The notion that solving the energy problem will solve the climate problem is naïve. Climate change is not the primary motivator in other stressed elements of our society; the short term overwhelms the long term. If we are to address climate change, then we need to develop specific climate policy goals and manage towards those goals. This requires strong definition of the goals specific to addressing climate change, accurate identification of related external issues, diligent attention to the interfaces between climate change and these externalities, and an integrated, adaptive, evolving set of approaches, policies, and procedures. In short, some one, some entity must have responsibility for achieving these goals.
What stops me at this point is what imaginable “organizational” structure can meet such a challenge? Is it perhaps better to think of each of these challenges, climate change, energy, population, in more of a biological model; evolving organisms that interact with each other. Searching for ideas.
(The web site for the National Summit, Coping with Climate Change , contains stream video of key presentations.)
Others in this series: