A vision of a low carbon future is needed

Future Notes

Lest we succumb to the hopelessness that can very easily result from what has been a most acrimonious and debilitating political year, the holiday season presents a good opportunity for us to take a short break and turn our minds in other directions. One of my intentions for the New Year is to attempt to reduce my carbon footprint – to reduce my contribution to climate change by reducing the annual amount of greenhouse gas emissions – carbon dioxide mainly – that result from my activities. But if we want everyone to reduce their carbon footprints what we need is a comprehensive low carbon vision to serve as the grounding for our efforts.

Since we have for some time been propagating the Low Carbon Development Strategy, I need not go into detail: only to say that it is claimed that the amount of carbon mankind at present releases into the environment is unsustainable. There are vast differences in carbon expenditure between and within countries, but on average, individuals in developed countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, etc expend some 12.5 tons CO2 equivalent annually but a globally equitable and sustainable carbon footprint, which must be reached by around 2050 to prevent climate change from getting out of control, is more like 2.5 tons CO2 equivalent a year. According to some calculations, on average, individuals in the Caribbean and Latin America at present release about 2.4 tons CO2 equivalent a year.

The problem is not difficult to see. While development will certainly not cease, some kind of convergence is necessary, with some countries having to make massive reductions in their footprint to allow others to make increases. The question is: what would such a world look like and should we not be seeking, at our level of development, to approximate such a world rather than becoming locked in the neoliberal model of growth, which most of us translate as an American standard of living, which is unsustainable!

One of the perennial complaints we hear about current regimes in Guyana and the Caribbean as a whole is that they have failed miserably to devise and sell a collective vision of what we should and could work to be. Instead of hankering after the unsustainable life as it is in the Big Apple, should we not be attempting to devise and translate to our people some kind of general ideology or vision of the life we would be living with a sustainable carbon footprint; at what level of expenditure is such a footprint likely to occur in current and projected future conditions; what we need to do to arrive at that footprint, etc.

Commendably, Guyana already has a Low Carbon Development Strategy and as such is already committed to a low carbon future. But make no mistake, like most such strategies Guyana’s is firmly located in the normal neoliberal economic mould with its focus on economic growth. If it is successfully implemented, the LCDS will minimise our carbon footprint at any level of growth and development but its focus is on endless growth, which is perhaps the major problem for climate change.

In passing, I believe it is even fair to say that the way we have been talking about the strategy is not even rooted in a heightened moral concern for the world: it is strictly instrumentalist. “The world will be better off if our forest remains standing so we have some forest services to sell. If we get no buyers we will have to destroy the forest to help with our development!”   A more moral concern, which perhaps is more likely to motivate prospective partners  would be akin to: “The world would be better off  if we did not destroy our forest and we are committed to keeping it in the best possible condition given the resources at our disposal. Of course, this will put us at some disadvantage and thus we will seek and work with partners to help us to provide these services to the world.”

And say what you like about Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham, they lived in the era of grand visions and both attempted to translate and sell their vision to the nation that they ruled. This is perhaps what made them so intriguing to us. They were children of the European Enlightenment, aspects of which they adopted and attempted to translate to the context in which they found themselves. Nurtured in colonial exploitation and cold war containment politics, the liberal democratic environment touted by those who then controlled our political destiny appeared jaundiced: very much in need of repair and better still replacement.

Notwithstanding the atrocities committed by Joseph Stalin, the ruling alternative ideology of the day was Marxism/Leninism and both Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham became attracted to and attempted to sell it to their people. Perhaps because of the treatment he received at the hands of our colonial masters, Cheddi Jagan became more attached to Marxist/Leninist orthodoxy. Burnham, after craftily constructing his way into government, had to be more careful.

But it says a lot for the power of ideology that, notwithstanding this delicate geopolitical context, Burnham gradually got sucked more and more into the orthodoxy and received not too dissimilar treatment to that of his historical protagonist. It speaks even more for the psychological grip of ideology that to this day most Guyanese have a socialist leaning and one still gets a whiff of this ideology when speaking to some of the most successful capitalists in Guyana.

My friends tell me that it is only the well heeled middle class and soi-disant intellectuals who tend to lack and worry about non-existent visions!  The poor live with the vision that with the help of their god, they will succeed in being able to earn sufficient to maintain their families and the rich focus on making more and more money! Nonetheless, quite apart from the fact that we should not be expending our energies chasing the impossible, when medium and long term fundamental voluntary changes are required, such as are needed if climate change is to be thwarted, countries and companies still expend much effort trying to embed collective visions that they believe will help to focus effort and significantly contribute to their development and/or profitability. Thus it is my contention that an ideological commitment to a low carbon future, which sets us to work towards some clearly defined goals, has much to commend it.



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