Do Global Problems require Global Solutions?

The heart of the conversation regarding emissions reduction really begins with your assumption about this question. Oftentimes the impulse we have in response to a global situation is naturally “well the problem is global so we need something just as large and just as global to address the issue.” While we might not think so robotically, it is a reflex…and lets be honest it does roll off the tongue; Global problem? Global Solution! This type of reflex was seen during the financial crisis when you had the speaker of the house suggesting an international tax on Wall Street (one of many other examples [1] [2] [3] ).

So back to the original question, do global problems require global solutions. In short my answer is no, as some may have already guessed. Rather I believe the very existence of a global problem shows that a global policy solution is not required. We frequently hear about globalization and how all the nations are so tightly connected. As a result of this global connection naturally we should see that the policies and decisions one country makes will inevitably affect other nations.

Up until now I have deliberately refrained from defining the “problem” or the “policies” in question primarily because the problem is so ill-defined. When discussing climate change and greenhouse emissions, we can see and feel the symptoms so we often define the problem in terms of symptoms and solutions in terms of directly attacking those symptoms. Let me take a crack at defining the problem that produced the symptom, dramatic increases in emissions, which has the potential of placing a burden on the global environment. Problem-symptom sequence: 1) weak dollar policy plus perception of demand for dollars around the world due to its reserve currency status causes the dollar itself to be our number one export 2) U.S. ends up shifting its economy from production to consumption and production is shifted overseas (~70% consumption based economy) 3) With lower environmental standards overseas and a high demand for consumer goods we find countries, such as China, willing to pick up the production slack 4) Production takes energy so we see 2-4 coal plants being created per week in China 5) Causes more greenhouse gas emissions for both the consuming country (U.S.) and the producer (China). Admittedly I skipped a few details so I wouldn’t have a 20 step sequence but in general I believe this captures my thought.

My follow-up question is, why do we have to play this silly waiting game of the U.S. waiting on China who is waiting on the India who is waiting on the U.S. in order for emissions to be reduced? The U.S. is in a unique position to act through monetary and REAL fiscal policy reform (due to the dollars reserve currency status) that would in turn effect production and emissions behavior around the world, or at least from our largest trading partners. I realize this isn’t a politically favorable way to address environmental problems but do you really believe 60+ world leaders and delegates representing 60+ nations will come to a mutually beneficial agreement that is good for each economy and for the environment in two weeks or ever? A global solution seems to be the unfavorable one in my book….

Written by AHMED TAWFIK.

5 thoughts on “Do Global Problems require Global Solutions?

  1. Gary

    I sympathize with the idea that consumption is out of control in the U.S. and the net consequence of which is increased emissions in the Third World. Maybe the weak dollar is related, but how is that part of the solution? The transition to a non-carbon based economy requires some sort of incentive, carbon is too easy/too well established. Your plan only offers a reduced rate of consumption and not a plan to achieve dramatically reduced emissions.

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  2. Gary

    Lets assume your right and we implement your plan. The US gets its currency and credit under control and as a world we consume less. We’ll still be emitting GHGs, just at a lower rate. The goal is zero emissions eventually, isn’t it? I don’t see that happening without heavy regulations, or a miraculous new technology.

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  3. Eric Harold

    A very interesting outlining of the problem. While that outline may be correct, isn’t the policy change you are suggesting a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has left? Along with changing our energy (and economic/monetary) policies, the global solution is working to find ways to allow economic growth that does not follow the same environmental path most of the industrialized world has followed. Build the growing economies now on a more sustainable platform, where it will be easier to integrate the framework into the system rather than retrofit one like the US, Europe and others have to do now.

    This seems like a no brainer really. Not easy, but certainly smarter. I can hear the arguments of people that would say that I’m just trying to limit the growth of other nations. On the contrary, I think there are a lot of lessons that could be applied to implement better practices from the start, that will save growing economies down the road. Think of all the money US industries spend complying with (or attempting to work around) the current labyrinth of environmental regulations. How much of that would have been saved if they would have built the right sustainable controls and practices (emissions, stormwater, energy use, what have you) from the start?

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  4. Ahmed

    Gary, thanks for the feedback. The goal does seem to be to eventually get emissions to zero, but we all know that has to be phased in if one wants to do it from a regulatory stand point. I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t regulate emissions through environmental standards by the EPA or others. I am saying that we need to conserve (through financial stabilization) and then a national regulation (essentially some sort of tax) would be much less of a burden.

    The emissions to zero, eventually, scenario with immediate global action (regulation) is also going to require plenty of global aid money. Where does that money come from? Also where does the money go and how is it distributed? Who gets to say how it all works? Seems like global action in order to be effective is going to clearly infringe on national sovereignty as well as becoming a lumbering bureaucratic nightmare.

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  5. Ahmed

    Eric, good points. Some say that we are only a few years away from committing ourselves to 40+ years of warming (I’ve heard way to many differing estimates to really narrow it down). In any case, I’m thinking that before any action on any global framework is produce and then implemented we are talking at least 5 years, that is a very ambitious estimate. It is especially difficult to attempt to rebuild other developing economies when they could clearly point the finger at the developed nations. The only way I feel like these countries would jump on board is by the developed countries essentially subsidizing their green tech. But I don’t see how much sense that makes for the U.S. to subsidize its own production. Its like me spending $1 yesterday to buy the loaf of bread for a 50cents tomorrow and then saying “look how cheap my bread is! only 50cents!” Maybe not the best analogy.

    I do think you pose a very interesting question about what could have been if sustainable practices were followed from the beginning. The “right” sustainable practices I feel need time to develop. So essentially our monetary policy allows us to boom so rapidly (of course followed by a bust) that we do not take pause and consider the environmental implications. Cleaner practices, with the gentle nudging of regulation, would have been able to be adopted without such a sloppy, scrambled transition if our monetary policy didn’t tend habits towards malinvestment based booms and our policies didn’t continue to prop the existing malinvestment up.

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