“When I look at this [CO2] data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of 6 degrees Celsius, which would have devastating consequences for the planet.” Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist
That’s one of the favourite quotes by Professor Kevin Anderson of Manchester University and the Tyndall Centre (personal website here) who, like James Hansen in the US and John Schellnhuber in Germany, is a leading climate scientist who speaks plainly about the dangers of global warming and the situation we’re in. Much of his important work seems to have been done with Alice Bows, now Bows-Larkin. In this piece I’ll refer to “he” or “they” depending on my perception of the source.
Real clothes for the emperor was the title of a talk Anderson gave to unionists in June 2013 (slides here).
Their basic point is that no real progress has been made since the Rio Summit in 1992 from which international action flowed through the agency of the UNFCCC and the IPCC. Policy makers in nations with ostensible targets seriously fudge the game so that economic growth is not inconvenienced.
Another favourite quote of theirs is:
“… dangerous climate change can only be avoided if economic growth is exchanged, at least temporarily [until low carbon energy supply is widespread], for a period of planned austerity within Annex 1 nations…” – Anderson and Bows, 2011
I’ll proceed by stating their main summary points in turn followed by a brief explanation.
A four degree plus future should be avoided at all costs
They think we could be headed for 4°C by 2070 and 6°C by 2100. It matters little whether we end up with 4, 5 or 6°C. None of them is compatible with organised life as we know it. For example, at low latitudes maize yields will be reduced by up to 40% and rice by 30%.
We can’t mitigate for 3°C as beyond 2°C the climate will be inherently unstable and beyond of human control.
Policy makers are in a muddle about the 2°C target.
The problem is that the Copehagen goal was state in terms of 2°C, but not refined in terms of the degree of probability of reaching 2°C. Thus they find that in carbon budget terms the UK target of 80% by 2050 has a 67% chance of exceeding 2°C, that is, only a 37% chance of staying within it.
The language of the Copenhagen Accord is:
“To hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, and take action to meet this objective consistent with science and on the basis of equity” [emphasis added].
A reasonable interpretation is that we should aim at a low to very low chance of exceeding 2°C, that is in IPCC language around 1-10%.
In order to achieve this aim the UK’s allowable carbon budget would have to be halved.
Stabilising at 2°C is still possible, but only just.
In Anderson and Bows, 2011 they say:
2°C now represents a threshold, not between acceptable and dangerous climate change, but between dangerous and ‘extremely dangerous’ climate change
Their own recommended schedule has 37% chance (upper limit 50%) of exceeding 2°C, and is quite stringent. It varies a bit through the various documents, but in the Tyndall slides, slide 101 they suggest a 10% reduction in Annexe 1 (rich) countries to achieve a 40% reduction from 1990 levels by 2018, 70% by 2024 and 90% by 3030.
Developing countries are allowed to peak in 2025 and reduce by 7% pa thereafter.
Reductions in emissions of greater than 3 to 4% are incompatible with economic growth
Anderson and Bows-Larkin made a presentation to the recent Warsaw UNFCCC climate conference containing the above assertion. There were objections, but Anderson claims such objections are spurious, being based on nothing more than uninformed opinion. Mind you, he points out that the statement itself is one of opinion, albeit the almost universally held opinion of climate-oriented economists.
He points out that if you want emissions reductions of 6% along with say 3% growth, then the reduction of carbon intensity of the economy must be 9%.
Anderson does say that he believes we can have an increase in human well-being with negative economic growth if we employ new thinking about the economy. He launches into this in the talk to unionists.
Climate mitigation is about changing consumption, mainly by the few rather than the many.
He makes two points here. Firstly, there is too much momentum in the supply side to achieve the necessary reductions. The move must come from the demand side, leading to redundant supply infrastructure.
Secondly, he guestimates that 40 to 60% of emissions are created by 1 to 5% of the planet’s 7 billion people. The guilty carbon polluters include:
- climate scientists
- climate journalists and pontificators
- OECD (and other) academics
- anyone who gets on a plane once a year
- all ministers (and civil servants?)
- anyone earning £30K pa or more.
I think that last one equates with about $A54K which is about the median wage here in Oz.
Carbon prices can’t deliver the 2°C target
This piece is worth a read.
