In the hysteria surrounding the short time we have to attempt to minimise the effects of global warming, we’ve forgotten the basics of how to solve a problem.

Dave Olsen
Sep 11 · 4 min read
An emotional subject needs more rational thinking

Ask any software developer, physicist, or economist how they solve a problem. They’ll all tell you something along the same lines:

  • establish and precisely define the problem
  • establish and define the component problems which contribute it
  • get rid of any red herrings and unnecessary distractions
  • establish the means that you have to solve the problems
  • determine, through evidence and the scientific method, the best solutions to the component problems within the defined means
  • develop a main, overarching solution which encompasses these, thus solving the problem

It sounds a lot simpler than it is, but politicians, journalists, and activists have all completely disregarded it.

Throughout the past few years, politicians have failed to fully establish the problem and its components, falling at the first hurdle, and any who have passed this often fail to comprehend the means they have, both financial and political, or focus on plastic pollution rather than global warming.

Journalists have to be admonished for their focus on plastic too — it is an important issue, but the lack of focus on global warming and anthropogenic climate change in the media has been apparent by its very absence.

Activists are also to blame. They demand of government comprehensive solutions in impossibly short timelines, leading to politicians and the public entirely ignoring them, and they are often unaware of the financial means of governments and businesses. They also unnecessarily focus on government solutions, not private sector solutions, where the real flexibility and efficacy is.

So, in a few hundred words which do a disservice to the process, I’ll attempt to break the ‘climate emergency’ — a big and vague phrase — down into its components, and work back to good solutions.

The problem is chiefly global warming. Plastic pollution, important as it is, cannot be our main focus, and should be resolved separately to avoid confusion.

The two main suspects in global warming are carbon dioxide and methane. CO2 is created through the generation of electricity in industrial combustion processes, and methane naturally through livestock, and anthropogenically through landfill and industrial processes.

Our means are simple: the government can legislate, stimulate, and invest; the private sector can invest and donate.

Tackling electricity, the government should legislate for a carbon auction to bring the true cost of CO2 production to the surface, and then use funds to invest in and incentivise the uptake of renewable energy sources by the private sector to the extent that is necessary.

Governmental and private charitable efforts to reforest land and develop negative emissions technology will also help to combat this problem.

We can do something similar for methane, using an auction to bring the true cost to the attention of government. However, we know that alternatives are few and far between, so the key here is more investment in recycling and research into new techniques, as well as public campaigns and legislation to reduce waste.

This has the advantage of tackling plastic waste and pollution — a useful by-product of solving methane pollution.

Having arrived at component solutions which are within our means (and more would need to be done to establish the best renewables, how the auctions could be conducted, and so on), we must attempt to find an overarching strategy, which, for my part, I have laid out before.

Use carbon and methane auctions to determine how much additional effort and funding is required: it may be small or large, but this process could save billions and make the whole process much faster.

Then, the government should use its best weapon: legislation. Banning single-use plastics will reduce landfill, and requiring the collection and sorting of all waste from households, which will necessitate more money, are useful tools.

Then come government investment and incentivisation in new technologies and renewable energy, as well as public campaigns. This is where, after the injection of funding, the government hands over the baton to the private sector and individuals to change their habits and use the new technologies.

This won’t happen organically to the extent that is required, so nudge theory and use of behavioural insights for the government are probably advisable.

This is a logical and scientific, if oversimplified, approach to solving the huge challenges we face. It ensures that we stay within our means but don’t obliterate our future ability to produce these means through irresponsibility. It involves the government, private sector, and individuals, and all tiers of government have a part to play. Best of all, it isn’t overbearing or difficult to understand.

We all need to start thinking in a rational way, rather than making emotional and irrational demands.

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worth talking about. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

Dave Olsen

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Politics, education, environmentalism, geopolitics, health, economics, philosophy. Deputy Editor at Leading a policy paper on 14–16 education.

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worth talking about. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

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