02 August 2009

Magical solutions

[T]he British government has enacted a law ...requiring emissions reductions of 34 percent below 1990 levels by 2022, which would be upped to 42 percent if the world reaches a global climate agreement in Copenhagen in December. What is missing from the debate over targets and timetables is any conception of the realism of such proposals. If a proposal is not realistic, it is not really a policy proposal but an exercise in symbolism, a “magical solution.” Symbolism is of course an essential part of politics, but when it becomes detached from reality — or even worse, used to exclude consideration of realistic proposals — the inevitable outcome is that policies will likely fail to achieve the promised ends. This outcome is highly problematic for those who actually care about the substance of climate policy proposals. Roger A Pielke, Jr
Professor Pielke goes on to point out that if Britain is going to achieve its stated reduction goal it would have to deploy about 30 new nuclear power plants in the next six years. 'One does not need a degree in nuclear physics to conclude that is just not going to happen.'

What's going on? It's part of a broader problem: conventional policymaking is too complex for ordinary people. There are just too many diversionary opportunities for powerful interests to exploit. We cannot safely not evaluate policies or politicians in terms of outcome: there are too many variables involved, and too many time lags. Cause and effect are obscured and political debate centres around soundbites and personality as portrayed on tv.

Or symbolic statements that have no meaning. As Professor Pielke says:
[C]limate policy has become about demonstrating one’s strong feelings about the reality and urgency of climate change and not so much about implementing policies that can actually work.
We could, of course, let outcomes drive policy. If we are serious about climate change, even allowing for the massive uncertainties over what's going on and what's causing it, we'd issue Climate Stability Bonds, which would reward people for taking measures to stabilise the climate (or reduce the impact of an adverse climate). But that would be an efficient, effective solution, rather than a magical one.

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