Climate change and hot air
Fortune's Robert Friedman writes:
At 8:15 this morning I was standing on a heated platform outside the Congress Centre in Davos, Switzerland, being interviewed by CNN International's Richard Quest about climate change, when the lights went out.
It was an omen of sorts for the first day of a conference where environmental issues have risen to the top of the agenda, and where the 2,400 participants are all looking over their shoulders at their carbon footprints in the freshly fallen snow. It took a lot of fossil fuel to get these captains of industry, government, and media up the mountain by car, bus, train, and helicopter. The World Economic Forum is doing its best to run a carbon-neutral conference by offsetting the damage through environmentally friendly projects, but it sure takes a lot of carbon to hold a forum in which enough hot air will be emitted to melt what little snow Davos has seen this winter.
When the TV lights went out - a pulled plug, not a power failure, it turned out - I was talking about President Bush's State of the Union address, in which, after six years of doing nothing about the problem, he was finally talking about reducing America's gasoline consumption. A good goal, sure, but the hard part is figuring out how to get there, and the Bush administration hasn't shown any vision. Indeed it has opposed regulations and taxes that might change consumer behavior or corporate practices. And all the while the country's CO2 emissions have climbed steadily higher.
In his speech last night, Bush talked about market solutions as the way forward. That's like relying on the military alone to get us out of the quagmire Bush created in Iraq. Several speakers at a session this morning titled "Making Green Pay," including Yale professor Daniel Esty, made the point that climate change was the result of market failure and that regulation was required to turn things around. A vote on the question showed that the audience, lots of them businessmen, overwhelmingly agreed, 71% to 29%. Just how much pain the Davos crowd is willing to endure to bring about meaningful reductions in greenhouse gases remains to be seen. That question will surely stay in the air here -- at least until the lights are turned out in the Congress Centre a few days from now.
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