Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Opportunists Conquer Climate Change

Here we have a perfect example of opportunistic behavior. In the Swedish press, Aftonbladet, reporter Joachim Kerpner writes the story behind ethanol production. European providers of ethanol are blooming like cauliflower. Sweden, an example of counties who have put much of their environmental energy into ethanol and bio-fuels, encourage companies as part of their strategy to fight global warming. Competition is created so that the companies are looking for the cheapest prices for their customers. Governments desperate to decrease their carbon emissions (and looking for new ways of employing citizens) create markets and encourage companies. The expression “Make hay while the sun shines” apply describes this situation.
What are the consequences? Kerpner reports that Brazilian sugar cane workers work fifteen hour days chopping the cane by hand. Competition comes from Tanzania where sugar cane is also grown. By keeping salaries low, their employers ensure a cheap raw product for ethanol production in India, England and Holland. Buyers think that they are providing jobs that will lift the poor of Tanzania. The consequences are that any monetary gains will be pressed by competition from some other poor, tropical nation and what’s left lost to health issues. Another consequence is that land owned by small farmers growing a diversity of crops will be turned into industrial farming. Ownership moves from the local grower to the “industrial” grower; crops that once nourished local families are gone. A leading Swedish company calculates that 3 million Tanzanians will be lifted out of poverty and assert their desire to avoid physical burnout. Huge tracts of land, the size of the Swedish Provence of Sk√•ne will be involved and the social structure related to small farms and communities will be broken forever. As we know from Foresight Styles, consequences are not a big part of opportunist thinking. A generalized wish not to overwork cane cutters and give them jobs satisfies the opportunists need for meaning.
Technology that will allow production of ethanol from cellulous fibers found in all plants is still under development. Between now and then companies wish to earn as much as they can from sugarcane and assure high market share for 2010 when Swedish use of ethanol is scheduled to play its role in slowing climate change. We are going to see more of this opportunism because the systemic change to renewable fuels will go in phases rather than an overnight flip flop. The trick is for companies to realize the transitional nature of their enterprise and be willing to employ foresight skills in order to maintain flexebilty and survive or move from one short term project to another. Source: