Saturday, December 5, 2009

Copenhagen Climate Change Conference

The United Nations Climate Change Conference will be taking place December 7 – December 18, this year at Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark.  They are expecting approximately 15,000 participants from 192 countries!  This will make it the largest political conference ever held in Denmark.

The main focus of the conference will be to get international agreement on how to reduce fossil fuel usage, which many scientists claim is driving global warming. The conference organizers believe that it will be much less costly to make the necessary changes now rather than at some time in the future.

Connie Hedegaard, Denmark’s Minister for Climate and Energy, is a strong supporter of the conference. She points out quite correctly that developing countries will be wanting to use more energy, not less, and argues that in times of economic crisis it would be wise to limit energy consumption. She states that phenomenal amounts of energy are being consumed uselessly. Carbon dioxide emissions grew three percent last year, which scientists predict will have drastic effects on weather and infrastructure and ultimately will lead to conflicts world-wide.

She hopes that an EU agreement on carbon reduction burden sharing will happen before the end of the year and asserts that without this agreement it will be difficult to achieve the ambitious objectives of the Copenhagen Conference.

India, Poland, and Denmark have joined forces to facilitate a climate change agreement in Copenhagen in 2009. The starting point is the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted in 1992. The ultimate objective is a low-carbon society that would result in stabilization of greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere to prevent dangerous climate change.

For those who want to know more, a wikipedia article provides a great deal of background information. See


Monday, January 12, 2009

The Social Consequences of Individual Choice

Recent disasters in the world-wide financial system have highlighted the fact that free markets (i.e., markets with minimal regulation) are unstable and by themselves neglect important social concerns.

Benjamin R. Barber in Jihad vs. McWorld gives a rather succinct example that makes this point in a very clear way:

When I choose to buy a car, I choose to get from here to there efficiently and perhaps pleasantly; however, among the consequences of my choice may be air pollution, resource depletion, the disadvantaging of public transportation, pressure on hospital facilities, and the despoilation of the natural environment by a highway system.  As a consumer, the only way I can avoid these consequences is to refuse to buy a car -- an irrational act from the narrow economic perspective and one that throws a wrench into the market economy.  So I play the consumer and buy the car.  Capitalism is served and so am I -- as a consumer.  But in a democratic society, I am not just a consumer, I am a citizen.  And as a citizen, I can act in common with others to modify the untoward public consequences of my private choice.  As a citizen, I can join with others and redress the ill effects of my car purchase: we can outlaw leaded gas, fund electric engine research, subsidize public transportation, mandate hospital insurance for drivers, and limit highway construction in scenic regions.  These civic activities do not curb our market freedom, they facilitate it.  Democracy makes markets work by allowing us the freedom of our consumer choices in the knowledge that we can counteract their accompanying vices.  To do so, however, we must have alternative nonmarket institutions, and in the international arena such democratic tools are entirely absent.

The key point is in the last sentence, which I will augment slightly --  there must be alternative institutions that have the mandate and the resources to contain and control the excesses of free markets.  Such institutions are not inimical to free markets.  Rather, they preserve the long term viability of free markets that otherwise eventually would implode.