Wednesday, 6 July 2016

I am environmentally ILLIBERAL.

"Wolność Tomku w swoim domku," so goes the old Polish saying. The equivalent of Live and Let Live. As long as your freedom does not impinge on my freedom, get on with your life. Economically and socially...

...But not environmentally.

The older I get, the more record-breakingly warm winters and record-breakingly hot summers I experience, the more I worry about the world our children and grandchildren will inherit. Another drought threatens Polish agriculture. At what stage will we stop pumping out more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, raising global temperatures, melting the ice caps, and setting in train ever more anomalous weather events?

One can take the approach that each individual, nudged into action by some well-informed reflection, will come to their own conclusion and take a more environmentally-enlightened path. Give up the car. Cut meat consumption dramatically. Insulate the home better to spend less money heating it. Be aware of one's carbon footprint - and the carbon footprint of consumer decisions (flying asparagus in from Chile in midwinter).

Nudge only works so far. As a policy tool, nudging citizens into caring for our planet is an unobtrusive and mild palliative; it helps - but only a bit. I'd go further. Much further.

Were I Dictator of Poland, I'd be closing down the coal mines and replacing coal-fired power stations with wind farms, solar farms, bio-mass and bio-gas heat and energy plants at local level, with nuclear power to deliver the core energy needs. Zero fossil fuels.

Cars: I'd ban cars with engines that emit more than 100g of carbon dioxide per kilometre. Get them off the roads in five years time, and have them recycled. Then reduce the 100g down to zero. Force the motor industry to research and develop zero-fossil fuel cars. If everyone drove an electric car, the price would go down, and R&D would keep coming up with constant improvements at a much faster rate.

Recycling: I'd have you segregating waste into six or seven separate bins - but then I'd work out a mechanism for paying households for effective separation of waste streams. Throwing rubbish into fields and forests - I'd have miscreants put in stocks and pelted with rotten eggs and tomatoes.

I'd need dictatorial powers, because sadly, in a democracy, the majority would fail to see the sense of these measures and would never vote for them.

The presentations made at the Paris COP21 conference last December should have made mankind sit up and take notice. The inexorable rise in global air temperatures since 1850 leaves no room for doubt; the planet is warming up. But no - there are more important things afoot - Brexit and football.

Last month I moderated a conference at the British Embassy at which Małgorzata Liszewska from the Interdisciplinary Centre for Mathematical and Computer Modelling (ICM) at Warsaw University, gave a presentation about Warsaw's climate up to the end of this century. Readers may be familiar with ICM - it is best known for the website. It is reckoned to have the best weather forecasts for Poland.

Dr Liszweska presented likely scenarios for different concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere compared to pre-industrial times, going up to 2100. Unless we take steps now to curb CO2 emissions, she forecasts that Januaries in Warsaw could be seven degrees celsius warmer by 2071 than they were between 1981-2010 (average then was -1C; by 2071 it could be +6C). She showed simulated observations for the weather stations across Warsaw - Bielany, Okęcie, Ursynów and Świder as well as the city centre.

The number of days in which the temperature fell below zero degrees C between 1981-2010 in Ursynów, for example, was 95. By 2061-2100, it is forecast to be just 40. And summer days in which the temperature rose above 25C in Ursynów between 1981-2010 was 40, while by 2061-2100 it is forecast to be 70.

Why worry, you may ask. Warmer winters, hotter summers - great! But in another presentation, climate change scientist David Viner shows a map of the world and how different countries will be affected. New climatic risks arise, as witnessed by the continuing floods in the UK (a geography threatened by increases in storms lashing in from the North Atlantic, a result of the greater energies generated by the warmer ocean; sea-level rise and coastal flooding, and river flooding, as well as heatwaves and droughts in the south.) Now, according to Dr Viner, Poland (along with Canada, Scandinavia, Russia, Mongolia, Chile and New Zealand) will be among the countries not too badly affected. [You can download the presentations from]

But where will it end? The purpose of last month's conference was to focus on how this would affect water in Poland - droughts and floods - and what needs to be done now to protect towns and fields.

The situation can be averted - but only if mankind takes steps now.

Do YOU want to help avert climatic catastrophe? It calls for a conscious change in lifestyle. Cutting back on waste - wasted energy, unnecessary purchases, driving everywhere in a heavy car with an oversized engine...

But is nudge enough? I'd argue no.

I would argue that to keep the planet habitable for future generations, drastic, illiberal steps need to be taken - steps would not be in the least bit popular with the voters. Familiar freedoms would be curtailed. We'd be paying more for energy that's less secure. But in the long term, our grandchildren and great grandchildren would be granted a planet on which they could live without the existentialist stress of climatic uncertainty.

