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Global warming: how not to mobilise the masses

In this mindset saving the planet demands that people give up their foreign holidays, abandon their cars, turn down the heating and clean their teeth in the dark. Through this prism, pain is a virtue and the halting global warming metamorphoses into a much broader attack on consumerism, materialism and, at the extreme, anything that smacks of the market.

Whatever one makes of the intent, such zealotry is doomed to failure. Self-flagellation does not sell. If keeping the planet cool is seen to be the project of affluent middle-class do-gooders the masses will mobilise all right - against it.

The case must be framed as an opportunity rather than a burden. Technological innovation - in automobile design, energy efficiency, renewable energy and the rest - is more than a useful adjunct to an austere low carbon lifestyle. It is a vital pillar of any plan to reduce the build-up of CO2. Bluntly stated, unless we find a way to capture emissions from coal-fired power stations, the game will be lost.

The response of politicians must be to accentuate the opportunities: in business, jobs and technological advance in rich economies; in fostering security in poorer regions; and in binding the rising powers into an equitable international system.

Mr Obama makes the case that less gas guzzling will enhance America's security by reducing dependence on unreliable or hostile foreign regimes. A glance towards Moscow should carry the same message for Europeans.

Instead of talking about the cost of doing something, leaders would do better to emphasise the price of doing nothing. Of course, the shift to a low carbon economy will not be painless. But nor is global warming. The way to mobilise the masses is to recast the argument. Opportunity sells a lot better than do hair shirts.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Dec 12th, 2008 at 05:02:00 AM EST
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