His twitter interlocutors
contend that the radical (non-marginal) rates of mitigation necessary for 2°C (i.e. around 10% p.a.) are best delivered through market-based instruments (MBIs) – where a price is placed on each tonne of carbon dioxide emitted.
By contrast, I hold that such an approach is doomed to failure and is a dangerous distraction from a comprehensive regulatory and standard based framework (within which price mechanisms may play a niche role).
Anderson says that MBIs are designed for marginal rates of change, whereas radical rates of change are required. He’s searched the economics texts and can find nothing to support the notion that MBIs can handle radical change.
Back in 1992 at the time of the Earth Summit MBIs may have worked.
Now, in 2013, we in high-emitting (post-) industrial nations face a very different prospect. Our ongoing and collective carbon profligacy has squandered any opportunity for the ‘evolutionary change’ afforded by our earlier (and larger) 2°C carbon budget. Today, after two decades of bluff and lies, the remaining 2°C budget demands revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony. And if that’s too challenging to countenance we should be honest and reject 2°C as either too onerous an endeavour, or acknowledge that we lack the courage to try.
The hegemony of the dominant political and economic paradigm must be broken. So…
New thinking is required.
They sometimes to end with this quote:
“at every level the greatest obstacle to transforming the world is that we lack the clarity and imagination to conceive that it could be different” – Robert Unger
Anderson and Bows-Larkin are giving climate mitigation a red hot go at the Tyndall Centre. They are less ambitious than Hansen et al, but arguably struggling more directly with the real world issues. Obviously there is a major disagreement about the efficacy of carbon pricing, where I think they should be taken very seriously.
Recently the Tyndall Centre organised The Radical Emission Reduction Conference: 10-11 December 2013 to further practical approaches. Monitoring Anderson’s personal site should be worthwhile.
They base their thinking on the carbon budget approach which I outlined in the second part of this post.
This article based on the IPCC report suggests that we will blow our carbon budget in 22 years. For a safe climate Hansen et al suggest, make that 10.
The following graph illustrates what’s at stake:
The top line is not business as usual, it’s the trajectory of emissions that reflects mitigation actions and promises undertaken under the Copenhagen Accord. It’s what concerned Fatih Birol. In carbon budget terms, the area under the graph determines the quantum of emissions remaining in the atmosphere and hence the eventual temperature. Eliminating the area between the two lines is Anderson and Bows-Larkin’s attempt to put clothes on the emperor.
Hansen et al want global reductions of 6% pa if we start now, but 20% if the peak in 2020. I think we need to see the graph line hit zero by 2030 and go negative thereafter. We have nearly 20 years to develop the necessary technologies to draw down carbon safely and efficiently.
41 thoughts on “Real clothes for the emperor”
Given that we’re currently struggling to convince policy makers, and the population at large, to take the problem seriously at all, convincing people to voluntarily accept economic contraction seems to be well beyond the event horizon of political possibility.
Time to start working on the Antarctica colonisation strategy.
On the scale of the rest of the century, human society is screwed. Full-stop, period, end of sentence.
It’s that simple – as Brian notes “…no real progress has been made since the Rio Summit in 1992” and there is nothing on the radar to indicate that it’s going to change in the future. To have a snowball’s chance in hell we should be in the middle of a profound change in the way that humans use energy.
Given the exponentially-increasing value of the annual emissions reductions required to stay safe, there are really only two viable mechanisms left for response after about 2025 – global pandemic (either natural or ‘assisted’) or nuclear conflagration. Either of these would have a potentially sufficient effect on human fossil carbon emissions, where government and business action has to date been ineffective*. Whether there is a government in the bioweapons/nuke club that is sufficiently reckless to consider that option is another matter – I hope that sanity instead prevails.
Of the matter of four degrees, I recommend to anyone, Australian or otherwise, Peter Christoff’s Four Degrees of Global Warming: Australia in a Hot World. I’ve not yet finished it but it’s a sobering read even for those intimately familiar with the science. If yo’re a member of the Co-op bookshop you can pick it up for less than $30.
[*With the notable exception that carbon prices such as Australia’s soon-to-be-removed one have actually made some discernible difference. Had they been introduced wholesale a decade ago in conjunction with other policies and strategies, there might now be a much better (= faintly possible) chance to genuinely ‘manage’ the warming problem.]
Rats I just had another comment disappear into the ether. Not quite sure what causes this.