We have seen the socially and economically illiberal trash whole economies with their democratic vote. I'd be prepared to countenance economic slowdown, recession even, if I knew we'd have an environmentally sustainable system at the end of it.

This time two years ago:
Thoughts on brewing and investing
[Two years on, King of Hop by Ale Browar is available at Auchan!!!]

This time three years ago:
Cruisers and low-riders - cycle fashion

This time This time six years ago:
Gone is the threat of Państwo Smoleńskie

This time eight years ago:
Bike ride to Święty Krzyż


Gordon Hawley said...

Unfortunately even if you were dictator you would be bought and sold by big business. Such is the world we live in nowadays.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Gordon Hawley

I am so ascetic that not $1m, let alone $10m would not sway my opinion in the slightest. I mean, like, what would I want to buy for that money?

As dictator, it would give me great pleasure in imprisoning the wretch that tried to influence me with monetary inducements.

The long-term future of the planet is far more important than the short-term pleasures that money can buy.

It's a spiritual thing. You see, I'm on a mission from God.

Jacek Koba said...

Regarding your post of 6 July, the unifying theme to my comment is The Spectator magazine – home to climate change deniers, EU bashers, and, following the referendum, toffs purporting to speak on behalf of the plebs.

I’m going to keep the 2 July issue of the Spectator to quote from one day at the arrogant wankers that are gloating in it over the Remain demise. Every article is shot full of Leave triumphalism that was so perfectly debunked by the events of the following week that I’m going to rub their noses in it in Letters To The Editor at the critical moment when I decide that the PLN 30 I pay for it every week would be better spent applied to my backside before I take a shower in the morning.

On the point of climate change (one James Delingpole of said magazine has staked his career on denying it), I can say this: in the 50 years I have graced this earth the weather today is not what it used to be when I was younger. It can be a blip on the screen, it can be something more serious – I don’t know. But this is for sure: reducing pollution and rubbish generation is intrinsically good. We are drowning it it.

On the point of your tongue-in-cheek illiberal urges to force through a liberal agenda, that’s where we come a cropper, however cogently we liberals argue. Money trumps ideas and ideals. It may not buy you happiness but at least it helps you be miserable in comfort.

Take town X in Małopolska. A day’s trip to town X between October and April and you come back with lungs full of soot (Warsaw is remarkably clean by the standards of town X). Why? Well, in the early 90s the folks embarked on the “beating-the-chills” mission (Pl. “docieplanie”). Dual purpose furnaces (capable of burning all kinds of rubbish besides gas such as worn tyres, plastic bottles, cellophane bags – all slow-burning and highly calorific) replaced gas-only furnaces and made town X a satanic, sulphurous hellhole. Who is to blame? The EU, of course. Energy bills had gone up because energy companies have to comply with EU regulations, so the folk resorted to tried and tested methods of burning household, agricultural, industrial and commercial waste.

Town X would of course vote for leaving the EU if given the chance (don’t be fooled by the polls). You could point out, of course, that a full one quarter of town X is currently in Ireland, the UK and Germany, sending money home, and that the pavements in town X, buses, trains, medical equipment, school equipment (check the signs “Zakup sfinansowany przez fundusze EU …”) are all paid for by EU money, but you would not be wise to do so without witnesses.

Back to the UK and the Spectator, you can see where the fault lines run. The EU referendum did not just expose a divide between the rich and the poor. It is more finely drawn: between the poor, the self-made educated rich and, what I call, the haemophiliac rich (educated but dim, favour-currying, Volvo-driving, arrogant, and inbred throwbacks with inherited money). The latter’s privileges dwindled – because they are so dim – so they agitated against the class they perceived as threatening their status quo: the self-made educated rich. The last 20 years or so may well have been the first time in history that academics, teachers, IT specialists, assorted internet start-up entrepreneurs, journalists, bloggers, etc., made money from their education, apart from – traditionally – doctors and lawyers. This is not the consensus the haemophiliac rich came to expect. They allied with the most unlikely ally – the poor, against the metropolitan elites. And Brexit followed.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Jacek

Really great analysis. Love the concept of the 'haemophiliac rich'. Tim Nice-But-Dim. They had it coming to them since Margaret Thatcher blasted their inherited privileges in the City with Big Bang. Barrow boys became market traders, outwitting the Old School Tie chaps in trade after trade.

Communism in Poland was basically shit, but it did two things: it brought in universal education, and it levelled out any residual class-based privilege. I'm not surprised when a horny-handed son of the soil turns out to be Pan Prezes of a big bank, despite his potato-like physiognomy. GOOD! In Britain, the chap, despite his brains and determination, would have ended up as the doorman.

Would be interested what Town X is called... :-)

Jacek - time for you to return to blogging!