Changing attitudes on climate change

Jun 05 2014, 01:25 IST
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SummaryThe 21st century has seen a slew of extreme weather events, from tsunamis and hurricanes to heat and cold waves.

The 21st century has seen a slew of extreme weather events, from tsunamis and hurricanes to heat and cold waves. The frequency of their occurrence is perceived to be rising, lending weight to the arguments of campaigners against global warming. In March, having paid due heed to these incidents, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recalibrated its projection of the risks following from global warming, concluding that it had under-reported them earlier in 2007. What happened next? This month, in a vote of confidence for alternative energy, Warren Buffet laid down $1.9 billion on his utility company MidAmerican Energy, which expects to generate half its capacity from wind farms in Iowa by 2017.

And this week, as America waited for President Obama to reveal a draft policy to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by a third, the sentiment was not dominated by the usual uproar of climate change denial. Rather, there seemed to be excitement about a new window of opportunity opening. New rules curbing carbon pollution, especially from power plants, were expected to spur growth in the alternative energy industry.

The politics of climate change has reached a new level, and Obama’s unprecedented cuts will be used to gain leverage over growing economies. Never mind the naysayers, this was bound to happen, because climate change is inherently a political issue. Political authority faces the implications of extreme weather, shortages and the loss of habitats. And such disasters are not altogether remote any more. The financial crisis from which the world has just recovered had seen food riots in several countries. The commodification of water was predicted in the 1970s and growing competition for it featured in the literature in the 1990s.

It has taken about two decades to turn what appeared to be adversity into what appears to be opportunity. Appearances are often deceptive but even so, the present mood of entrepreneurial optimism is a pleasant change from the reading of emission reduction as the stifling of production. Perhaps the obsessive use of that word ‘reduction’ in the literature was ill-advised. It suggested that dreaded term for fiscal prudence—‘belt-tightening’. Something on the lines of ‘correction’ or ‘mitigation’ may have sounded less threatening.

Reduction is now being tentatively read as opportunity and if conversion to green energy can be lucrative, there is an even more valuable market yet: locations where there are no legacy energy systems to dismantle. The joke goes that

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