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Happy Kyoto Day

The Kyoto Treaty becomes active today. Is the world saved yet?

No, but that's okay. It doesn't matter that (as critics from all sides never tire of pointing out) the treaty itself pushes for minimal reductions in CO2 emissions -- 5% under 1990 levels -- and doesn't include rapidly-developing nations like China and India. In and of itself, the Kyoto treaty won't solve global warming or avert disastrous climate disruption. But that's not the point of Kyoto.

Kyoto is a reframing exercise, a memetic engineering project. It forces us to respond and, by being transparent in its failings, forces us in turn to come up with something better. It changes the course of the global conversation on the environment, moving us away from the endless Nero-esque fiddling over certainty, and towards a more productive dialogue over ideas. It doesn't need to be the complete solution to the problem, because it makes it possible for us to imagine what the solution could actually look like. It lays the groundwork for further collaboration once the carbon really hits the fan.

Kyoto is a catalyst, a trigger for economic transformation. It's a direct challenge to those who tell boogieman stories of the economy collapsing if we dare try to do something about greenhouse gases (stories often based on economic models with a track record even worse than the local TV weatherman). Already we see that the drive for greater efficiency and sustainability is an innovation accelerator, not an economic drag. We see the opportunities for profit, for employment, for entirely new industries. We see the deep connections between sustainable design, long-term thinking, and innovation-driven wealth. The Kyoto catalyst is far more likely to result in an explosion of new ideas, new technologies and new companies than in any sort of economic malaise.

As a result, Kyoto will become a leapfrogging lure. China, India, Brazil and the host of fast-rising leapfrog nations will never come close to the per-capita carbon output of the US, because they will increasingly adopt post-Kyoto technologies and industries and designs -- not because they'll be strong-armed into it, nor because they'll suddenly be infused with the desire to do the right thing, but because that will be the self-evident pathway to growth. Who wants to adopt outdated technologies and industries? Who wants to follow a failed model of long-term development when a more successful one is unfolding before their eyes? The leapfrog nations may get worse before they get better, but they already know the writing's on the wall for coal-fired power plants, dirty diesel engines and smoky, choking skies.

America will eventually jump on the bandwagon, too, because American society loves to think of itself as the most advanced, most cutting-edge, hippest in the world. It will annoy Americans to no end to see London or Berlin or Madrid held up as the models for the world to emulate. It will drive Americans nuts to see Europeans not just living longer (because they already do) or living happier (because they already do) but living better -- more advanced vehicles, cooler technological toys, new buildings that seem straight out of Lucasfilm. And when they do start to see signs of that happening in the "third world," too, Americans won't be able to take it any more. In the post-Kyoto world, the US, too, may become a leapfrog nation.

Finally, Kyoto is a symbol, a conscious step in the right direction for the planet. It's an admission that big problems with long-term horizons can be confronted, can be solved, and that we do so better together than separately. Kyoto, for all of its insufficiencies and failings, gives us the opportunity to start thinking about our planet's future. It's an opportunity we'd best take advantage of.

The Kyoto Treaty isn't going to save the world. It will, however, make it possible for us to save the world ourselves.


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» New Energy Currents: 2005-02-18 from Winds of Change.NET
New technologies that will enable us to continue enjoying our quality of life - and extend it to the 2 billion energy-starved souls living in least-developed countries around the world - are being developed as rapidly as possible, and some would say th... [Read More]

Comments (15)

Jamais, thank you for the inspired writing and the fresh perspective on what Kyoto is really trying to achieve. It gives me some hope for the future.

Jesse Hill:

It's a useless treaty. I'm not going to support my government into signing any treaty until one comes along that will:

a) Do something

b) Actually be be possible to implement.

All Kyoto does is delay the signing of a REAL treaty down the road since countries will just shrug and proclaim, "We already have Kyoto."

It's a danger.

Conrad Nobert:

In Canada, Kyoto has spurred the federal government to spend about 7 billion dollars (CND) to reduce GHGs emissions. I guarantee you that in the absence of the Treaty, there would have been no action.

In Canada's case, Kyoto has been a major help. Not a danger at all.

Jesse Hill:


Are you nuts? Canada is shit-outta-luck where Kyoto is concerned.

Under Kyoto, Canada has to roll back to its 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 — despite the fact it's emissions have been growing by 1.5 percent a year. It is an IMPOSSIBLE task.

Canadians think and lecture and scold like Europeans, but they drive like Americans. And, newsflash, it's cold up there too, so they have to burn something to stay warm. Kyoto says don't do that and now the Canadians are trying to figure how they will do that.

For one thing, the Canadian oil industry is growing and it puts out stuff bad for the Earth. So what to do? Save the planet by restricting industry, or keep voters happy by allowing them to keep their jobs? Hmm ... a quandary!

And it's a quandary for more than just Canada. Ireland and Spain and Italy and Portugal also have to tighten up in a way that may rub consumers, workers and voters the wrong way.

Jamais Cascio:

It is an IMPOSSIBLE task.

Why? Spend an hour going through the archives here at WorldChanging and you'll find post after post describing the tools, technologies and models that make the Kyoto goals not just achievable, but almost easy. Claiming it's impossible because you spelled it in all-caps doesn't make it so.

