The Biggest Project of All
We don't often venture into the truly politically sensitive arena but, come
to think about it, what project does not have political overtones? Now that the
short-lived dust has settled over the demise of the Kyoto Accord we can say that
it should have come as no surprise to anyone. As a project, its goals sounded
most appealing. But like so many projects in the conceptual phase, its details
turned out to be totally unrealistic and mostly politically motivated.
As background, the Kyoto Protocol was an agreement drafted in 1997 with the
goal of reducing man-made emissions of heat-trapping "greenhouse gases"
with a view to reducing global warming. Such gases included carbon dioxide especially
produced by burning coal and oil to produce energy, but also produced by every
human and animal. For example, by 2012 the United States was expected to cut
carbon dioxide emissions to a level 7 percent below that of 1990. To achieve
that target, it has been estimated that the United States would have had to reduce
energy consumption by some 30 percent and reduce business activity correspondingly.
Canada's position, for example, would be proportionately similar.
Ironically, the current concern over an economic downturn in the global economy
already underscores the dramatic consequences of such a reduction. Perhaps we
should be glad that the present downturn may help us towards the Kyoto target?
In any event, the so-called developing nations, already producing large amounts
of carbon dioxide, and set to have the largest relative rate of industrial growth
in the near future, were not required to cut their greenhouse emissions. Even
if all the developed nations ratified and achieved their Kyoto targets, it is
believed that the overall impact would be only about a 10% reduction in the rate
of rise, yes the rate of rise, in global temperature.
Undoubtedly we have a problem but the project (Kyoto) like
so many others is badly flawed. There are others, seeing a problem with the consumption
of resources, who would prefer to hide behind the cloak of "Sustainable
Development". Sustainable Development is said to be a type of development
that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs. The concept is based on "Sustainability"
typically defined as "A process or state that can be maintained indefinitely
by integrating an appropriate balance between a viable economy, protection of
the environment and social well-being". Even ignoring the second law of
thermodynamics (that energy in everything we touch tends to spread out and become
diffuse), this concept is about as feasible as balancing the competing constraints
of scope, quality, time and cost on the average project.
None of this is to say that we should abandon any attempt to improve the way
we do things, or not try to reduce our profligate use of energy and resources.
But improvements in efficiency can only take you so far and obstructing people's
desire to improve their lot, whatever their current station, is out of the question.
The real problem that underscores the situations described above, as well as
countless others such as loss of wild life habitat, desertification, soil and
ground water loss, chemical contamination, failure of fish stocks, over-crowding
in cities, traffic congestion, and on and on is so obvious as to be hardly worthy
of mention. Indeed, warnings by project management seminar key note speakers
and forum attempts to generate interest in such projects in the period 1990 to
1993 have been quietly buried. Why? Because any discussion of the root cause
is so politically incorrect.
What is the root cause? Do we really need to ask? Yes, it is population growth
and, because of that, the very survival of mankind as we know it is at stake.
If only the world could talk about it, openly and without rhetoric or prejudice,
then developing a comprehensive program to tackle this problem seriously and
with vigor, would be the biggest and most valuable project of all.