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A Fair Way to Solve Global Warming

Monday, February 16, 2009

imageIt will not be possible to solve global warming without dealing with the dramatic global and local inequalities in carbon emissions and the wealth created from them.  Since the Industrial Revolution began, some people and some nations have been pumping a lot more carbon into the atmosphere than others (and you know which one you are!).  Moreover, those burning the most fossil fuels have tended to become the richest people and nations in the process (and vice versa!).  So how fair is it to ask everyone to equally bear the burden of using less energy and cleaning up this carbon mess? 

Most proposed solutions to global warming just avoid this inequality – that the richest people and nations have and are burning the most fossil fuels and are therefore most responsible for global warming.  And the poor are clearly not in a position to pay for the cleanup- if anything, they need to consume more energy per capita just to reach the lowest levels of prosperity common in more developed nations.  The only international agreement in place to solve global warming, the Kyoto Protocol, avoids this problem entirely by leaving the poor nations out of the process- they are required only to report their emissions-  even as some of these nations, especially China, are gradually becoming both richer and bigger contributors to global warming. 

But there is a fair way to solve global warming!  Recently, Paul Baer and others at EcoEquity have come up with a system of Greenhouse Development Rights that provides a fair and equitable solution by assigning responsibility for solving global warming, not only among nations, but among people as a whole.  Essentially, the system is based on the concepts of national responsibility for global warming (cumulative carbon emissions) and the national capacity to solve global warming – calculated as the amount of national incomes above a “development threshold” (adjusted incomes < $7500 are excluded from responsibility).  By combining both the national responsibility and the capacity to solve the problem, this system could revolutionize the way we think about and act on solutions to global warming. 

I must admit that I am not entirely optimistic that it will be possible to implement such a fair and just solution to a global environmental problem- how many fair and just solutions are there to global poverty and other global problems?  But the Greenhouse Development Rights framework really does offer hope for a greater rationality and fairness in solving global warming- perhaps even a light at the end of the tunnel….

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