Anyway thanks Brian great post. Re the people who cause carbon pollution including ‘anyone who gets on a plane once a year’, I’ve been feeling guilty about this as I’ve been travelling a fair bit due to having a child living in Germany. Apparently a round trip Australia- Germany causes about 3-4 tonnes CO2e or something very close to the total amount per annum per capita that is compatible with less than 2C rise now.
In my case my emissions from normal life are actually very low – no car, veg, solar power etc – but it’s still a big concern. This also shows the inertia of social practice – cheap air travel leads to inter-country partnerships, leads to one family or the other having to make long haul flights to see their child and grandchildren, and so it goes. Maybe we will all have to adjust to using skype more and having less physical contact .
Certainly telecomunications could substitute for a lot of business and academic travel. Saw Richard Wilkinson (of Spirit Level fame) as a keynote speaker via telecommunications last year at a conference last year and it worked well.
That said, there is something about common responses to your posts – especially the gloom and doom ones like Bernard J @ 2 – that really concerns me. It’s to do with an apparent failure to take personal responsibility, and ‘othering’ of the issue that I think needs to be confronted, but will send separate comment about that.
Val, you probably aren’t familiar with my posts in other fora, but like you I’ve been working for decades to increase the sustainability of my own life and that of my local community. I am on 100% renewable energy and 100% rain water, I have a compost toilet, and much of my food is home-grown. My home-building materials are of the environmentally friendly sort of to which the uncharitable would refer as ‘hippy’.
I’ve eschewed high-paid jobs in the private sector in order to work in science and education, and to devote time to volunteering for several organisations. I drive a very small car and then only when I have to, and I have never flown overseas (which I discovered years ago was a deal breaker for many friendships and potential relationships, because annual international travel is apparently mandatory for ‘sophisticated’ people…). I can now telecommute, and will do so even more next year with a restructuring at work. Acquaintances (and strangers!) look askance at me for my obsessive avoidance of plastics and unnecessary packaging – and I could go on and on…
I have just about the lowest carbon footprint of anyone in my various social circles, and yet even I am just over the ‘one planet’ limit for my share of the global ‘ecologically sustainable footprint’. And for all the talk I hear from even my ‘greenest’ friends, I see that overall our lifestyles are still far from what is truly sustainable.
And there’s the rub. Even many of the more fervent sustainability advocates are blithely unaware that we’re nowhere near the place we need to be to assure a long-term global human society as we know it, and given the rate at which humans change their culture compared to the rate at which we are damaging the planet, the numbers just don’t stack up.
I hate the doom and gloom that now tinges some of my posts, but there’s no point in sugar coating the truth – that road leads only to denial of a more insidious sort. I’m not sure that even plain talk is sufficient to make people both generally and sufficiently aware of the issues we face, and to motivate them to do something about it, but nothing else to date has done much to progress the negative trajectories for which humans are responsible.
The single distinct exception to this generality is the reversal of the damage to the ozone layer. If we can expand across the board our response to that problem then we might have a chance. So far though the ‘who’, ‘how’, ‘when’ and ‘where’ of the matter has yet to materialise (although there are some good possibilities germinating on a small, niche scale).
I’m sure that a Nobel prize awaits the person who can successfully turn around this societal inertia…
Pretty hard to see businessmen and academics foregoing air travel, unless they had to pay for it personally.
Bill, I think that the issue is not to make them pay for air travel “personally”, but simply for the true cost of that travel to be reflected in the ticket price.
As all good economists would know, the ‘market’ will take care of the rest…
Bernard J @ 4
Ha Bernard thank you for that – I guess my statement was a bit provocative and that is a really substantial answer. Unlike you I think my lifestyle is pretty close to sustainable, apart from the air travel as I acknowledged above, even though I’m not doing as much as you on the face of it, so I’m not quite sure how that can be.
How can your emissions be above a sustainable level when you are doing so much? The only thing I can see is the car but you say you don’t drive that much? It looks like you live in the country so maybe that has something to do with it? I’m in inner city Melbourne, it is much easier to live a low impact lifestyle there – when I was living outside the city and had kids at home it was much harder.
I guess my questions re doom and gloom scenarios (I’ve also raised these in a slightly different form for pro-nuclear advocates) are, do people think sustainable living is not possible because:
– they themselves are doing everything they can and still can’t get there? (like you), and/or
– they themselves are living sustainably but despair that others will ever do so?
