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01 19 Lecture Notes - Environment.docx

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Geography 3312A/B
Haroon Akram Lodhi

Climate change, ecology and sustainable development: is it too late?  It has been estimated that 750000 Chinese die early every year because of filthy air and filthy water, and 20 million fall ill  Ecological degradation is not new: it has happened regularly throughout human history o Iraq o Attica o the Mayans o Rome o Easter Island as a paradigmatic case  Indeed, there have been mass extinctions before and, at one point, 97% of life on the planet was wiped out by climate change  So: what is new? o the rate and scale of ecological degradation and climate change is without parallel o there is an unprecedented public awareness of the issue o let's start with some evidence  The result is unambiguous: climate change cannot be denied  Why then do people deny it is happening? 1. incompetent scholarship 2. biased research by people paid by energy industries o being encouraged to drive our cars and use our air conditioners 3. more fundamentally: a basic confusion between weather and climate o weather: a variable, local and immediate phenomenon  “immediate”: this is why we want the weather forecast o climate: the regular range of highs and lows of temperatures and precipitation in a region  if the latter changes consistently, we have climate change 4. most importantly: a lack of general agreement about the character of humanity's relationship with nature a. is nature capricious, driving global changes – a fatalist viewpoint? b. is nature robust, capable of withstanding human action – an entrepreneurial expansionist viewpoint? c. is nature robust, but within limits – a hierarchist viewpoint  you can do a lot to the planet, but there is a limit d. is nature inherently fragile – a communard viewpoint?  These 4 perspectives as to whether nature is fragile or robust produce conflicting perspectives o about the scale of ecological degradation o about the scope of ecological degradation o about how to develop coherent policies for the environment o about how to govern ecological policy-making  Meyer and Turner (1995) argue that these 4 perspectives are largely impossible to verify or refute – and so they describe them as myths  These 4 myths give rise to different views as to why ecological degradation and climate change is happening 1. a problem of population?  are there too many people for carrying capacity? 2. a problem of poverty?  does a lack of wealth and resources make it harder to invest in environmental protection? 3. a problem of growth and overconsumptiion?  global consumer society and the world system of accumulation is bad for the environment and fails to recognize that the economy is a (smaller) part of the (larger) environment  This is what we mean by “progress” and modernity – overcoming scarcity 4. a problem of the domination of nature?  overcoming scarcity through the domination of nature by human beings lies at the core of the idea of modernity, progress and development  There are elements of truth in all of these  They also give rise to different views as to what can be done about ecological degradation and climate change 1. there are those that deny there is a problem • it is part of the planet’s natural cycle, and renewal is part of the cycle 2. there are those that believe there is a problem, and the market can solve it • excessive government intervention gets in the way of markets solving the problem 3. there are those that believe in a technological solution • human ingenuity can overcome any obstacle 4. there are those that believe that environmental degradation requires a fundamental reordering of societies and economies • structural transformation of societies and economies are a precondition of achieving sustainability  Efforts to try and globally manage climate change is organized by the United Nations using Conferences of the Parties (COP) through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), for which a key input are the reports of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  The UNFCCC focuses on 2 problems: o how to prepare for and survive climate change – adaptation – the concern of developing countries o how to reduce emissions generating climate change – mitigation – the concern of developed countries  There are thus very different concerns * How to sort through the complexity? By understanding that from the 4 'myths' emerge 6 approaches to global ecological management: 1. The scarcity crisis  In 1972 the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth argued that current levels of consumption were unsustainable and had to be cut  The development implications were stark: o poorer countries needed to increase consumption – this suggested they should not o poorer countries believed measures to regulate the environment would be based on trade barriers  So the 1972 UN Stockholm conference on the environment established that environmental management required liberal markets o Liberal markets were pushed by poorer countries to overcome the prescriptions of the rich countries?  Environmental management thus became embedded in liberal development policies and practices  'Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts: o The concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and o the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.’  