Mirko Bagaric: Only self-interest will drive us to act on climate

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Western nations must take ownership of the world's climate problem, says Mirko Bagaric.

Unabated selfishness got us into climate strife (assuming that the weight of scientific evidence is correct). Utter selfishness will probably get us out of it. That's why we should not be surprised or perturbed by the climate flop that was Copenhagen.

Green moralising and preaching will not drive climate action. There is only thing that will work: urgent self-interest.

History shows that human empathy is finite. As a species we are incapable of making meaningful sacrifices for the betterment of others (family aside) - especially foreigners and future generations. That's why the developed world, despite our supposed acceptance of a looming environmental disaster, gave no ground at Copenhagen.

And as for the developing world, they had even more reason to stand firm. On a scale of human misery, the most severe computer modelling outcome from global warming is negligible compared with the abject destitution that is the current reality of most of the developing world.

Rising sea levels might induce a sense of worry into the hearts of some opulent Westerns, but they don't even register on the worry radar of the three billion people currently living on less than US$2.50 ($3.57) a day, and who are dying at the rate of more than 20,000 a day of readily preventable causes.

Pragmatics aside, the developing world also has an irrefutable moral reason to not embrace a climate accord. Global warning has been caused solely by Western nations, which on the back of cheap energy massively increased the prosperity of their people. At the same time they refused to share their largesse with the largely hungry Third World. People in developing nations are no less entitled to improve their lot.

The developed world caused climate change. It needs to fix it. The suggestion that as a world community we should draw a line in the sand and focus on solutions, not blame is naive. Blame, culpability and responsibility are irreducible aspects of the human condition. Any future proposed climate accord needs to be based on this bedrock.

The developing world will only join a climate accord under one condition. They need to be paid compensation to not utilise the same prosperity enhancing means as the developed world. They need to be paid realistic compensation to encourage them to limit emissions. The $100 billion that was discussed at Copenhagen is insulting - it is a fraction of what was paid to wasteful US banks to prevent them going under.

The developed world is ultimately too greedy and short-sighted for a meaningful, effective and binding climate accord to be reached. Copenhagen is proof of that. In the end, our climate concern and tears are fraudulent. As a collective unit, our actions dictate that we are climate sceptics.

Yet, climate action will occur. It will only happen when developed nations, especially the US, are hit with widespread life-taking environmental disasters, which are unequivocally linked to global warning. Absent that, the leaders of the developed world will continue to be green only at the conversational level.

Will this point be too late to prevent widespread, irreparable damage to the world as we know it? Probably not, the action plan will be commensurate with the level of risk posed by climate warming. Talk of long-term speculative solutions to global warming like emissions trading schemes and green fuels is likely to prove just that: talk.

Thankfully, there is a ready way to reduce global warning immediately. It requires us to limit the use of perhaps the most wasteful weapon of mass destruction yet invented. Every car on the planet should be driven only every second day - unless it is used for commercial purposes. There: problem solved. But we will only give up our convenience when our lives or prosperity depends - we are built that way.

* Mirko Bagaric is a professor of law at Deakin University's Melbourne campus.

- NZ Herald

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