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Getting It All Right... or All Wrong
Alex Steffen, 4 Nov 04

There are times when moderation is a mistake.

We're grinding up against a number of huge global problems. But when faced with two of the larger, staggeringly difficult problems -- climate change and global poverty -- the planet's leaders have tended to aim for the moderate middle, have tended, even, to play the two off against each other, as if there were some evil zero sum game at work: "either people starve, or the Earth's weather goes wiggy... pick one."

However, evidence is mounting that it the world's poor who will suffer the worst if the climate continues to change (or changes even more quickly than we expect). A recent report from the International Institute for Environment and Development, Up In Smoke (big PDF) says that weather extremes may be making the Millennium Development Goals impossible to achieve.

At the same time it's becoming clear that -- while the developed world must act decisively -- plans to stabilize the planet's climate which leave out the developing world are meaningless. China, for instance, has become one of the world's leading polluters -- a by-product of its sheer size combined with reckless development policies. It's becoming clear that dramatic reductions on the part of the developing world, accompanied by business as usual in the developing world, will still result in a trashed climate.

We can't raise people out of poverty if we unhinge the climate. We can't stabilize the climate unless we find a better way of raising people out of poverty. There is no trade-off here: it's both, or neither.

Paging Dr. Leapfrog, white courtesy telephone please...

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In the whitepaper I worked on for the Danish EPA, I suggested an Open Source technology pool of efficient devices, like CFL bulbs and refrigerators and so on. Just dump fully worked up engineering specs for known-good best-of-class devices, and let anybody who wanted to manufacture them. Buy the relevant patent rights at a UN or Government level, then churn them into production, perhaps for the carbon credits.

The other cool idea was to do the same thing for the production lines - don't just open the IP on the product, but on the whole clean, lean manufacturing system.

The idea would be to encourage people who're going to build a refrigerator factory to build a clean factory which makes efficient refrigerators, and to have that be *cheaper* and *easier* than desigiing a plant to pump out crappy fridges.

Add some kind of engineering support into the deal, and I think it could be an incredibly powerful way of reducing waste and poisonous emissions for a relatively small up front investment.

Posted by: Vinay on 5 Nov 04



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