Martin Wolf got my weekend off to a dreadful start. I read his latest FT column (Why the World Faces Climate Chaos) on Friday, and it's been on my mind ever since.
Wolf is hardly the first to lay out the reasons why climate change is such a diabolical policy problem. But if, like me, you have been distracted lately, his brutally frank assessment of why 'humanity has yawned and decided to let the dangers mount' is bracing indeed.
Wolf's column reinforces the pessimism I have felt for some time about the likelihood that coordinated international political action will have any meaningful impact on the climate change problem. It's been twenty years since the Kyoto Protocol, and in diplomatic terms, we have very little to show for the last two decades. Given all the barriers and disincentives to action laid out by Wolf, why would we expect the future to be any different?
Wolf's second point is equally important: nothing will come of making demands on people. The green movement has been all about sacrifice; about lowering our expectation for our own material well-being and that of our children. As a result, 'Most people believe today that a low-carbon economy would be one of universal privation', says Wolf. But people around the world understandably want a better life for them and their children, not a more constrained one. So what's needed, says Wolf, is a 'politically sellable vision of a prosperous low-carbon economy.'
I sympathise with both points, but Wolf's column leads me to wonder what he would have ordinary citizens do.
For instance, Wolf would no doubt argue that those who strive to reduce their personal carbon footprint are well-meaning but naive, since such actions have a minuscule global impact, and in any case tend to put the emphasis on sacrifice for the greater good, which for all the reasons laid out in his column will never be a universally attractive approach to tackling the problem.
Similarly, Wolf would probably argue that grassroots political activism is also well-meaning but misplaced, since the record shows that politics will not solve this problem. When politicians are forced to choose between tackling climate change and economic growth, they always choose growth, with all its deleterious environmental consequences.
Perhaps I'm extrapolating too much from a single column, but it seems that, for Wolf, there is very little for concerned citizens to do. They just have to wait for the clean energy technology to come along that will solve the problem. Their role is to be consumers, and that's all.
So here's my question: if political activism is pointless and 'greening your lifestyle' is tokenistic and sends the wrong message about how the climate change problem will ultimately be addressed, what options are left for concerned citizens? What's the most meaningful thing an individual can do to tackle climate change? Email your suggestions to email@example.com.
Photo by Flickr user Kris Krug.