– they don’t have any faith in the capacity of people in general (presumably including themselves) to shift to sustainable living?
– they’re not actually doing anything much themselves but are blame shifting to “others” to justify it?
I should note that I don’t think looking at individual behaviour change is the way to solve this problem actually – it’s got to be a concerted social effort from the local domestic level to coordinated global action. Nonetheless, I also accept that we do still have individual agency and can take some responsibility for what we do.
My own position is that I am almost there, so other people could get there too. You might think that’s Pollyanna stuff, but I don’t, although I too get depressed about the future sometimes.
I just picked up a copy of this during my lunch break, on your recommendation.
The political need is to create a culture of and for change. Unable and unwilling to give up suckling the teat of luxury, the industrialized world will only change when forced to do so by contingency, such as, say, radical ecological weather shifts that ruin the productive economies of vast areas. This will produce shortage, forced internal migration and crisis as the poorest and most vulnerable members of western nations will be at the pointy end of the ecological crisis. Of course, we could always teach the one percent the value of the earth at the point of a gun, a type of enforced shortage for them, until they decide to make some sort of useful contribution to life.
Val, I’ve used a number of calculators, including the WWF calculator, and the big thing for me is that I am not a vegetarian. I’m moving toward raising all my own poultry to address that but the calculators as they stand punish non-vegetarians – as they should…
Aside from that I suspect that the very fact of using technology and public services includes embedded costs to the enviroment – which basically proves my point that we are all probably much less aware of the hidden costs of our lifestyles than we understand.
The other factor to consider is that the calculators account for the total global population and the assumption that the lifestyle is shared equitably. If we are to be truly fair in the way we live, as well as truly sustainable, we rich Westerners (yes, even the ones not in the silvertail suburbs) would need to radically curtail our relatively profligate lifestyles. The planet simply cannot sustain 7-9 billion people living the way it’s portrayed in Better Homes and Gardens.
Yeah well Jungney it’s the pre Xmas season and I’ve had some wines again, but what are you doing man?
Bernard J @ 10
Well completely, and I’m not sure how to account for the existing infrastructure, but I think if we value it and use it ( with modification) as long as we can, it is ok. The Better Homes and Gardens stuff is a problem, but I think a lot of it can be disrupted by people seriously promoting reduce, reuse, recycle. We can be opinion leaders if we believe in what we are doing and stand by it.
jungney illustrates the problem with demand-side solutions: a man living in the global 1% and driving a 4wd demands everyone else stop “sucking at the teat of luxury” and suggests that other people should overthrow the 1% in his society, while not recognizing that he is part of a larger 1% waiting to be overthrown.
That kind of approach isn’t going to solve the problem, because it’s a communal, not an individual, problem. Telling me not to buy coal-fired power is all well and good but I am not in charge of my own power station. Someone else is.
And Brian, you really have to give up on market based schemes. Carbon markets and trading schemes try to get people to reduce their use by making choices. But choices imply some people will still be able to choose to use carbon-based power, and the reality is that we are fast approaching the point where no one is going to be able to make that choice. The only market-based schemes that will work are going to be cap-and-trade schemes with a heavy emphasis on a cap that gets pushed to zero very quickly.
So why not just make the cap explicit and get it over with? A 10 year deadline for banning the sale of coal; 20 years for oil; 30 years for gas. Strict caps on how much of each will be traded leading up to the deadline. Let the market price the product according to the dwindling supply.
Of course this isn’t going to happen. The reality is that we’re fucked, and we need to face the fact that we’re fucked. Anyone under the age of 35 is going to be able to see the consequences of the inaction that happened in their lifetime, and it’s not going to be pretty.
Bernard J @ 10, you raise the issue of equity.
I didn’t mention it in the post, but equity is an issue for Anderson in pricing carbon. He thinks the rich will pay and continue to pollute, whereas the poor may struggle to pay for necessities.
Val @ 7:
Anderson’s position is that change must be driven at all levels. But if the politically able don’t then we must.
Currently I’m reading a book on emotional styles and the physical brain. In that post what you are talking about seems to be covered in the style elements of ‘outlook’ and resilience’. As such depression is a difficult term, having colloquial and ‘technical’ meanings with the latter distinctly problematic.
