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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Why the COP #21 will fail - among other reasons.


In a few days’ time the COP #21 climate change talks will start and in a few weeks’ time they will fail again.

They will fail not because of lack of ambition or lack of technology or anything else that we are told that is all that is needed to make them a success.  Instead they will fail because none of our global leaders want to tackle the underlying problems and no one wants to vote for leaders that might.

Firstly, as I have argued for many years, the cooperation needed on climate change is impossible when nations are on a permanent war footing with each other. This is exemplified with the nuclear weapons standoffs and the enormous military industrial complexes and expanding economies that these need.

Secondly, and closely allied to this is the extraordinary transfer of wealth to the elites which is squandered on lavish lifestyles

None of the global leaders, who are representing their voters at the COP, seem to have cottoned onto the idea that the nations with nuclear weapons are generally the ones with the highest disparities been rich and poor.

There are basic reasons these two issues go hand in hand. To maintain a military industrial complex, fuel must be available. To ensure it is available, it is subsidised by the tax payers.  This leads to the unintended consequence that those who consume to excess have their energy subsidised and those who struggle to make ends meet are pushed deeper into debt to pay for this.  The other reason is that nations must maintain an economic and technological competitive advantage over their rivals. This forces the implementation of policies that favour industrialisation rather than environmental and human protection.  This also has the unintended consequence of benefiting the elites of society and penalising the poorest.

This competitive dynamic creates its own trends which will always drive the total income available to the poorest down and the total income available to the richest up.  In the zero sum world that we find ourselves in today, this means life become intolerably harder for the bottom quartile.

The following graph is calculated from the US Census data (table A1) and illustrates the consistency of these trends. Its basis is a conservative estimate that the maximum household income back in 1967 when the data collection started was $600k per annum and it has increased to $10,000k today.  A quick reading from the Forbes Rich list shows how conservative this is, but it serves for our illustration.


It shows the share of income to the poorest 40% has gone down consistently and is now about 5% of the total national income. By contrast,  the richest 5% of society have seen their share of the national income rise to about 65% of the total. Almost nothing affects this; certainly not the choice of government the masses make. This transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest simply transcends everything else.

While this is based on US data, simply because US data is the most available, the same dynamic will apply to every other major industrial nation. By inference, it also extends to the wider global economy. 

This enormous concentration of wealth in the hands of the wealth is simply squandered on luxury toys such as ships, planes and houses. It quickly negates every bit of effort from the rest of the world to cut emissions.  It can only be stopped by strict personal limits being imposed on individual consumption, something that no political party has ever campaigned for. 

Without tackling the powerful high polluting elites, meaningful climate change agreements cannot happen. Given that we still can’t even get rid of their tax exiles, there is not much hope of this. It is highly dispiriting for those that try so hard to cut their own emissions and hope against the odds for something positive to come out of these talks. 
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