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Reversing Climate Change: What Needs to Be Done

How will redesigning existing systems help reverse some of the effects of climate change?

November 27, 2010

How will redesigning existing systems help reverse some of the effects of climate change?

1. Why are people still in denial about climate change?

“The strong correlation between carbon footprints and GDP has led many people in the United States as well as in the developing world to believe that reducing CO2 emissions was tantamount to reducing economic welfare — and was therefore politically unacceptable."

2. What is the reality?

“Whether we want it or not, we are in the midst of highly political issues when getting serious about protecting and restoring the basis of life on Earth.”

3. Why can't we rely on markets alone for reversing climate change?

“Markets are superb at steering an efficient allocation of resources and stimulating innovation — but they don’t provide public order and law, moral standards, basic education and infrastructures. Markets are miserably inefficient, often even counterproductive, when it comes to protecting the commons and steering innovation into a long-term sustainable direction.”

4. How radical do we need to be?

“The process of redesigning, as radical as it may be in terms of philosophy, can be a gradual and smooth one, encouraged by prudently and predictably changing framing conditions."

5. But won't that require lots of capital?

"We don’t need to lose physical or financial capital that is invested in our industrialized world. We only have to avoid investing fresh money into outdated and destructive inventions and technologies.”

6. For example?

“Supermarkets are most likely the poorest energy-performing buildings and operations in any developed economy. From paying little attention to building design to reduce energy consumption, including lightning, to leaving large refrigerated containers and freezers open all day for ease of access by customers, then having to heat the space for customer comfort.”

7. What kind of investment is particularly useful?

“Investments in resource productivity, such as building energy efficiency, have a higher economic multiplier than general expenditure. Resource efficiency investments provide a tangible financial return on investment — as well as usually providing additional productivity improvements.”

8. What else is needed?

“We do need strong states and engaged citizens working together to create good legal and moral frames for the markets.”

9. And what about investments in resource efficiency?

“Beyond investments in resource productivity, investments in improving resource efficiency and recycling are also critical. They have a higher economic welfare outcome than general expenditure on many goods and services because they reduce demand for energy, water and virgin resources — and thus delay (and in some cases even prevent) the need to spend billions on new energy and water supply infrastructure and new extractive industries.”

10. And finally, what other challenge does our planet also face?

“Addressing global warming is the most prominent aspect in our days of ecological imperatives. But biodiversity protection is no smaller challenge. Biodiversity losses result mostly from land-use changes, and these usually occur in the service of more production — that is, more economic growth.”

Editor's Note: All the quotes in this Read My Lips have been drawn from the Introduction of Ernst von Weizsacker, Karlson "Charlie" Hargroves, Michael H. Smith, Cheryl Desha & Peter Stasinopoulos' book, "Factor Five: Transforming the Global Economy Through 80% Improvements in Resource Productivity," published by Earthscan Publications Ltd. in January 2010. Copyright 2010 Weizsacker, Hargroves, Smith, Desha & Stasinopoulos. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Each edition of “Read My Lips” presents quotes made by the featured individual at the time specified in the answers. However, it is a “virtual” interview only — insofar as we have added questions in order to provide a better context to the thoughts expressed.