This is something which Michael Tobis has been discussing in some depth on his blog.

Here are some thoughts of my own.

How best to encourage developing countries to grow their economies, in a world where one of the biggest risks from growth is ever-increasing emissions and environmental activities which do harm in their own right and contribute to the problem of global warming? Roger Pielke Sr. is one of the few climate scientists who, though he has issues with the IPCC, has long been an advocate of reducing vulnerability via a range of mechanisms, one of which, management of land-use change, also has a large part to play in both regional scale and global climate impacts. His site contains many references, so I suggest a browse if the idea interests you (it will also allow Roger to speak for himself, rather than be misinterpreted by me).

Do we need to move away from the ‘cash-crop’ model of development? (have we already done so?) In this model, there needs to be something that developing countries can produce, which has added value on the world market, and which will generate foreign exchange, work and growth opportunities. The problem is, the highest value crops are often associated with the worst kinds of environmental depredation. There’s also the problem of supply and demand; they are, in most cases, supplying what we (in the developed countries) allegedly want: cheap goods, low-priced food…
(So, in part, our low inflation rate is dependent on the exploitation of vulnerable resources and ecosystems.) An example of this is the large expansion of beef production.

There are so many strands of interrelationship now between the various economies of the world that it is very difficult to act for the best, if the main criteria for success is increased wealth, or greater economic development, for one or a few autonomous parts (countries). An example of this is Fair Trade; already, what is a simple and decent idea in principle has been hijacked (but only in a few cases) by unscrupulous organisations to generate a ‘brand identity’ with green credentials, taking no account of the effects of their investment, beyond the simple enrichment of local cooperatives. Competitive international economic strategies will struggle to provide any solutions.

There are many people better qualified than me to explain these things, but this is an example of why it is argued that dealing with climate change comes at a cost; it isn’t the cost of building stuff, but the cost of ‘constraining’ growth on a global scale. Increased wealth can (but not necessarily; look at Nigeria) improve the lives of millions and contribute to a decent chance of a life for people where disease, water, conflict and adverse climate make life hard. Climate change has an impact on all of these things, too. So the challenge is to find ways to increase wealth, health and stability via economic growth in developing countries, whilst avoiding cutting down rainforests, building coal-fired power stations, or developing land in flood plains and coastal strips.

Is this impossible? Certainly not. Will it involve cost? Certainly. Who is going to pay? There is only one way to ‘pay’ for this – to absorb the cost in the global economy, which means that those with more than they need have to be persuaded that, if they aren’t willing to share out some of their hard-earned excess, the problems are unlikely to be solved. Put this way (and it isn’t the only way, or even necessarily the best way to put it), the only viable solution to the global problems of climate, environment and economy appears to be a general redistribution of at least some wealth. Which means us (the lucky ones) choosing to allow our representatives to give some of what we earn and pay in taxes, to the representatives of people who are less lucky.

Michael has been struggling with the idea that everything in our society appears to be measured in economic terms; of cost vs benefit, of bottom line and profit and loss. I agree with him that this is at the least unconstructive, at worst, an absolute limitation on the effectiveness of any response to either climate or environmental problems. If the response to a problem is ‘what’s it going to cost me?’ or ‘what’s in it for me?’, then the problems for which the answers to these questions is ‘some of your excess wealth’ and ‘nothing, directly’, are never going to get solved.

Be loved. Be patient. Think of others first.