King Canute got his feet wet

In an article to do with G8 leaders and climate change

G8 leaders to set emissions goals

the journalist reports that “Leaders of G8 nations are to set a target to cut greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050”. This seems like something that is difficult but possible. It is something that can be controlled by humans. I doubt that the leaders of the G8 actually have such power. They might represent the populations that emit the greatest amount of carbon dioxide, and measures that they take might reduce carbon dioxide emissions in their countries. However, their power does not extend to every other nation on the planet, which will probably produce a greater share of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions by the middle of the century. However, global carbon dioxide emissions are controllable by humans.

The article goes on to say that “[the G8 leaders] will also call for any human-induced temperature rise to be held below 2 degrees Celsius”. Is this going to be a legally binding limit? What sanctions will they take against the earth’s climate if it disobeys they proclamations? Xerxes once had the Hellespont whipped after a storm washed away a bridge, will future leaders resort to such tactics? King Canute order the tides to stop but ended up getting his feet wet.

I do not want to appear defeatist. I think that there are measures that we can take in order to reduce the impact of human activity. There are clearly much better ways of producing energy than burning coal and petrol. Governments have a role to play in moving to newer technologies. But politicians are no more able to ban global warming than they are able to set the ration the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

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