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Lights out! For our Climate! For what else?

Last Saturday, people in Germany, Austria and Switzerland were asked to switch off the lights for five minutes between 20.00 and 20.05. “Lights out! For our Climate!” was the motto. Similarly, on February 1 this year –  the day of the publication of the latest scientific report of the IPCC – people all over the world followed a call of a French initiative to turn off the lights for five minutes. The recent call to arms was widely supported by the German-speaking media, including the internet portal Google.

Luckily, not too many people followed the call. Luckily, not because I want to doubt that present forecasts on the future climate provide a need to worry –  they clearly do! But had 10,000 homes participated in the campaign, then it is likely that the the Power supply system would have broken down – in all of Europe. Hopefully the worries of the power generators will have been heard the other side of the Pond, when the campaign “Lights out in America" calls for a similarly rash reaction to global warming in March 2008.

These campaigns do not seem to be the only hasty reaction to global warming.

Manmade emissions of greenhouse gases might yield a climate change of global extend and unprecedented consequences. The media remind us of this urgent threat every day: beginning with the current UN climate conference in Bali South-East Asia to the British plans of a personal carbon limit for all citizens. But still, the question suggests itself: Why do I switch off the lights for the climate? Why not switch off the lights (or turn them on) to make a statement that I care about world poverty? Or about the human-rights situation in Soth-East Asia? About violations of constitutional rights under the cloak of a war against terror? What makes climate change so special?

It is obvious, though commonly overlooked in the debate on climate-change issues, that investing in the mitigation of and adaption to climate-change effects means that we do not make other investments, for example, in safe water supply in Africa, in basic education in developing countries and so forth.
Maybe climate change is currently the biggest threat we as human being face, maybe not. But deciding this we do not need heated political speeches that compare climate change to
war, nor do we need well-meant, but hasty campaigns which might result in consequences which detract from the intended point.

If we pre-empt these considerations and jump to conclusions before trading-off the options we have – investment into climate-change issues, investment into world poverty, investment into … –  we at least should be clear that we ignore a great deal of suffering in the world for something which might in the end turn out to have been yet another “apocalyptic scenario” which did not realize.

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