Friday, December 18, 2009

Congress-Please Wake Up on Climate Change

Congress, please wake up. Climate change is here, it's real, and it's about to hammer us if we don't take immediate action. I know that Detroit is suffering from 50% unemployment. I know that there are not many other happy places in the U.S. economically. I happen to live in one of the deepest poverty regions of the country, the San Joaquin Valley. However, the depression will pass. Climate change will not pass and is apparently not subject to economic cycles. If we, as a nation, do not take leadership on this, we could be facing the mother of all economic depressions a lot sooner than anyone expects.

I appreciate the fact that Representatives must face re-election every two years and that their job security rests on their ability to convince the voters in their districts that they are protecting local financial, economic, and legal interests. The larger problem of climate change calls for a different type of  leadership, however. Instead of reacting to your neighbors, friends, and supporters at home, can you, members of Congress, unify and lead those people? Can you educate yourselves on the facts, not the polemics, of climate change? Can you be public stewards and resist insistent, parochial demands for quick fixes, jobs, money, safety, and security? Can you help the people accept the need for dramatic changes in energy use when the medicine tastes bad? Can you look at the problem of climate change in terms other than a zero-sum, distributive, winner-take-all political competition or negotiation? Can you instead look at climate change as an opportunity to collaborate, to invest in new technologies, to create jobs that have never existed before, and to rebuild our national infrastructure? Can you resist the lobbyists for the extraction industries that seek to continue business in the same patterns that have created the environmental crisis we now face? Can you face up to the fact that this is not Republican vs. Democrat political gamesmanship?

If you cannot, the conflicts, fights, disputes, and wars will be like none you have ever seen as people around the world fight for food,water, and arable land. If you cannot, the depression of 2007-2010 will seem like a mild economic correction compared to the potential devastation of a collapsed world economy. If you cannot, the plaintive cries of your constituents will turn to screams of anger at you, demanding that you answer why you did not take action sooner. Look into the future. You can see what is coming--it is a locomotive heading right at us. Will you slow it down or will you allow it to crush us all?

Please wake up and take action.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

COP15 Will Fail Without a Different Process

The run-up to the COP15 Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen is illustrating the problem of using 18th century diplomacy for a 21st century problem. What is needed is an inclusive problem-solving process that is based on principles of interest-based negotiation, rather than distributive negotiation.

Diplomacy is based largely on representative negotiation through power projection. The Teddy Roosevelt aphorism, “Talk softly, but carry a big stick,” summarizes the concept. In diplomatic negotiation, the powerful generally get their way over the less powerful unless the less powerful help the powerful to create coalitions. For example, the U.S.-Israel coalition can be seen as protecting U.S. strategic interests (read oil here) in the Middle East. Thus, Israel may have influence in U.S. policy over and above its relative size, power, and resources. If an important small coalition partner becomes intractable on an issue (say, for example, the issue of West Bank settlements), the more powerful partner may be caught in a bind. This type of negotiation, involving economic, political, and physical security, is called distributive negotiation. In this type of bargaining, one person loses, while others gain. Generally, the person with more power tends to win, and terrorism can be seen from a negotiation perspective as a response to this power-based way of doing business in the world.
Power-based, winner-take-all negotiations is ill-suited to global climate change issues. Decisions will have to be made consciously, collectively, and carefully or mother Earth will make them for us. Thus, projecting power into the COP15 Conference may result in short-term protections for the powerful and long-term devastation for everyone. News reports in past few days already show that the conference is heading in this direction.

Yesterday, Jennifer Dloughy of the Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau reported that the Senate Finance committee, composed mostly of senators from extraction and heavy manufacturing industry states (read high carbon output states), took testimony from economists that carbon limitations would eliminate jobs and industries. She reported:
“Even so, manufacturing would sustain heavy job losses under the climate change proposal, predicted Margo Thorning, chief economist for the American Council on Capital Formation, a conservative think tank. Thorning estimated that even with new jobs created in “green industries,” there would be a net loss of 80,000 jobs in 2020, with more than half of them from the manufacturing sector.

Kenneth Green, a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, another conservative think tank, said the proposed cap-and-trade program “will cause significant economic harm and will kill and export jobs, for little or no environmental benefit.”

At the same time, the less powerful nations coming away from the Barcelona talks, are demanding that the developed industrial nations pay 1.5 percent of their gross domestic economic output to finance carbon free industrial development in under-developed nations. The declaration states:

“{We}Call upon developed countries to provide public money amounting to at least 1.5 percent of their gross domestic product, in addition to innovative sources of finance, annually by 2015 to assist developing countries make their transition to a climate resilient low-carbon economy. This grant-based finance must be predictable, sustainable, transparent, new and additional – on top of developed country commitments to deliver 0.7 percent of their gross national income as overseas development assistance.”

Here we have the problem of global warming framed as a distributive problem: Loss of jobs and payment of money from the rich to the poor. As a mediator and peacemaker, I predict total failure at COP15 unless the question is reframed and the process redirected.

An interest-based process would look quite different. First, skilled and experienced mediators should be retained to develop and manage the negotiation process. Diplomats like to think they are good negotiators, and truth is that even good negotiators need the help of neutral outsiders to help them. Second, the parties to COP15 should commit to problem-solving processes rather than winner-take-all negotiations. The current debate is positional (loss of jobs) rather than interest-based (economic security and certainty for constituencies and stakeholders). Once positions have been broken  down into interests (e.g., what are the interests that underlie a position), the parties would be asked to engage in problem-solving processes. The identified interests are seen as the universe of the problem and must be satisfied for good agreements to be reached. All of this would be done under the control and management of mediators. Parties would never be asked to give up power. They would only be asked to participate in good faith in the process. Ultimately, each nation would have to decide for itself whether the proposed agreements and solutions make sense. However, by following an interest-based process, the orientation shifts from “I win-You lose” to “We have a joint problem that we can solve together so that all of our needs are met.”

COP15 is a crucial test of global cooperation for the benefit of all beings and life on this planet. If business is done as usual, the test will be failed. I urge the attendees at COP15 to step away from old processes that have failed us in the past to try something different. Only then will there be a chance cooperative change on climate issues.

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