We probably need more exposition to usefully open up the topic.
fn @ 13:
Anderson takes up this very point. You need to take issue with him rather than with me. I was doing an exposition of his ideas here.
fn: I currrently own two 4wd’s having just purchased a turbo diesel which is considerably more fuel efficient than the now redundant leaded fuel guzzler that would automatically slow down at every servo.
The backyard garden, I won’t call it permaculture because it doesn’t run on those precise lines, is producing heavily – it’s a good year for tomatoes, corn, zucc’s, strawberries, figs, mangoes, sundry salad plants, queensland blues, rockmelon, beetroot – which is not bad for less than twelve months in a place where previously there was virtually no soil. The technique is ‘straw bale’ gardening where the bales form the walls of your beds and the centre is infilled with mushroom compost; the bales rot down to form compost and soil. Cheap as chips and very effective.
Anyone want a Nissan Navarra with 12 month’s rego on it at a good price? NSW.
I have problems with statements like
It tends to support the lie that we have to choose between between destruction of the economy vs destruction of the planet.
The sets out in reasonable detail what moving to 100% renewable power over 10 years would mean in terms of resources and people. All you can conclude from reading this is that implementation of plans like this will not starve the country of people, financial, or other resources.
What it would really do is stimulate the economy and increase employment.
It certainly wouldn’t destroy the economy.
John D, I think more work has to be done. I don’t think I can adequately assess Anderson and Bows-Larkin’s position without reading more of their work, and even then I have to accept that I lack the expertise of an economist.
My impression is that they underestimate the economic activity generated in going green and clean.
OTOH they stress the huge investment in dirty power stations, airliners and ships etc. Anderson pointed out that airliners commissioned in 1968 are still flying. A lot of capital is going to be destroyed in a radical shift to clean/green.
Lacking information and to some degree expertise I don’t have the gift of certainty.
Air travel does not have to chew up huge amounts of fuel but in order to get real efficiencies in fuel and emissions there have to be radical trade-offs: mainly in aircraft design (after everyone has invested so heavily in Boeing, Airbus and similar designs), in passenger expectations in speed and amenities and also in what is sent as air cargo. Bear in mind that modern passenger-cargo jets are a lot more efficient than were their predecessors – and that several decades ago, passengers were quite satisfied to take some days to fly from Sydney to London.
Also, we do have to stop being hysterical and get over what happened to the R101 and the Hindenburg. Hydrogen is an excellent lifting gas and now, in the 21st Century, we know how to use it quite safely and also how to fly airships safely and efficiently in a very wide range of weather-conditions. Helium is terribly nice but we have to learn how to do without it in future airship designs.
And then we have MODERN high-capacity sailing ships ….
The loss of the Environmental Defenders Office hasn’t caught up here!?
I am more global cooling than warming,but,the Liberals are really boring me to tears.An I had a look at the new Human Rights commissioner,I don’t know how anyone would even feel that going to him would solve any problems,human.The loss of the Environmental lawyers to me is a great loss of representation and in some cases possibly better outcomes for all including miners.Conservation issues are but one matter in the environmental field,the present state of the Liberals being open for business,I sense already ,a attitude that will lead Australia away from satisfactory relationships with other nations and ourselves.The spoken crap is enough,to then think,what is the underlying thinking behind it,well, playing marbles without rules is fairer.Knocking out funding for some community groups may mean even less environmental considerations.And will these be solved in the Human Rights Commission!?It would seem a gigantic step backwards in assessing both corporate and others,and judges the Government as stupid beyond tolerance.
I like your analogy of “playing marbles without rules”, Phillip. Very clever.
To me the question re the impact of emission reduction on the economy is secondary to impact of massive reduction on the current level of consumption? Surely we can not continue sustainably on that trajectory in order to achieve the required emission abatements? Is it presently possible to envisage a low pollution/consumption economy as part of a sustainable human future? Does the current humanity have the capacity and leadership to successfully transform into such an economy within the required timeframe?
A special feature of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that assembles the first results of the Inter-Sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project (ISI-MIP), aims at bringing research on climate impacts onto a new level. “There is an elephant in the room: current and future climate change impacts. But strangely, many people seem to be blind to it,” says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-author of the special feature’s introduction as well as several of its papers.