...have to burn something to stay warm. Kyoto says don't do that...

Um, no. If you want to make good points, you might want to familiarize yourself with what the treaty requires. Just a thought.

Here in Quebec most of our electricity comes from hydro power. Last year the government planned to build a natural gas central and the population was so outraged that they abandonned the project and have invested in about 2500 megawatts (IIRC) of wind turbines.

There's also a bill in Quebec that will be voted on next spring that would make it the law for all branches of provincial government to use sustainable development guidelines for all their projects.

Some things are being done, but I agree that Canada will have lots of catching up to do in the next few years. They are already talking about buying carbon credits on the market, but more than that will be needed -- especially political will.

The problem - as with most democracies - is that long-term planning is not politically rewarded, and so all politicians in power pass the responsabilities to their succesors until we hit the deadline and it's too late.

"And, newsflash, it's cold up there too, so they have to burn something to stay warm."

Insulation. The sun. Glass. I assume you have those in Canada, yes?

Jesse Hill:

Why? Spend an hour going through the archives here at WorldChanging and you'll find post after post describing the tools, technologies and models that make the Kyoto goals not just achievable, but almost easy. Claiming it's impossible because you spelled it in all-caps doesn't make it so.


And where, exactly, is the money to institute these "World Changing" technologies going to come from?

On the one hand you are proposing dramatically slowing down the economy with Kyoto, yet on the other you say massive amounts of money needs to be spent in order to be able to even achieve these goals.

And for what!? Both global warming skeptics and advocates agree that the potential amount of warming that hypothetically might be avoided through Kyoto Protocol implementation is roughly 0.07 degrees centigrade by the year 2050.

Give me a break. It simply is not worth the economic trouble. That God the US and Australia did not sign this suicide bill.

Industrialization will naturally become more efficient and less polluting as technology advances. It has already happened, and will continue to happen. Within a decade, hybrid cars will be the norm, and power plans will be more efficient. Why? Because cheaper overhead attracts comsumers.

Trying to shove an ineffectual and economically damaging treaty down our throats is not the way to save the planet. Continuing to research newer and better technolgies is.

Jamais Cascio:

proposing dramatically slowing down the economy with Kyoto

Mistake number one. The assertion that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will slow down the economy is scare-mongering promoted by those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Cato, the AEI and their unindicted co-conspirators can rant all they want, but history shows pretty convincingly that stimulating innovation and opening new markets improves the global economy, not shrinks it.

massive amounts of money needs to be spent

And just how much are we spending on fossil fuels, when you add in externalities such as, say, the war in Iraq (which, whether or not it was driven by control for Iraq's oil in particular, was certainly driven in large part by concerns for stability in the region, and Saudi Arabia's safety)?

We've posted here repeatedly about businesses discovering that the return on investment for efficiency and waste/emissions-reductions efforts was greater and faster than they had imagined. You seem to claim that money spent on innovation and improvements is simply money thrown down a rat hole; reality, again, shows something different.

Within a decade, hybrid cars will be the norm, and power plans will be more efficient. Why? Because cheaper overhead attracts comsumers.

And here we are in partial agreement. Hybrids and cleaner power plants will be the norm, but not just because of consumer demand. Producers have to be given a prod, too. Kyoto (and the inevitable follow-on treaties) will help provide that prod.

You want businesses, universities and governments to be researching new technologies? So do I. We'll get more of that research in order to get Kyoto compliance.

Link: Profitable Climate Protection

Simply saying that "Kyoto will damage the economy" doesn't make it so.


At first I was very... leary of the treaty.

But as I looked at it and looked at how it had come about and looked back I became convinced its actauly a very very good thing for all conservatives and espectialy america. But not for any of the reasons a liberal or environmentalist would think.

The trick is to stop listening to what they say and look at what its DOING. The trick it to stop thinking about who wants it and who says they dont want it and to look instead at who realy made it possible who realy drove it home.

The trick is to stop looking at who it says would pay for what and look instead at who is now paying and what they are paying for and what thats realy useful for.. and who its realy useful for.

The "lies" said were too canned too staged too obvious and never "explained". The lie in the open is no lie...

The song and dance was staged the actors played thier part perfectly and an engine has been brought to life fueled by passion and fear greed and desperation. But for what goal?

Maybe im a little too paranoid but the hairs on the back of my neck are rising. In this case I think ill trust my instinct and watch the future and await very interesting times indeed.


Ok guess that wasnt clear enough...

Let me ask you a few simple questions.

What is more important to the people in power? Saving the people who will be most affected by global warming? Or keeping those people calm and where they are till they cant cause havok?

What is more important? Ensuring the top 5-10% of the world gets through this well or to ensure the bottum 30-40% dont die from the changes?

Which goal do you expect will be met.

Do you think they expect or are planning to prevent climate change or do you think they are planning FOR IT and how best to come out on top?

Do you trust any of them? Do you realy think anyone in power anywhere in the developed world thinks like you do or ever did?

Jesse Hill:

Ah, conspiracy theorists... they never cease to entertain!


Not a conspiracy but a taking advantage of the times.

And as I said it may be me being a bit too paranoid but I didnt trsut any of these people before kyoto im not gona trust em now.


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