12/09/2013 - 11:11

Cooperate or perish

Pablo Solón argued in his Round Three essay that "[t]he climate problem will not be solved through international climate negotiations," and I must agree. Or, in any event, it is clear that harmful climate change will not be averted through negotiations alone.

This is not to suggest that war might solve the problem. But if the world doesn't implement measures to save the planet and also save the poor, conflict is bound to result. Climate change is already creating food and water insecurity, and one need only look at Darfur to see how such insecurity can contribute to conflict. The risk of war can be markedly reduced, on the other hand, by cooperation on issues such as water, as detailed in a recent report by the think tank Strategic Foresight Group. So what's needed is not more negotiations, but rather more—and more effective—cooperation.

When nations strive for ever greater economic growth and measure their success by gross domestic product per capita, they subscribe to economic theories based on an incomplete picture of how human beings behave. These theories discount the human potential to resolve issues through collaboration. They fail to recognize that economic interdependency, and interdependency in natural resources, can deliver great benefits.

Some might characterize cooperation among nations as a romantic notion, but in fact cooperation is a pragmatic approach embedded in many natural systems. Cooperation involves working together toward a common goal that provides mutual rewards; there are no outright winners or outright losers. This approach stands in stark contrast to the neoclassical economic attitude that values maximization of profit above all.

If the playing field for human beings were, instead of Earth, the entire universe—a place with limitless resources, energy among them—climate change would never have emerged as a preoccupation of this generation. But because humans do live on a single planet, and because they have developed a level of consciousness that allows for notions such as universal human rights, the question becomes: Why are nations continuing to practice business as usual in the climate realm when that approach is demonstrably failing? Every year, nations meet. Nations negotiate. And every year they demonstrate that they have failed to learn from nature itself—they fail to perceive that the climate problem can be addressed through cooperation or not at all.

Cooperation must start with an acknowledgment that the human beings alive today represent the only possible climate solution. Future generations demand that the current generation address the problem. The other species that inhabit this planet make the same demand. Attributing blame for climate change is relatively unimportant; what's important is humanity's collective ability to solve the problem.

It is increasingly clear that the solution to climate change does not lie in selfish approaches that depend on certain parties benefitting at the cost of others. A cooperative rather than a zero-sum attitude toward climate—though it may not solve the global problem of how to distribute wealth equally—will at least guarantee that every human being has the right to food, shelter, and indeed existence.