9Joined Dec 2021


Online preferendum to select climate policy measures

It seems that you (and I suppose many with you) have accepted global warming of considerably more than 2°C, where I am still (in your view, I assume, naïvely) looking for ways to avoid that.

I think it's striking how most people seem to treat our current behavior and desires and habits as a given, an unchangeable fact (this for instance also struck me reading Gates' book); whereas I try to see the laws of physics, and its current 'best effort' implications regarding a maximum number of PPM of GHG in the atmosphere, as a given - and look for ways to stay below those thresholds using societal parameters - in this case, democracy.

Clearly in order to reach net zero emissions at some point, we need technological innovation and market forces. But if we want to stay well below 2°, preferably at 1,5°, waiting for those won't cut it: during the coming decade(s), we would spend all of our remaining carbon budget to stay within those boundaries with some degree of certainty. Also, for 2050, all scenarios I've seen for my country Belgium include quite substantial behavioral changes on top of all (hoped for) technological changes. E.g.:

In order to sufficiently reduce our emissions the coming decade(s), while working as quickly as possible on the technological advancements, we need behavioral changes. Sure enough, through current party-political means, this is unthinkable, as outlined above. Hence I propose here an alternative democratic tool which could help achieve doing what's necessary. In principle, I currently don't yet see a reason why this couldn't work, on the time scale required: within a couple of years. It's nothing more than an idea, a concept, for which I believe the time is ripe, which can spread extremely quickly. Technologically, it's really not complex to implement, and practically it is also feasible. But of course, this is why I'm posting it here: it needs a lot more research and thinking, there are undoubtedly pitfalls which I haven't yet thought of.

Indeed, every country will have to go through such a phase (presumably several iterations, e.g. every two or three years). By spreading the word of positive precedents, citizens and activists in all countries can demand them to be copied. It's all a matter of spreading an idea. Even in autocratic regimes, the power of citizens is growing.

Although I understand that in the long run, the emissions still to be emitted by China, India and presumably large parts of Africa, through vast amounts of coal plants existing and still under construction, emissions this decade of 'the West' are on the same scale as those emitted by China and India - of the remaining carbon budget we're depleting at 35 GT per year, we take an equal share. And given the Western living standard, it's far easier (not to mention, given our historical weight in the problem, fairer, cfr. Hickel, 2020 [1]) for us to limit, through behavioral and consumption changes, e.g. the 15 tons/year CO2-footprint of the average American, than it would be to reduce the 7 tons/year CO2-footprint of a Chinese person through the same means.

It seems to me, in the long run, extremely, unthinkably unwise, for only just one human generation, to jeopardize the near-term future of humanity, the wellbeing of countless other conscious beings, and the stability of ecosystems in the coming decades, centuries, millennia, or longer. Just one generation has to make a 'sacrifice' (at least, something initially perceived as such, and promoted as such by certain political parties, lobbyists and other stakeholders) to stand a chance at staying well below 2° warming.

Of course, we need to let go of the gigantic misconceptions related to the effect of global warming on the economy, spread by Nordhaus et al (refuted by e.g. Keen, 2020 [2]), if we want to take seriously the importance of staying well below 2° warming...

Aside from the well described risks of more than 1,5° warming on the ecosystem, a factor which I believe is largely neglected is the potential social unrest caused by increasing polarization, precisely between those who want to make the behavioral changes to reduce our emissions the coming decade(s) and those who don't... I believe new democratic tools, focussed on deliberation and participation, are the perfect antidode to such social unrest (and many other maladies of our time: reduced trust in politicians and democracy, general increasing polarization, the rise of fake news, etc) - read e.g. 'Against Elections' by Van Reybrouck, mentioned in OP.



Online preferendum to select climate policy measures

This seems like an obvious mistake in reasoning, where the lack of evidence of observed decoupling rates is taken as evidence that decoupling rates could not be higher.

That's correct, but wouldn't you say that looking at this empirical data can give a sense of how realistic it is that in the next decade(s) we will make a sharp turn for the better? I think this report of the EEB certainly makes a fair case that we won't. Even if you don't agree with the conclusion of the paper, it's a bit easy to dismiss all the data (and the neutral, transparent way it was selected) along with it.

I really wish I could (still) believe that absolute decoupling alone will suffice. May I ask where you get your optimism from? Of course there can never be proof either way, but all I read and hear stems me ever more pessimistic... I've read McAfee, Gates and in Belgium Maarten Boudry on the subject, but I don't find their case reassuring, rather the contrary (read my reviews here and here).

In short; sure, absolute decoupling exists and must be (continued to be) pursued as quickly as possible. But the only question that's relevant is: will it be enough, in time, with low enough risk, so as to not deplete the remaining carbon budget? Every year that passes where we deplete 35 Gt of the 300-800 Gt remaining budget to stay below 1,5°-2° with some degree of certainty, leaves less room for a positive answer...

How much more data, how many more of the linked meta-studies, how many more alarming IPCC reports do we need before we admit that we also need to urgently take measures of sufficiency - especially heeding the precautionary principle?

Either way, also 'technological' solutions will have negative impact on citizens or the environment. Take for instance installing wind turbines, utility-scale pipelines,... A preferendum could help citizens choose between such alternatives too. It is entirely agnostic about which kinds of solutions get chosen - the only thing that matters is that, finally, non-action is no longer a valid option.

Finally, maybe not every country will need this soort of tool. Indeed there are a couple of countries where the regular party-political system seems to be doing fairly well. In Germany and The Netherlands, the newly elected coalitions/governments certainly make impressive promises (it still remains to be seen whether there will be enough citizen buy-in as to also execute them). But the majority of countries is not doing so well, as quite clearly tracked by The country where I live, Belgium, is especially suffering from party-political polarization which is completely blocking effective climate policy, and I honestly don't see any other democratic way out, aside from this sort of tool.