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First steps to dealing with climate change

We’re transfixed by the problem of climate change. Where to start?

We’re transfixed by the problem of climate change. Where to start?

Michael Pritchard

[Strategy]

With the media filled with stories on environmental measures such as carbon trading or the scramble of manufacturers extolling the environmental friendliness of their products to their customers, it would be easy to persuade ourselves that things, like our light bulbs, really are changing. Public awareness of environmental issues is certainly greater than it was at the time of the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1982, but that awareness may be both positive and negative. Positive, in that many understand that finite resources actually will actually run out. Negative, in that many look back and reassure themselves that, as in the past, some technology will turn up to solve the problem.

Despite growing acceptance that something must be done about the way humans relate to the environment, it seems like we’re caught in the headlights of the train. What shall we do? Do we make, as suggested by Edward Goldsmith in The Great U-Turn, fundamental changes to our whole social and economic structure? Do we hope that many individual and uncoordinated changes will lead to salvation? Or do we give up and prepare for the Earth to take charge, as suggested by James Lovelock in The Revenge of Gaia (Buy@Fishpond)?

These questions invite a plethora of answers that end up providing a confusing array of conflicting choices. It’s this confusion that contributes to the slow pace of change, as discussion focuses on, say, ‘Is climate change really happening?’, and ‘Is it caused by human activity?’ Even if we can eventually agree on answers to these seemingly simple questions, they would be replaced by other equally important questions. The problem looks like an infinite set of Russian Dolls and we run the risk of giving up anyway.

Is there a problem? There certainly is, summed up in an old joke: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? The light bulb really has to want to change

Fortunately, there are those that have been approaching the problem from a different direction. Evolutionary biologist Stuart Kauffman (The Origins of Order, Buy@Fishpond) suggests that a small number of basic ‘rules’ produce stability in complex systems, without preventing evolution within that system. Karl-Henrik Robèrt (Educating a Nation: The Natural Step) suggested a simple set of four system conditions that would help humanity to live in a more stable relationship with our planet. His contribution is one of presenting a signpost for the direction to gradually move us away from where we appear to be heading.

The multifaceted approach to environmental labelling contained in the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) series 14024 is an attempt to provide assurance to those using products and services carrying Type I labels (such as Environmental Choice New Zealand) that they are on the way to meeting Robèrt’s four conditions.

Is there a problem? There certainly is, summed up in an old joke: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? The light bulb really has to want to change.