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Hope for a Climate Change Solution in the Wake of Copenhagen

Question: How do you get world leaders to commit to lowering and stabilizing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 to 350 ppm by 2020? Answer: you probably can’t. Which means you’ll have to do it yourself.

David Gershon doesn’t want to wait for governments to get their act together. Not when the collective will of billions of people, properly harnessed, could do the job better and faster. The only question remaining is: how do you mobilize them?

From The Huffington Post:

The political leaders of the world that gathered in Copenhagen had the unenviable responsibility of forging a strategy to pull humankind back from the brink of a dire future. What ultimately will come from this meeting is uncertain, but whatever occurs, the challenge ahead is immense. According to conservative climate change science, we need to stabilize concentrations of carbon dioxide at 400 ppm and then begin reducing it to 350 ppm to avoid triggering a cascading set of irreversible tipping points. To be successful in this task requires us to develop a solution to achieve by 2020 what the current treaty being negotiated hopes to achieve by 2050 — an 80 percent reduction in CO2 emissions.

The scale and speed of change required goes well beyond anything political leaders have ever had to contemplate, much less achieve. And even if the political will were there to achieve this level and speed of carbon reduction, the social change 1.0 tools at their disposal — command and control, and financial incentives — are not designed for this type of rapid, transformative change. They were purposely designed over two centuries ago for gradual, incremental change.

Putting aside the issues of speed and magnitude of change for the moment, passing a law that commands us to adopt new behaviors, and then penalizes us if we don’t, is not politically feasible. And although offering us financial incentives to change is sending the right signal, we are still free not to avail ourselves of these incentives. When we are not already predisposed to changing, financial incentives have a limited effect. Even when we are amenable to changing, financial incentives are very slow moving and cumbersome to implement.

If command and control and financial incentives are not enough to turn the tide in the necessary timeframe, can renewable energy and new breakthrough technologies come to the rescue of humankind? While a low-carbon future critically depends on new technologies, there is no credible scenario by which they can be brought to scale in the ten-year window within which our scientists tell us we must make major carbon reductions.

The dilemma we face is what systems theory calls second order change — or change that requires a system to transform and reorganize at a higher level of performance. When the easier-to-implement solutions prove inadequate for the speed and magnitude of change required, the system goes into stress and must evolve, or it will break down.

Read the whole article here.


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