Essay Resources (Last Revised: 01/02/03) This is Version 1

(As questions arise that highlight the need to clarify issues, we will revise this document. We will always provide the date of last revision and give you the version number so you can tell if things have changed. We will also present a list of the changes so you can compare versions.)

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Access a 19 Feb. 2001 Globe and Mail article on the most recent IPCC report here.

The Overview Documents

Critically Reading the Resource Material
The technological lens

The economic lens

The ecological lens


Signatories to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) committed themselves to an objective of achieving "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system" and to preparing "national action plans" to address emissions of greenhouse gases.

For Canada, the original framework convention means monitoring and reporting national emissions of greenhouse gases, undertaking actions to reduce these emissions, and developing scientific initiatives to build the global community's knowledge of climate processes, impacts and adaptations. In addition, in December 1997, at the Third Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, attendees negotiated an international climate change agreement ­ the Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol sets out emission reduction targets that will be binding on parties when the agreement is ratified. Canada's Kyoto target is to
bring our 2012 greenhouse gas emissions down to a level six per cent below what our levels were in 1990.

But what does all this mean? Most of us need to start at the beginning and review our understanding of climate change and climate change policy. James Edmonds provides that review in his article Beyond Kyoto: Toward A Technology Greenhouse Strategy. His article discusses:

Probably most importantly Edmonds explains the differences between carbon concentration in the atmosphere and rates of carbon emissions. We have to decide what level of carbon concentration we will tolerate (2X, 3X or even 4X CO2) before we can set emission levels that will deliver those concentrations. Much of the debate around climate change policy revolves around this question. Most people (although not all) accept that pre-industrial concentrations of CO2 were about 280 ppm. Hence 2-X CO2 is about 560 ppm. It is important to understand that the Kyoto protocol (reductions in emissions to 1990 levels by 2012) will not stop rising CO2 concentrations. It will merely reduce the rate at which those CO2 concentrations will rise. Many people wonder if this is enough.

If we can meet the [extended] Kyoto target (meaning the Annex 1 countries abide by the protocol and emissions do not rise in Non-annex 1 countries-a big if), the reduced rate of emissions will keep us on target for 2-X CO2 by 2035. However if we want to maintain concentrations at 550-560 ppm after that point, global emissions will actually have to drop. (We're having trouble even ratifying Kyoto. What kind of a challenge will it be to actually reducing global emissions?) On the other hand if you think we can tolerate/adapt/whatever to 3x - CO2 (840ppm), you'd probably argue that the Kyoto cuts are premature. Unfortunately, we can't put the genie back in the bottle - the residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere is about 100 years. If we don't implement Kyoto and even 2X-CO2 turns out to be intolerable, we may be cooked - literally and figuratively.

So how do you view climate change and its associated policy?


The Overview Documents: Once you've come to grips with what Kyoto is all about, we are asking you to turn to an analysis entitled Global Climate Change: Three Policy Perspectives.  Its authors suggest that there are three reasonably distinct starting points from which a response to the convention might be framed:

It is likely that one of these lenses resonates more strongly with you than do the others. Why? Recall our discussion of Deciding what to think in Supplementary Reading 1. It is human nature to want to simplify and convert new information to something more familiar. Consequently we sometimes accept incomplete evidence that is consistent with previous beliefs and reject more credible evidence that is inconsistent with those beliefs. You need to think about some of the ideas that derive from these perspectives to make sure you're thinking deliberately and critically about climate change.

Once you have analyzed the Parker and Blodgett paper and have the three lens framework, we want you to familiarize yourself with some of the issues associated with each of those lenses (technical, economic, ecological), so you can evaluate your own lens mix critically. Finally we want you to evaluate the lens mix our federal government seems to be using (at least as it is publicly  presented in the government's climate policies, particularly their climate change 2000 document. However you may also want to look at the website from which that document was retrieved: their action plan 2000 website or their more general site on climate change. Details pertinent to the form of your essay are available at 2000-2001 ENV200Y Essay including  some suggestions for organization.

