fredag 29 maj 2009

Closing the gap

To get to the A and T terminals of the Brussels airport you walk through a long underground corridor. The walls are covered with hundreds of square meters of publicity. The advertisements are printed in a semi-transparent plastic that lies over white and flat neon bulbs, so light filters through the colors and call your attention. They look nice and passengers forget that they’re underground.

One of the ads shows teenagers who get out of a building in their school uniforms. The sun light falls on the green intact grass and shines on the children’s hair as they run out carelessly happy. To the left part of the picture two gray haired men in their tweed suits talk with preoccupied gesture. A text bubble comes out of them, “could we prevent an illness before it strikes?” To the right of the bubble, the logo of a multinational corporation and a punch line invites us to dream of “a world of possibilities”.

The current climate crisis is an illness that has just started and of which worse is still to come, could we prevent it before it strikes? The Swedish Commission for Climate Change and Development recently launched the report Closing the Gaps, which analysis climate change and its implications to development. The introduction and the first chapter portray a field of vicious circles that tie the poor tighter to poverty. The report, as the title indicates, wants to contribute to closing the gaps that separate us from a fair and effective climate deal. The first gap we are confronted with is the trust gap. “While climate change raises many scientific, technical, and economic issues, it is often described as primarily an issue of political will”, reads the first paragraph of the second chapter. It departs from the polluter pays principle, which (since 1972, when it was first enunciated by the OECD) “helps to internalize environmental externalities of economic activities so that the prices of goods and services fully reflect the costs of production”. The polluter pays principle is, according to the report, the origin of the trust gap: developed countries have failed to deliver support using equivalent principles like 0.7% and the Doha round, to name two of them. Are they going to fall again for the same argument, “sorry guys, we broke it, we fix it, just sign here”?

From the polluter pays principle the argument moves to the values gap, where the logic gets entangled in moral and ethical considerations. Marc Hauser, Richard Dawkins and others have argued and some experiments seem to show that morality is built in our brain in a similar way that mathematics or language is: our brains are able of moral judgments because this helps us to adapt and survive by identifying individuals keen to collaborate and create cooperative groups, which perform better than groups of competing individuals. What triggers collaboration is a positive moral judgment: this person is good, I can trust her. We can be partners then.

The Swedish Commission does not close the chapter on trust with this argument, but by calling to the moral responsibility that we have towards the generations to come. If this moral argument does not kick start a “heroically strong and capable leadership”, the report fears that “serious mitigation may not occur until the planet runs short of carbon-based energy”.

Can we prevent this illness before it strikes? Mmmm… if we manage to be good, if we manage to be trustworthy, maybe we will want to partner with each other to build a sustainable world instead of competing with each other for the remaining resources of a sick planet.

PS: If budget cuts due to the economic crisis have made you change a safari or a hike in the Andes for your sommarstuga in Jämtland but you still crave for adrenaline, read the chapter ”you scratch my back, I ride in yours” of the Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, Moral minds: how nature designed right and wrong (just the title is shivering) by Mark Hauser or Demonic Males, by Peterson and Wrangham. Satisfaction guaranteed or money back.