Wednesday, April 24, 2013

3 and 1/2 ways of looking at Climate


    How likely is it that we humans take the necessary steps to prevent climate change from changing the biosphere?  It may depend on how people look at climate change.  

  It seems to me that we can categorize people into three groups

1 Deniers.     This groups either thinks that the climate isn't warming, or that if it is, it isn't human caused.   Recent polls put this group at about 50% of the US population, well above the number needed to assure that no meaningful action is taken in Congress.  ( take a look at the recent vote on gun control, where despite 90% popular support they couldn't get 60 senators)

2 Optimists.   This is the other 50%.  This group accepts that there is human caused warming and believes that further warming can be controlled without affecting the economy in a substantial way.   They favor things like the "green economy".  They advocate adoption of efficiency measures, and a transition to more renewable energy.     But the implementation is limited by the "prime directive", that in all cases economic growth must be maintained.      In this group are found most liberal politicians.   

see e.g. 
Drawing on this and other thinking it is relatively easy to develop a theoretical plan that would deliver global decarbonisation without impinging on living standards - a plan based on a ban on the use of unabated coal power, a massive increase in clean tech R&D, demanding new energy efficiency and green product standards, the global deployment of smart grid technologies, huge investment in climate adaptation, the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, the introduction of appropriate carbon pricing mechanisms, and a global effort to explore the feasibility of geo-engineering proposals

    Unfortunately I am skeptical that the measures offered can avoid dangerous climate change, e.g. 2 degrees.   (and maintain growth)  I also, doubt it will stop change short of the tipping points, past which climate change will  achieve a " self reinforcing" status.  So these measures will probably not affect the end result.  ( I have more confidence in a de-growth policy)   I suppose there may be some argument that such measures could slow the onset of the inevitable, though. 

2a   Strategic Optimists    Many climate policy makers agree with my assessment that this approach will not succeed , that it is too little too late.  Nevertheless they  espouse this view, and put out papers that justify it,  in an effort to bring the public along  To see some of the slight of hand  in climate policy papers,  see  Kevin Anderson's presentation:  Real Clothes for the emperor.     
       Although    I can certainly understand the appeal of such a strategy,   I am not sure that this approach has any benefit.   I'm not convinced that that people are able to accept  the nature of or current situation, and the measures needed to deal with it.    For an interesting analysis of why people are unable to move to a more realistic assessment, see  John Michael Greer's series, on what he call our "civil religion",  the faith that all problems will be resolved through a combination of technology and markets, resulting in a continuous march of progress.  

3.  Realists.   This group is tiny, as is unlikely to grow given our "civil religion" (Greer) ; or  our genetic disposition (Reese).    This group accepts that dangerous climate change probably cannot be averted  without "significant" measures,  which would have serious economic and life style effects.  This group is rather small, and, in my view, not likely to grow   I would put in this category people like Kevin Anderson  (video), of the Tyndall Centre, George Monbiot, author of Hell and High Water, and columnist for the Guardian.  As, Monbiot says:
Unsurprisingly, hardly anyone wants to talk about this, as the only meaningful response is a reduction in the volume of stuff we consume. And this is where even the most progressive governments' climate policies collide with everything else they represent. As Mustapha Mond points out in Brave New World, "industrial civilisation is only possible when there's no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning".
The wheels of the current economic system – which depends on perpetual growth for its survival – certainly. The impossibility of sustaining this system of endless, pointless consumption without the continued erosion of the living planet and the future prospects of humankind, is the conversation we will not have."
 Probably  professor William Reese, inventor of the ecological footprint, who has called for a voluntary recession,   see here, where he says:
"I suggest that the failure of the sustainability project to date has much to do with the modern world’s failure to face up to basic facts of human nature. My working hypothesis is that because of certain evolutionary traits, many associated with K selection, modern H. sapiens is biased against sustainability. Moreover, humanity’s technological prowess and society’s addiction to continuous material growth reinforce the biological drivers, making the problem particularly intractable. More specifically, I hypothesize that unsustainability is an inevitable emergent property of the systemic interaction between contemporary technoindustrial society and the ecosphere. Both genetic and sociocultural factors contribute to the conundrum (Rees, 2009b)

      If this analysis is correct, what follows?    

1.  It will be very difficult to convince the people of the  US to take the necessary action to reduce CO2.   Its not impossible, but very unlikely. 

2.  At some point in the near future, the "window of opportunity" closes on keeping temperatures below a dangerous level, or perhaps on crossing the tipping point threshold.   Each year of non action , raises the cost of action in a future year.  Thus a CO 2 ramp down, started this year, would only require a reduction of 5% per year.   While if we wait to 2025, it would require 100% .     I'd say  the window effectively closes around 2020.   (Although, given my view of the people's inability to address the problem,   It is probably closed already )

3 At some  not to distant time, it will be too late for mitigation efforts to have any significant effect.   Adaptation will be all that is left.   At what point does it make more sense to focus on more immediate problems, e.g.  food - see e.g:  When Agriculture Stops Working- Growing Food in the Age of Climate Destabilization;      If Climate Change and Population Growth Are Going to Push Food Price up by 50%, What Happens When you Add Peak Oil?;    

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