Monday’s piece was not fair. It portrayed political leaders as gamblers and we can’t conclude that yet. They are risking heating up the atmosphere beyond sensible limits for a reason: competitiveness. A unilateral and ambitious climate mitigation commitment by, let’s say, the EU, would represent a voluntarily handicap of its own economy by stringing energy provision to more expensive and now scarce sources. This means that the deal under negotiation will only be achieved by consensus from all parties, where all voluntarily agree to play under the same constrains by changing to low carbon economies at the same time and pace. These days in Bonn parties are measuring their words when it comes to emission reduction commitments for the simple reason of not going further than the neighbor. They are all here to listen, so nobody speaks. Delegates start to feel deceived and upset. Unfortunately, the cost of remaining competitive might means more global warming consequences in few years.
Let’s ask ourselves again if political leaders are gambling or not. First we’ll assume that they are not. They are incurring in the more than 30% risk to go through the 2 degrees ceiling because they have trust in science and society to deliver solutions. This brings us to a very basic question that was very well put in Blow, a 2001 film by Ted Demme. Blow is the true story of George Jung, played by Johnny Depp, a North American young fellow that in the early seventies gets involved in cocaine dealing. Business does well and soon he finds himself hanging out with big fishes and driving fancy cars. After some years luck withdraws, gets caught by the police and spends some years in jail. Later he’s released and it doesn’t take much until he manages to get the business going again, and once again get caught. Increased drug consumption boosted by economic growth in the early nineties makes a number of jobs available to him when he’s released. Higher anti-drug budgets also swollen by the same economic growth take him to jail again. Now, in his fifties, Jung spends his time in jail in reflecting upon his life rather than networking. One afternoon, sitting in his cell bouncing a ball against the wall, Mr. Jung gets struck by a ray of light: that he was bounded to end up in jail because, he now concludes, his ambition exceeded his talent.
This question, whether one’s ambition exceeds one’s talent or not, is something that we should ask ourselves periodically and before engaging in any ambitious task. This simple and yet uncommon practice would make the world a better place; but let’s go back to climate change. A low commitment in mitigation pushes us closer to the limit of our talent, wherever that is. The more we allow the atmosphere to heat up the more negative consequences we will face, and the more solutions we will have to develop. Have this been put in contrast with our talent? We fixed the CFC crises, we did not fix poverty, we fixed the post world war crisis, we did not fix Middle East, and so on. The answer of whether global warming we’ve brought ourselves into exceeds our talent to reach an agreement and implement its solutions remains unanswered.
Domingo Torres Santos
Diakonia- Climate Change Policy and Advocacy Officer