Balancing the risks: Choosing climate alternatives

C R Payne
2009 IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environment  
Very aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are needed over the next ten years to avoid a "planet on fire." Current sub-national, national and international policy assumes that carbon sequestration, biofuels, nuclear power, ocean fertilization, atmospheric aerosols, and other such technologies, which heretofore have been considered too novel or too dangerous to use, will have to be deployed at large scale, globally. Moving forward with promising technologies that might preserve us
more » ... ight preserve us from the consequences of global warming will be difficult because they also pose potential hazards, promise uncertain benefits, and in some cases are already burdened with restrictive legislation and poor public image. The lack of a rational process of risk assessment and public decision making is likely to lead to a poor longterm outcome. Moreover, the standard administrative and political processes used to assess such risks can take years, time that we do not have. Principled and practical policymaking demand citizens participate in the decision to develop and use these novel technologies. Environmental assessment, horizon scanning, and new research on human and organizational factors suggest techniques to improve technology development decisions. c 2009 IOP Publishing Ltd 1 are stringent. For example, California has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, and replace 10% of liquid transportation fuels with low-carbon fuels by 2020 [4] . Developed and developing countries alike will have to adopt radical solutions to achieve these emissions reductions. Current sub-national, national and international policy assumes that carbon sequestration, nuclear power, ocean fertilization, atmospheric aerosols, and other such technologies, which heretofore have been considered too novel or too dangerous to use, will have to be deployed at large scale, globally [5] . Yet it will be difficult to move forward with promising technologies that might preserve us from the consequences of global warming because they also pose potential hazards, promise uncertain benefits, and in some cases are already burdened with restrictive legislation and poor public image. Elected officials, private investors, academic research scientists, nongovernmental organizations and government regulators will drive the choice of which technologies are pursued. They wield the instruments of innovation and dissemination: tax credits, grants, venture capital, intellect, public support, and regulatory carrots and sticks. They will research the effects and effectiveness of each new technology. They will weigh its economic, ecological, social and cultural value. The suggestions here are addressed to them, with the goal of improving technology policy choices by suggesting different approaches to consultation that will bring in new information and new actors. These policy professionals and scientific experts should not and cannot act independently of the public. International law and domestic law have established the importance of public participation, particularly in matters of environmental risk [6] . By ratifying the Aarhus Convention, 42 nations committed to provide public notice and opportunity for effective participation in decisions regarding proposed activities that may have a significant effect on the environment [7] . However, the Aarhus Convention does not dictate who must be consulted, nor does it detail the modes of consultation that are most appropriate for a given context [8] . The past supplies the experience of DDT, a marvelous new pesticide whose harmful effects were long neglected until better communication brought about a more balanced policy approach to its use. Section 2 of this paper describes this example of the interplay between policymakers, scientists and the public. In the short history of biofuels and carbon sequestration, two of the newest and highly controversial technologies targeted at global warming provide examples of the risks of rapid commercialization. This discussion, in Section 3, describes the limitations of science and regulation when even the nature of possible harmful effects of these new technologies is uncertain. Risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis are the standard policy tools for this kind of problem; section 4 critiques excessive reliance either on narrow expertise or on the will of the general public. Rather than try to compensate by shifting authority from one set of actors to another, in section 5, this paper identifies the following strategies to improve access to information: -Environmental assessment, 1 made more accessible -Horizon scanning. -Role of Human and Organizational Factors Each of these approaches takes advantage of new research and modern information technology. The example of DDT DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) offers the classic demonstration of a technology solution with traumatic consequences. A new pesticide proved highly successful at addressing serious agricultural and public health problems. Public policy decisions to disseminate the technology did not fully take account of relevant, available scientific information about harmful effects of wide-scale use. After many years of global use, the human, ecological and financial costs of using the pesticide were
doi:10.1088/1755-1315/8/1/012001 fatcat:erpsb3pzzrfqnm4rpf6bssixda