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Classroom Resources: Get Real

By Katherine Ellison
April-June 2006 (Vol. 7, No. 2)

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Discussion Questions

  1. What arguments are there for enacting a policy that achieves less than we think we need to achieve to avert a crisis?  What arguments are there against enacting such policies?
  2. What kinds of things can be meant by the term “realistic” when used in the context of describing a proposed environmental policy?  To what extent should perceptions of what is “realistic” influence debates about environmental policy?
  3. What does Gelbspan say is the reason why people are not willing to promote the types of solutions to the climate crisis that he proposes?  What other reasons can you suggest, either in response to the climate crisis or to any other environmental crisis, for why people may be unwilling to support strong and rapid responses to deal with a crisis?  What is your response to these reasons?
  4. What is the basis for perceiving Gelbspan’s solutions as being “politically unrealistic”?

Websites for Further Information

Climate Change in the News

  • “It’s Not Too Late” (International Herald Tribune, December 13, 2005): “Keeping the rise of global temperature below one degree Celsius is technically within reach. Everything depends on an informed public to bolster the political will of leaders across this warming globe.”
  • “Kyoto Out of Kilter” (Christian Science Monitor, December 6, 2005): “One flaw in the Kyoto treaty is that its legal targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, set in 1997, were mainly guesswork. Now many nations that signed onto it will likely not meet their targets for 2008-2012. Hopes of a new pact may go up in smoke. What’s needed at talks for a post-Kyoto treaty that began last week in Montreal is a new realism. Kyoto’s successor must match the level of popular urgency about climate change to both the people’s willingness for economic sacrifice and to reliable estimates of the costs of technological fixes.”
  • “Climate Summit Challenges Kyoto’s Approach” (Christian Science Monitor, January 10, 2006): “The inaugural two-day summit of what many see as an American-led alternative to the Kyoto climate treaty convenes Wednesday in Sydney. Formed this past July, the new bloc brings together the US, China, India, Australia, South Korea, and Japan. These six nations are responsible for more than 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, which many scientists say cause global warming. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which sets emissions targets for nations, the new Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate aims to reduce emissions voluntarily through the transfer of emerging technologiesñincluding ‘clean coal,’ burial of carbon dioxide, and next-generation nuclear powerñfrom industrialized nations to the developing world. The pact’s advocates argue it is a more realistic approach than Kyoto, and commits many of the major nations not yet bound by Kyoto quotas to at least the principle of reducing emissions. The effectiveness of this effort, however, may ride on whether the high-tech systems can be developed fast enough and made commercially enticing for businesses not otherwise compelled to adopt greener methods.”
  • “Is Going Green Worth It?” (The Evening Standard [London], March 31, 2006): “What’s the point in doing anything green at a personal level when either it’s wiped out by a flight of fancy, or annihilated by government policy failures which we have no control over whatsoever? This year I am going to buy carbon credits to offset my plane journey, but I can only do this because of the gas-guzzling economic growth which pays me a substantial salary. In other words, this singular virtue is bought at the cost of other climate-warming vices.”

Key Concepts

  • Climate change
  • Global warming
  • Kyoto treaty
  • Political realism
  • Political pragmatism
  • Energy alternatives