A paper which is the product of a multi-year collaboration between leading global research teams under the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) and the above mentioned Inter-Sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project (ISI-MIP) came to the following findings (all figures compare 2050 forecasts with and without climate change):
Going back to our earlier discussions about the problem (as I see it) of doom and gloom thinking, I have just read an interesting article on Climate Change Communication (CCC) by B J Johnson in Risk Analysis 32(6)
He uses a model called Fischoff’s Stages of Risk Communication model and suggests that most CCC so far has focused on the early stages: getting facts right and explaining to people what the facts/risks are. So far it hasn’t focused much on the later stages: showing them that it (addressing the risks) is a good deal for them, treating them nice and making them partners.
He discusses several methods of communication (by which he means actual communication, not one way communication, or talking at people): persuasion, social movement mobilisation and deliberation (engaging people with diverse views and from diverse circumstances on a problem in discussions and trying to find solutions – ie an inclusive approach). He discusses the strengths and limitations of each approach, but suggests they should all be tried.
He acknowledges that there is no guarantee of success and that there are risks from a confusion of messages and voices but also says:
I quite liked that message.
I have also recently been defending Julia Gillard’s proposed Citizens’ Assemblies on climate change ( or whatever they were called) to my supervisor as not being a totally ridiculous proposal. In terms of Johnson’s analysis, I think they may have been intended as a form of ‘deliberation’. Anyway no doubt this view may be provocative but I hope will inspire some thinking, not just purely dismissive reaction.
Val I think the reason we’re still at the first stage of debate is the constant efforts of denialists to keep us there. Their motives in doing this are exactly in line with the points in the article you cite: by keeping us at the stage of getting the facts right, they prevent action.
Fn @ 27
I think if you look at Johnson’s analysis, the key point would be that if we keep debating the facts we stay at that stage.
So the conclusion I guess would be something like (Johnson recommends humility) – we can’t know everything and there will always be uncertainty, but these are the best predictions made by the vast majority of scientists who have spent years working on this topic. So let’s look at where we go from here
And then focus not on trying to persuade people but trying to support those who are already persuaded (strengthen social movements) and engage those who aren’t persuaded in discussions about what we should do.
The discussions would of course have to be on the basis of accepting that there are serious risks associated with climate change even if we can’t specify them exactly.
I think Johnson would suggest there is little point engaging with the active deniers – be polite to them but not really try to do more than that – because there is a much larger group of people who aren’t active deniers, but aren’t really doing anything.
I think Brian already takes that attitude through politely asking people not to engage in debate over the science – but these posts I think are mainly reaching the converted and as Brian has suggested in previous posts, we need to think about broader action we can take and how we can reach out to and engage broader public/s.
The question is, why would want to engage broader public/s, what constructive outcomes would you aim for? And by focusing on “broader public/s”, does that not distract from the responsibility of those in responsible positions? The discharge of responsibilities by government is happening right now here in Queensland (and soon is expected to happen nationally). For example when QLD Government has controversially removed sea level rises from planning policy so as not to inhibit development and to allow councils greater independence in deciding development issues.
And they’ll get away with it for various reasons, including that we just have retained the Ashes again.
Ootz @ 29
The point is what Ross Garnaut basically admitted in his 2010 Hamer oration – the only hope is for civil society to speak ‘over’ vested interests.
Garnaut still tended to speak of market mechanisms as the most important measure (which I don’t agree with – they are one important measure but not the most important) but he belatedly perceived that in a capitalist democracy you cannot get such measures accepted unless you have bipartisan political support. Governments in such polities will do what powerful vested interests want, unless civil society makes it clear that it is not acceptable. We as citizens therefore need to mobilise support amongst our fellow citizens and to speak to government.
There was a really good thing on twitter recently (apologies to those who have seen it) that illustrated a simple way of getting beyond the CC is true/isn’t true debate.
This guy had developed a simple two by two risk table showing what may happen if climate change is true/not true, and we act/ we don’t act.
The worst case scenario in the CC not true/ we do act quadrant is: spend too much money and resources on false alarm – global recession, lots of misery, increased poverty, more loss of life etc – but life goes on
The worst case scenario in the CC is true/we don’t act quadrant is: a climate that won’t sustain human life.
Therefore – we must act to avoid the latter, even if we risk the former.
So the risk we should focus on is not whether CC is ‘true’ or not – it’s the risk of not acting.
I’ll send the link later if I can find it.
yeah Val there’s that famous cute cartoon – “but what if we end up building a better world for nothing!”
