Next Wednesday the European Union is called to pronounce a statement about the policy on the reduction of CO2 emission.
According to the Italian press (not sure if it’s the same elsewhere) it looks like that the debate is about what should be prioritised between the need to reduce the polluting emissions and the need to protect the European economy.
The interests at stake are quite high from whatever angle you look at the issue… But… Don’t you think it’s a shame to consider a better environment a luxury that can only be obtained at the expenses of a stable economy? And, here’s another question: isn’t it dangerous to tackle the issue using economical logics?
Of course it’s important to be pragmatic and consider and evaluate all the possible consequences of any decision because the matter is complex. Therefore we shouldn’t be naïve in our considerations. At the end of the day we live in this world at this time. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious when setting our goals just as it’s important to set priorities in order to define a strategy, lay down a plan of actions, assign responsibilities and allocate resources to achieve that goal.
If we agree that we are living beyond the means of our planet (it’s a fact, not an opinion), that we are producing more pollution than the planet can absorb without consequences (also a fact but apparently this one is questionable…) then it’s obvious that we need to reverse this trend and do so quickly. This conclusion means that we have to modify our habits as individuals and society but also our productive systems. Easy…
Change is a process. This degree of change is a slow process, but are we sure that using the market as a leverage to prompt the change is a viable solution? After all, the logics of the market are quite slow to react, even if we assume that the logic that has exasperated the problem (if not created) can also be the one that can provide the solution.
Markets acts quickly in case in of a drastic and sudden social or technological change/innovation. If these elements are missing, the market operators (at least the strongest or most influential) aim at maintaining the status quo. Big companies are also the one investing the most in R&D, fair enough, but it’s hard to imagine a CEO taking the responsibility to engage in a revolution of the productive processes, generating costs in the short term, just for the sake of the environment that may (only may) generate a return of image that is difficult to quantify.
Having said this, I believe that to put the issue in terms of green vs economy is misleading and dangerous. Misleading because it can push the discussion in territory of opposing ideology: the land of wasted time. Dangerous because this kind of debate can negatively influence the public opinion (currently oppressed by the depressed economical state) that is also one of the factors that can promote and foster the social changes (that can in turn pull the technological innovations) that is needed to push the market towards virtuous circles, beneficial for the entire society (individuals and enterprises).
Sure it’s important to consider the consequences on the occupation levels of any decision, but let’s not forget that caring for the environment can open up many opportunities available for everyone from highly skilled professionals to unskilled ones. Old competences can be converted to new contexts: a mechanic can easily use his abilities to fix cars or bikes… The example may seem trivial but depicts the underlying principle.
Can looking at the world in terms of opportunities for everyone, be the key to break the economical constraint? Why do we have to accept that it’s impossible or unrealistic to achieve a reduction of the CO2 without undermining the occupational levels in EU (or worldwide)?
Shouldn’t we be discussing how to achieve the goal instead?
Better environment is not a long term goal. Not any more. It could have been in the 70’s when the issue was raised formally and internationally recognised (The Limits to Growth, Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers). Thinking in terms of opportunities means that the EU should transform the negotiation tables into operative tables where the aim is not to convince and set limits and standard but to evaluate and choose plans of action.
Once again, the world we live in is complex and the solution to the environment issue is not easy but we know we need to change, we know we have to do it sooon, we know that individuals and organization tend to resist change until is inevitable, we know change shakes up distribution of wealth not the amount (usually increases wealth).
Why are we talking about green vs economy/occupation then?
There is no dichotomy! The issue is how.
If EU wants to be leader in the environmental care, shouldn’t it be pointing out the way and vigorously communicate it? Shouldn’t EU be encouraging and rewarding companies that reduce their CO2 emission (hopefully using the percentage of reduction as lever) instead of wasting time in negotiations to set limits and target (consistently exceeded)? Shouldn’t EU review (if not eliminate) the trade mechanism for emission quota?
It could institute one market for each industry so that the entire industry is encouraged to innovate and not to buy (or sell) quota from (to) other industry that may pollute less only because of the specific productive process. In other words companies that are not reducing their CO2 emission must buy the quota from another one from the same industry: polluting companies finance their environmental-friendly rivals.
After all being leader is all about generating trust between all the parts involved by pointing out a credible way to a goal and by sticking to the idea/principle (leading by example). Otherwise it’s easy to turn into those politicians that like to be photographed on a bike because it’s trendy. It’s hard to believe they actually do it every day (lacking the “leading by example” element) simply for the fact that it’s hard to spot them sweaty (not credible). It’s a shame because they’re wasting an opportunity to be real leader. All they should do instead, it would be to ride an electrical bike… they would be credible (they use a bike that can actually take them virtually everywhere without sweating too much), they would become role model by pointing out viable solutions and by leading by examples. And last but not least they could stimulate a market that has the potential to solve many problems: traffic, parking, town life quality, health, air pollution (let’s not forget that a large percentage of the CO2 emission derives from transports), occupation levels (engineers, mechanics, sales agents…).
Nicola Cramarossa, management engineer with a commitment to environment and sustainability, is also athlete, and sport coach and lives between Italy and Sweden.