There are many things for sale in today’s world. Here’s one of the best displays of available toilet seats I have seen – in a Slovenian hardware store. This week I have been considering buying and selling of values.
What set me off on this train of thought was negotiating a contract with a potential client. The sticking point was whether I have indemnity insurance in case I do something significantly damaging to the client. Given I am writing funding applications for a living, the risk of me doing something very damaging isn’t highly likely because:
- The only very damaging thing I could potentially do is deliberately give another organisation specific knowledge about what the client plans to do. Even then, it’s unlikely to be highly problematic as few other organisations will be able to do what any of my clients do – research tends to be very particular to organisations and people.
- I operate in a very small community of organisations and people. If I screw up badly once, everyone will know and that will likely be the end of my career so I have a massive incentive not to share company IP around.
However, the question wasn’t whether I would behave badly, it was whether I have insurance that will pay out if I behave badly. I have never had such insurance. Why not? It’s not just about saving the $2-3000 a year insurance would cost (which I would, of course, pass on to my clients). It’s about the principle of insuring myself so I can behave badly. I don’t think that should be possible. If I do something wrong, shouldn’t I feel it? If not, what’s to stop me doing it again?
This is a bugbear of mine in terms of company directors. We are told that directors should be paid a lot of money because of the risks they take on. But the directors don’t pay this insurance! The companies who might be harmed by the directors pay insurance to cover the directors, in the case the directors are at fault. This seems very strange. The directors don’t bear the costs of their mistakes in any fashion (unless they are criminally negligent, a different legal story)!
An even broader scale question of values and responsibilities is highlighted in the COP27 summit. Developing countries who are hugely affected by climate change are asking the developed world to pay money for the effects of climate change. The developing countries argue they haven’t created the emissions causing climate change but are disproportionately impacted. Why do I have a problem with this, given that countries are having to pay for the damage they have done?
My problem is that, I am not at all sure that money is going to buy anyone out of climate change. Money given to developing countries will indeed help those countries acquire cleaner forms of energy, raising living standards without contributing to climate change (as long as the resources required last – a different environmental issue). Money can mitigate against flooding or high winds to some degree, but not completely. Money definitely can’t mitigate long term against sea level rise. You can’t ever pay enough to a nation whose land will go under the waters. Money cannot buy what has been completely lost. My problem is that, if we think paying money can mitigate the damage, we will keep on doing what we are doing to wreck the planet because we think it’s OK as long as we hand over $$ for what we do.
Coming back to the smaller scale, a friend asked which carbon offset scheme I thought was a good one to pay into. My reply was, “Most likely none.” A lot of carbon offset schemes are very suspect as to whether they are storing carbon long term, or reducing carbon emissions at all. Even if they are, mathematics makes it clear that we cannot sequester our way out of the climate change problem – there is not enough land to plant in trees to mitigate the scale of carbon gases we are creating. And if you are paying a farmer to turn good crop-growing land into long term exotic pine forest, is this a good thing?
I suggested the friend focus on what they could do to mitigate their lifestyle, rather than buy into a scheme. They said they had done all that they believed they could, so they would like to feel like they are doing something more. Therein lies the dilemma, is it a good thing if you feel like you are doing something good when you aren’t actually doing anything good? When you are buying offsets that don’t improve the environment? When you are paying for damage that is beyond our capability to mitigate? The aphorism, ‘money is the root of all evil’, seems a little worn. But it may well still be true.