18 May 2012

Social Policy Bonds: an alternative to fatalism

Discussing climate change Malcolm Bull writes:

Perhaps we should just acknowledge the problem, try not to exacerbate it too much and hope for the best. That, after all, is what most people have decided to do about the nightmare of the previous generation, nuclear weapons, and there is no reliable means of quantifying whether nuclear war is more or less likely than severe climate change, or whether its effects would be more or less destructive.The real question is whether such fatalism is ethically defensible. What is the rational response? Malcolm Bull, 'London Review of Books', dated 24 May
I disagree. I think we can and should do more than be fatalistic about climate change and indeed nuclear conflict. Yes, there are huge uncertainties about what is going on; and yes the political difficulties of particular causes of action appear insurmountable: Al Gore, quoted in the same article, says ‘the minimum that is scientifically necessary’ to combat global warming ‘far exceeds the maximum that is politically feasible’. But just to sit back and watch what happens? We can do better than that. We could, for example, issue Climate Stability Bonds, which would reward the achievement of a stable climate, however we define it and however our goal is achieved. We don't need to know in advance how people will go about preventing climate change or dealing with its effects. We can't know, because our scientific knowledge of what's happening and of potential solutions is expanding rapidly. But we can give people incentives to explore these possibilities and to put resources into the most promising ones, and that is what a Climate Stability Bond regime would do. 

Climate change is a huge and urgent challenge, whose scale, uncertainties and implications, as Mr Bull indicates, overwhelm our existing policy mechanisms. But rather than simply wait passively for whatever will be, we could be raising funds to back Climate Stability Bonds and so give incentives for people actively to address the problem. And, in fact, the same applies to nuclear conflict.

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