Ecology without leaders

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Pablo Edronkin

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If we could draw any conclusion from the latest high-level political meetings in the world regarding ecological and environmental matters we would have to be pessimistic: Leaders seem unable to lead.

Today's world is very complex: Besides having huge quantities of people and corporations of all kinds, we have to take into account that what we are as a civilisation depends too in the interdependencies and interrelations among all those entities, persons and components. Our nature as a life and evolutionary event is the result of an effect that is larger than the sum of its material parts; instead, we base our progress on dynamics. If companies, states, etc. were just the result of material accretion of goods, capital and so on, immaterial things like communication media, ideas and other intangibles would have little if no value at all. We are today a civilisation based not in steam engine power, electricity or nuclear energy, but on information. So, as Carl Sagan suggested once when discussing about Kardashev's scale, the progress of any civilisation should be measured not just by its access to energy, but also considering the kind and magnitude of access to information.

In strict terms, the pure Kardashev's scale that measures only the kind of access to energy that any civilisation enjoys or suffers could still be used to include information as a by-product of the use of energy. That is, in order to create and propagate information you need some sort of power source. However, we are reaching a stage in our technological progress where the production of energy depends unavoidably on the use of information: A modern aircraft could probably not fly without its onboard computers but these need some sort of electrical source to work, and that is provided by a generator that, alas, cannot be switched on without the help of a starter computer associated to a battery.

But information is not a self-managing entity; at some level and to a variable extent requires some explicit - not always rational - decision-making. This has to be done by someone and many times this means policy-making and making politics. There is a subtle difference between both concepts but they are both involved in this matter. This, indeed, means that politicians have a lot to do with the quality of progress that we enjoy or suffer; we all know that but if we are keener to look under the hood, this means that advance is influenced either by their virtues or defects as individuals. Taking into account the characteristics of the propagation processes common to information, those virtues and shortcomings found among the people that rule and lead will indeed have an synergistic effect by which the end results will always be greater than the sum of the individual components of the system, and a simple way - if a little bit grotesque - to explain this is to refer to a tabloid-like topic common to many politicians: Sexual scandals. Infidelity, perversions and other stuff that usually belongs to the private sphere of people have little incidence even in the neighbourhood where they live, but in the case of politicians and for many different reasons, sexual scandals are career-killers that often have far-reaching consequences. Indeed, if the power equation among lobbyists becomes altered due to a sexual scandal, long-term policies could be decided or terminated just based on the new power distribution instead of more reasonable factors and aspects. Now, since we are all humans and imperfect, but there are only few geniuses, it becomes evident that it is far more likely that shortcomings will influence the decision-making process than virtues.

Bad decisions are more prevalent than good ones. Considering this, what could we expect regarding policies destined to prevent global warming? Nothing good, unfortunately. None of the measures being considered at this point is cost-proof. Every possible course of action thought of so far implies costs of all kinds that eventually become political costs for decision makers, mover and shakers or whatever you want to call them. The development of new, less harmful technologies and standards is indeed a good thing, but someone has to pay for them and it is there that we find a really soft spot in society and especially, its leaders that depend on elections in which people vote that are not prone to spend more in thing that they do not perceive generally as beneficial in the short term. Plus, there are interest groups that donate money to the campaigns of those politicians, and among them there are of course vested interest such as those of energy companies that see little opportunity in those new technologies but increasing costs and less profit. So it is obvious that there are more reasons that would explain erred decisions rather than wisdom about the future of our planet, which is a long-term business.

Politicians will do ultimately what their constituencies say, and simple people as well as vested interests will not agree on caring more for the environment until the water from floods caused by climate change will reach their knees. That is sadly human nature, as it is creativeness and advancement, so solutions will also eventually come; we can deal with floods and other disasters, of course. However, the price that we will pay will undoubtedly be much higher than necessary.

This can't wait.

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