The following  articles provide background information on climate change organized by perspective, technological, economic and ecological.  You will quickly see that few of the documents fit exclusively in one lens. Technologies have economic implications, most carbon sinks are in ecosystems. However, we have tried to sort the accompanying articles by their primary focus. There are also some miscellaneous documents that may provide useful information on the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, details of Kyoto (CoP-3) and CoP-6 (the November 2000 Hague meeting), etc.

Critically Reading the Resource Material: It might appear from process we've laid out, that assimilating the resource material is linear. You start with Beyond Kyoto, proceed to Three Policy Perspectives, etc., etc., etc.,  sit down and write your essay. We don't think it actually works that way. Assmilation is interative. As an example, we think you'll find that each time you return to Beyond Kyoto, you'll find something new-partly because you can't take it all in at once and partly because the process of working through other documents will prepare you to appreciate material whose relevance may have escaped you the first time around. We hope you start sufficiently early on what is really a complex issue that you can work interatively. Developing a good essay and receiving a good mark depends upon it.


The technological lens

Jeff Rachlinski is a Associate Professor of Law at Cornell. In a paper entitled The Psychology of Global Climate Change , he argues that psychological barriers make it unlikely that the world's nations will undertake a conventional set of precautions against the likelihood of global climate change. Given the huge stakes, he agrees that it is only rational that each consumer would be better off with an enforceable agreement, but the nature of a [tragedy of the] commons dilemma is the incentive to cheat. Monitoring compliance dooms the economic fix. He then touches on a number of psychological phenomena: biased assimilation, inability to properly assimilate uncertainty, loss aversion that he feels also doom the normative, ecological fix. Rather than fighting psychological (and economic) pressures to continuing to consume fossil fuels, Rachlinski argues that only the technological fix of developing alternative means of generating electricity will work (by taking advantage of people's innate desires to develop and advance their condition and that of their children).

There are many elements to a technological approach to reducing emissions, but most of them have to do with energy use in one way or another. Another  way to think of "technological" fixes is how much they should focus on the emissions side (designing energy mixes, transportation systems, etc.) in order to reduce direct emissions versus focusing on the "sink" side (increasing our capacity to absorb CO2 once it is emitted). There are very strong differences of opinion between the European Union (who favour emissions reductions) and a group lead by the United States that includes Canada, along with Australia and Japan (who favour sinks and emissions trading). Lee Schipper and Celine-Marie Lilliu of the International Energy Agency (IEA) provide data in their report The IEA Energy Indicators: Analyzing Emissions on the Road from Kyoto that help you understand where these differences come from.

There are also strong differences of opinion between developing countries (the so-called Non-index 1 countries) and developed countries (the annex 1 nations). A executive summary of a World Bank document Fuel for Thought: An Environmental Strategy for the Energy Sector provides information to help understand this divergence.


The economic lens

Redefining Progress (the same people who sponsored the development of the ecological footprint calculator) also commissioned a major paper on The Economics of Climate Change. The document was written by Professor Stephen DeCanio, a professor of economics at UC Santa Barbara. In addition to its information content, the document also includes The Economists' Statement on Climate Change, a rather remarkable consensus of 2,500 economists (!), 8 of whom are Nobel Laureates.
For discussions on  the pros and cons of carbon taxes versus emissions reductions (voluntary or otherwise) see the Global Policy Organization's site on Energy Taxes (local copy).

The article by Kevin Baumert of the Global Policy Forum on Carbon Taxes vs. Emissions Trading: What's the Difference, and Which is Better? discusses the difference between taxes and tradable permits.

The ecological lens

Much of ENV200Y has focused on the ecological lens. We talked about the potential for the oceans to accept more CO2 (Supplementary Reading 4). This term we are discussing the need to protect natural capital (ecosystem services). Our bonus assignments (the Ecological Footprint, the CO2 calculator as well as GreenDreams) focused on ecologically based education and mechanisms by which people can express ecological understanding in their lives. We will continue these ideas right to our last tutorial (Environmental Ethics - Circles of Simplicity), in which we'll stop talking about thinking deliberately and instead focus on living deliberately.

Nevertheless here is some additional information

The IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) has prepared a useful overview of the science of climate change entitled Science for Policy Makers.

The U.S Department of energy provides an overview of carbon sequestration

Miscellaneous documents