Our Common Future (1987): 42 [the Brundtland Report]  Critical objectives for liberal environmental management and development politics that followed from the concept of sustainable development included: o reviving growth  growth is a key component of environmental management o changing the quality of growth o meeting essential needs for jobs, food, energy, water, and sanitation  objectives that had to be in tune with what was best for the environment o ensuring a sustainable level of population o conserving and enhancing the resource base  so growth isn’t based on being a predator on the environment o reorienting technology and managing risk  managing risk from humanity’s encounters with nature o merging the environment and economics in decision making  taking the environmental aspects under account when thinking of economic policy around development  However, the idea of sustainable development is extremely contested: 1. what are the needs  of the present?  of the future? 2. whose needs are being sustained? 3. what is being sustained?  nature?  the economy?  people?  The concept means fundamentally different things to different people  Nonetheless, by framing the early debate in the language of scarcity, which is a concept of market economics, the solution to environmental problems had to respond to the logic of the market  So developing countries supported liberal, market-based environmentalism – and continued to do so at Rio in 1992: o 'States should cooperate to promote a supportive and open international economic system that would lead to growth and sustainable better address the problems of environmental degradation' 2. Liberal market economics  If overconsumption produces scarcity, prices will rise  The market will therefore foster conservation if it is allowed to operate  Therefore, states should not regulate human interactions with the environment – benign neglect? o If the market isn’t doing anything for the environment – why isn’t it? 3. Environmental economics 1. Private companies do not have to take account of the environmental impact of their actions because environmental resources are free 2. Therefore, create a price for corporations and individual users environmental resources and force companies to 'internalize' the costs of environmental degradation o a carbon tax (British Columbia) o a cap and trade system (Kyoto) 3. Both are market-based solutions to environmental problems A key mechanism of cap and trade: develop emissions trading 1. The idea: unless someone owns the environment, polluting is costless 2. Therefore, set limits on what people and firms are allowed to pollute 3. Allow trading of people’s and firms pollution allowance 4. This will force people and firms to economize on pollution 5. The problem: ‘this market is designed to produce cheap credits for corporations trying to avoid regulations’ – Adam Ma’anit, Carbon Trade Watch Cap and trade systems have 3 market mechanisms 1. emissions trading amongst developed countries 2. emissions reductions financed by FDI are credited to the source country 3. a 'clean development mechanism' (CDM) to finance FDI into developing countries that generates emissions credits in developed countries The CDM  Wealthy countries offset their emissions by paying poor countries to pollute less o A German power company builds a wind farm in China – reducing their pollution – and gets a credit towards the amount they can pollute  First CDM project: 2004  More than 3500 around the world – planned investments equalling more than $140 billion o China accounts for half of all credits  The bank has financed investment in China o Some projects destroyed HFC-23  The cost is 17 eurocents to destroy it  You get a 12 euro credit for destroying this  The idea? Produce this so you can destroy it But cap and trade has not worked 1. it is voluntary 2. standards for qualifying projects are arbitrary 3. there is no effective evaluation methodology to assess success 4. emissions offsets can encourage consumption, i.e. air travel offsets  Pay more to fly so you can offset the carbon – will that discourage flying? No. It’s going to encourage it because you feel better about it. 5. it is a fragmented, not global, approach  The result: 'rise in atmospheric CO accelerates as economy grows' – Stanford University, 2007 2 4. Ecological economics: technological fixes  Critiques environmental economics as a set of accounting practices  The laws of thermodynamics suggests a biophysical limit to the human transformation of the ecosystem  Released energy cannot be recovered, and wastes cannot be absorbed o Every bit of plastic that has ever been made is still around – it can’t be absorbed  The result will be an economic and social crisis that can only be prevented by... 5. Ecological modernization: create technology & transfer to poor country  Companies will innovate, creating green technologies for profit that solve the problems of ecological degradation  So global environmental management is about establishing economic and environmental institutions that can promote emerging green technologies  In other words: build the green market and companies will solve the problem themselves  The implications for development are that emerging green technologies must be transferred to developing countries o via aid (1970s and 1980s) o via FDI (1990s and 2000s)  However, the capacity of developing countries to absorb emerging green technologies is open to question – TNCs benefit from emissions trading schemes and green technology subsidies  The ecological modernization perspective remains within the prevailing liberal orthodoxy, which still follows the Brundtland/Our Common Future definition, focusing on making economic growth compatible with environmental protection  Thus, the main sources of environmental problems are: o a lack of wealth: a lack of financial resources results in less expenditure on the environment and a vicious circle between poverty and environmental degradation o market distortions: subsidies on resource consumption or industrialization can cause environmental problems  There are two strategies to deal with these problems: 1. promote economic growth/poverty reduction (they are synonymous?) in all countries o economic globalization is seen to be best way to promote growth o economic growth is seen to be best w
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