The problem is that these denialists are dominating public debate, so we can’t ignore them.
I’m not saying this Johnson chap you quote is wrong – just that the denialists are working from his playbook, and like all surprise attacks you can’t continue the march to teh destination until you’ve engaged.
Fn @ 32
Funny how we can get to different points from the same evidence!
I’m saying no, the implication is don’t engage with them. Ignore them, go round them, be polite to them but move on from them. They are wasting our time. Essentially they are a small, though well-funded, group supported by fossil fuel corporations.
Governments in capitalist democracies respond to money, unless they are forced to respond to numbers. Deniers have got a lot of money, but we – potentially – have got much bigger numbers (as well as better arguments).
I had a read of the paper and was not overly impressed by Johnson’s ‘provocation’. He does cover some valid territory but frankly I don’t think any of it is new under the sun, and I think that he’s over-emphasising the extent to which communication technique itself – or a putative deficiency thereof – is the overall problem in human response to climate change. I certainly have yet to be persuaded that problems in communication methodology are the weak link in the chain of response to human emissions and their contribution to climate change.
For mine, the most serious obstacles are:
1) insufficient acquired understanding/education/knowledge on the part of too many business people/politicians/lay people, and
2) deliberate strategies of interference and manipulation of opinion by vested interests and ideologues.
There comes a point in proceedings where simple communication optimisation is insufficient by itself to address issues such as these, where there is a profound pushing back against the message – they have to be addressed by an accompanying restructuring of the education and political systems.
Of course, there may come a point where even optimal action in these domains is insufficient to fully resolve the problem. This is due to the fact that ultimately we will reach an asymptote dictated by basic human nature, where:
a) there is an intrinsic dichotomy of selfishness versus altruism in the population, and
b) there is an evolutionary human mal-adaptation in the perception and processing of indications of danger that occur on the spacial and temporal scales of climate change.
And there’s an irony here… There has been a recent affectation that humans have transcended their previous beholding to the vagaries of evolution and are now masters of their own destiny. It seems now that the very technologies that have led to this smugness may be the same selectors that squeeze humans through the evolutionary mesh from which we are supposed to have been forever freed.
Bernard J – to me its clearly issues with the communications methodology because otherwise the message would be getting thru and humans would be responding more effectively.
Re 1 in your post above – I think there’s plenty of knowledge and information for those inclined to process it. There has been since the 80s on the basics of AGW. And since the late 90s/early 00s on the specific details.
Re 2 – yeah true, and that lot you refer to have essentially won the information war well up to this point anyway. They are better at marketing their view and running interference on the reality based version. But this only came about cos they engaged in pr/marketing cos they had nothing else.
This is the essence of the communication failure imo.
Us “warmists” have never really used pr to the extent that we could have. Possibly cos of the mistaken belief that the facts will speak for themselves. I think its time we changed those tactics. Good/savage and rabid marketing should be able to get around both the problems you mention at a) and b). At least I think it should. (That may involve marketing that has only a vague connection to facts and is aimed at triggering emotional responses in people not rational ones.)
Val and fn, when you are talking about deniers, are you thinking of the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Andrew Bolt, Nick Minchin and Maurice Newman or Ol’Joe on a blog?
Agree with you on Bernard J on your no 1 – People in responsible positions are not acting responsibly and proficient in the face of a serious risk or challenge. Re no 2 – self-interest, it maybe useful to frame it in terms of ethics as well as worthwhile to explore the ‘mechanics’ of altruism.
Val @ 30:
I’m always fascinated by the credibility that is afforded to Ross Garnaut who is generally misunderstood as some sort of civil society guru. He can afford to be because his money, and authority, derives in part from his role in ripping the living guts out of the earth and shitting on the remains, otherwise known as gold mining in Papua.
Garnaut’s hope that civil society will provide solutions to the global eco-crisis is a ruse, ffs; so far so called civil society hasn’t done better than “oh, i say chaps, the end of the world isn’t very nice”.
I propose that the solution lies with decidedly uncivil thought and action and that it is directed in part charade figures such as Ross Garnaut and, the so far neglected Malcolm Turnbull, the great white hope of people without spine, who made part of his fortune, and a decent slab at that, not from being a clever dotcom entrepreneur, but from being a director of a logging company that commited environmental hooliganism by clearfelling a Solomons Island.
