Carbon Production Per Capita

A modest proposal for climate action

Back in the 18th Century, a feisty group of land-owners collectively extended a digit to George III and told him, ‘No taxation without representation.’

It’s often forgotten that the fight for independence in the United States was inspired by this pedestrian war cry. Democracy arose not out of high principle, but from a pragmatic desire to control one’s own destiny.

The fight against climate change is not driven by principle. It is driven by practicality. We want to survive as a species. And make no mistake: this is not about the planet. She’s been through worse. It’s not about the biosphere. Even in the worst-case scenario, life will go on, probably.

It’s about human society. It’s about our in-built drive to care for our children, and to make their lives better than ours. Only now, our highest aspiration is to make their lives equal to ours, or at least not a lot worse.

Climate change is killing people now. Climate change is caused by human activity. This is indisputable. Anyone clever enough to concoct a rebuttal to those statements is smart enough to know they’re lying. So why do they persist?

The partisanship being paraded across the world stage is a recognition of what’s at stake for some. There’s no rational argument that lets the energy sector win. Faced with an existential threat, they resort to other means.

Without an exit strategy for energy producers and a transition plan for the long value chain that extends from oil and coal, there can be no political resolution to the greatest threat faced by humanity since Hiroshima.

Pacific islanders have learned that sometimes peace is more important than justice. At the end of the day, we all have to get along.

One of the ways a chief restores peace in the village is to fine both parties: one for doing wrong, and the other for making a fuss about it. It sounds crazy, but having clear winners and losers can affect the balance of a closed system. Parity is critical to this process.

We’re all on the same tiny blue island in space, and nobody’s leaving any time soon. So we’d better find a way to live together, or it’ll end in tears.

So in the interest of parity and peace in the climate change process, allow us to make a little suggestion:

No adaptation without mitigation.

When you tot up all the funding for climate change adaptation in the Pacific, it represents a vast sum relative to our tiny economies. Vanuatu, for example, is virtually guaranteed US $350 million in the mid-term, and that number could rise much higher. Roughly $1 billion in proposals are in the pipeline for our country alone.

We should forego it.

It is fundamentally ineffective and frankly insincere to throw large sums into adaptation and to make no real effort to actually slow the problem down.

Some in Washington argue that it’s too late to brake, so why bother trying? That is insane.

For Canberra to toss buckets of money at the Pacific and still to invest in generating more atmospheric carbon per capita than almost anyone else in the world is… unspeakable. The appropriate words cannot be printed here.

Unless that changes, we’d be receiving blood money. Their largesse is cash derived from a lifestyle that will surely harm or kill our children.

We should forego it.

We should forego it… unless an equivalent amount is spent domestically to stop polluting.

No adaptation without mitigation. Anything else is hypocrisy.

Vanuatu’s Gross Domestic Product is about US $775 million. An additional $35-50 million per annum for climate change adaptation would represent about 4-6% of GDP. We should refuse to accept funding unless a similar percentage of GDP is made available to stakeholders and others to slow—and ultimately stop—the release of new carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

No adaptation without mitigation. It’s not a very sexy slogan, but it’s one worth fighting for.

Pacific island nations have very few levers they can pull on the global stage. But if the historical pursuit of life, liberty and happiness is anything to go by, a good first step is to refuse to participate in a system that is designed to do us harm.

Yes, it will hurt. But I’d rather suffer today than let my children suffer tomorrow.

No adaptation without mitigation.

If the developed world is sincere about its commitment to the Pacific, then it will make the same commitment to itself.

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