This is chapter 45 from Climate Change for Football Fans.
45. The madness of long-termism
Emissions markets might be a good long-term solution, but as we are talking about a short-term problem (to stabilise emissions), we should be looking at short-term measures.
Joe and Frank went off to check where our turnstile was and the rest of us
waited in the bistro. A few minutes later the brothers were back. “They’re
not letting us in for another hour,” said Joe. “This froggy copper told us to
bog off and come back later. I think we’d better have another ale.”
Doris spoke up. “You aren’t having another ale, Joe Sugden. You’ve had
enough ale to sink a ship today, and enough wine to sink another. That’s
enough. You’ll have a headache like a pickaxe’s gone through it in the
morning. And you’ll stink,” she added.
She turned to the Professor for support. “It’s always the same. They get
pissed now, and completely forget about tomorrow.”
Igor sympathised. “All today, no tomorrow – it’s the scourge of society.”
“Well I believe in short-term,” said Frank. “Long-term is just a lot of shortterms
stuck together, end to end. What’s the difference? If you win every
match, you win the league. It’s simple.”
“Except …” continued Igor, “except in the case of climate policy. In climate change policy short-term thinking is now needed more than ever. Desperately so.”
“Short-term thinking?” said Joe. “That’s a new one.”
“I must have told you before. We’ve two or three years to stabilise emissions.
To limit warming to two degrees we can emit no more than 400 billion tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from now on. Not until 2050 or until 2100. Just full stop. We emitted 40 billion tons in 2008 and that’s growing. At this rate we will have run out of our budget by 2020. The clock is ticking very loudly. Very loudly…”
We were quiet. Igor continued. “It’s an annoying old alarm clock with bells
on top. The wake-up will be … horrible.
“This means we have to stop any growth in emissions by 2011 and after that
we have to cut them by ten percent a year. If we wait much longer, we risk
getting to the point where we can’t avoid breaching the limits.”
“We have to focus ruthlessly on the immediate present. It’s the only way we
can make it. 2050 and 2020 are completely irrelevant. We should not be
worrying about them. For winning time against climate change 2050 and
2020 are just a distraction.”
“You mean all these international conferences and stuff are-“
“Yes,” nodded Igor sadly. “Little ants on autopilot…”
“Just wasting taxpayer’s money, that’s all,” said Frank eagerly. “If they
worked for me they’d be focussed on the next couple of years and that’s it.”
“Well why aren’t they, Prof?” asked Joe.
“You ask me very … sensitive questions, my friend. Where to start? Partly
it’s because politicians, with few exceptions, find it comfortable making bold plans for a time when they will be out of office or propping up a zimmer frame.”
“Wasting taxpayers’ money, like I said,” said Frank.
“It’s partly because academics, with some exceptions, prefer to amuse themselves with elegant long-term models instead of tackling the really tough gritty, smelly, messy, bruising problem of what to do tomorrow…”
“Lazy buggers,” said Frank. “That’s all taxpayers’ money, too.”
“It’s partly because democracy has hit a brick wall … but liberals can’t contemplate such a momentous admission.”
“Tossers,” added Frank.
“And partly because the greedy right wants to squeeze that last bit of oil out of the ground before … before it has to confess that … it was wrong about the oil.”
“Well … er,” said Frank.
“We can’t reconcile savage focus on the short term with the habit of rejecting short-term thinking as the problem.”
“Exactly,” said Frank.
“Our policies should be desperately focussed on steps to cut emissions
drastically in 2010 and 2011 and the next years. The long-term is a distraction
from the real business of cutting emissions.”