There will be no heroes.
There’s a difference between delivering a message and receiving it. One can lead a horse to water but one cannot make it drink. There has actually been much good and even excellent communication about the dangers of climate change, and had the subject been something like [insert ‘favoured xenophia target’ + ‘rhymes with heroism’] I’m sure that there would have been a far greater penetration of the message – because the lizard brains of the masses would have actually registered a threat…
Given the incredible effort that’s been expended on the delivery I remain convinced that this is not the weak link. Rather, the message has been intercepted, misdirected, misrepresented, dissolved, subsumed or otherwise countered with deliberate intent: as such, the problem is not in how the message is launched but in how it lands and on what sort of intellectual/instinctual ground it lands. As you note “there’s plenty of knowledge and information for those inclined to process it”…
Frankly I doubt that there is anything that could shift the minds of the recalcitrant deniers and delayers short of them each having their own personal intelligence trainer for several months/years, and that is simply not feasible.
Fair enough, but I would still maintain that this is not so much a failure of communicating the message but of dealing the obstruction of said communication. For mine, this is a matter of politics – and of an unpreparedness of the general population to be manipulated.
I think that this is essentially a tacit recognition that the truth wasn’t sufficient to goad us into action, so we have to be tricked into doing so. This would bring me back to the mal-adaptation idea, and therein lies a problem – if we are so mal-adapted, is there actually a way of using ‘communication’ as a primary tool of motivation?
After all, what proportion of the hard-core lay deniers, corporate vested interests, and partisan political ideologues to date have ever actually reversed their resistance on having received a well-communicated message?
Don’t get me wrong – communication techniques are important, but the fundamental block to action is something much deeper than determining how best to deliver a well-crafted message.
I don’t totally disagree with what you’re saying, but let me put it this way.
Those fundamental blocks to action, that are far deeper than the message itself, are enabled by the message. Those messages take advantage of the tendency to enable/indulge in those actions. And they are furthered by it. Its a feedback loop of sorts. They take advantage of our difficulty in processing those long term threats, kind of non confrontational threats in a way, by making them seem less immediate and less important than other more immediate threats that seem to actually confront us. Threats which reinforce the need to take action that is selfish.
Thats the basis of of so much of the “… protect our economy/no one else is doing it” message. Threats to “our” standard of living, “our” jobs – basically to “our” (-selves, family’s and nation’s) well being and security are magnified and made to seem more immediate and more dangerous while the actual threat – the one thats already hard to process or “get your head around” – is minimised. Not just by comparing priorities and immediacy – the actual scale of the threat is minimised as well.
What us warmists call selfish behaviour is actually framed as being altruistic as well as self benefitting, cos “we’re” (everyone) defending”our” (everyone’s) interests by behaving in a way that ignores a massive but distant threat. Point b) in your comment @ reinforces an aspect of point a) – our ability to be selfish as opposed to altruistic. This also subverts our message that such behaviour is selfish, cos “its actually not, we’re actually protecting our energy advantage and our way of life. We all worked hard for it after all.” That also makes us warmists ourselves seem like another more immediate threat than global warming cos we are supporting/advocating behaviour that seems like a threat.
This process is enabled because one side of this argument is winning an information war.
Perhaps communication war is a better term. And I don’t doubt “they” see it that way. All their messages are aimed at reinforcing the process I mentioned above. I guess the failure of communication I refer too is the fact that “we” can’t win the communications war.
Tho on reflection perhaps communications failure isn’t the right term.
Failure to win a communications war is a better term. To those that think I’m over – egging it. Its easier to win an information war if your opponent doesn’t know you are waging one.
So yeah i agree those deeper blocks are the problem. Denialist methods of communication contribute to and reinforce those blocks.
Slightly off-topic but thought you might be interested.
Whilst searching for yesterday afternoon’s ABC NewsRadio rexmt of BBC Business program about climate change (useful basic overall view), I came across this podcast, 16th December, “King Coal?” 27 minutes 13Mb:
I was prompted to revisit the coalition’s Direct Action Plan which, I have to admit , has confused me. Interesting to note that the coalition are to spend $100 million a year on solar PV installations with a target of one million solar homes by 2020.
I haven’t seen much of this in the MSM, maybe I haven’t been paying attention in the past 100 days ???
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