ecostory 25-2007
"Warmer, warmer"- How does climate change motivate you?
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                            Everybody talks of climate change - we don't...

The British author John Lancaster recently contributed to the climate debate with a lengthy article. Hereafter we comment on some of his statements. (to the complete article) (Copyright)

Interesting is Lancaster's notion of individual impotence in face of the developments. A German song goes like this "Gücklich ist, wer vergisst, was doch nicht zu ändern ist". It can be good advice indeed to forget what one can't change anyway.

But as to public policy it's a matter of numbers. One becomes powerful once sufficient people understand the issue and join the party. "Don't give up" is an English song and even if you don't see the results hoped for, you're setting an example and you are true to your principles. If you give up, you've lost anyway. If you persist you may win.

In the case of nuclear weapons we have escaped a disaster till now. But when resource wars intensify, for oil or other resources that are running out with different speeds, a nuclear war is still possible.

With climate change and the underlying economic growth policy we have no choice but to fight and to set an example ourselves. Mr Lancaster is wrong in saying that the individual contribution doesn't count. What else is democracy about? Each vote, every action counts in trying to prevent the "prospective planetary catastrophe".

We do agree, however, that "politicians [are] out to show that they do respond but in reality playing for time". Worse, politicians, academics and business do rarely understand the real issues and they are inclined to "believe" all kinds of "solutions" as long as they allow business as usual. We are not sure wether the leaders have "no willingness to act in any meaningful ways." We rather believe that they do not really understand and that they live and work in a double-bind with their employers. The system of anonymous corporations tends to eject those who hamper it. "It's difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on NOT understanding it" (Upton Sinclair).

The basic equation is still valid: I=P×A×T.
Human Impact (I) on the natural environment equals the product of population (P), affluence (A) (or per capita consumption) and technology (T) or impact of technology per unit of consumption. This describes how our growing population, affluence, and technology contribute toward our environmental impact.
    "Since a systematic approach to climate change would involve a new relationship between scientific predictions and public policy, it seems a good idea to try and think clearly about how we got to this point".
    "It is shocking to learn from George Monbiot's book 'Heat' just how systematic the oil lobby has been about spreading a smokescreen of doubt around the question of climate change. The techniques in play were learned by the tobacco lobby in the course of the fights over smoking and health. 'Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ýbody of factţ that exists in the minds of the general public,' an internal memo from one tobacco company states. 'It is also the best means of establishing a controversy.' Or, as the Republican pollster Frank Luntz put it in a memo to party activists during W.'s first midterms, 'Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.' Oil money and tobacco money have gone to bodies such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, the Reason Foundation and the Independent Institute. Exxon, in particular, is a great one for sponsoring climate-denying websites and lobby groups."
This policy is neatly complimented by the media. Lancaster puts it this way: "... it has seemed appropriate to the media to treat it as a polarised issue, one on which there are two schools of thought, which, in respect of the science, it isn't: there is one school of thought, and a few nutters."

In Geneva, Switzerland, a TV sponsored public debate on climate change had invited one of these "nutters" to the televised debate. Asked why, the organiser said he needed to be "controversial". The climatologist said we lost at least 15 years because of the doubters. This sort of debate is no exception.
    " "Arthur C. Clarke said that 'any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.' Its real sting is that it is a description of the world we already inhabit." [...] "...we don't know how they work, but we're happy to benefit from using them." >article
This could be another explanation for the widespread belief and acceptance of so-called 'solutions' and promises than cannot be kept. Kyoto with its so-called Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMs), Carbon Capping and Storage (CCS), biofuels, hydrogen power - a shortlist of technologies and methods that are empty words: Most 'solutions' are either technologically not working or they are grossly insufficient because of lacking capacity or they incease emissions because the process has not been correctly examined. The CDMs in reality increase greenhouse gas emissions since they lead to a further economic expansion.

Mr Lancaster falls victim to the same errors, believing in those technologies and in economic growth. The earth's resources, however, are finite and technology cannot recreate depleted non-renewables and revive extinct species and forests. He chides the SUVs and their owners but sees no problem with China's growth, which in fact is generated by us, because we expatriate our industry to that country of low wages and environmental protection.

We are responsible for that part of Chinese GDP that we import. We buy the goods and are accountable for the pollution and depletion generated in China for their manufacturing. The pollution from China measured on the hill tops around San Francisco is in fact home made.

The effects of Climate change and resource depletion could lead to disastrous scenarios. The SPM [Summary for Policy Makers of the March 2007 The Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)] "is silent about these horror scenarios, since its brief is to stick to certainties. Humanity would be reduced to a small number of 'breeding pairs'". James Lovelock

We think surving "breeding pairs" of humans is wishful thinking of a man who has lost sight of realities. Since how many would that be, "a small number of breeding pairs", couples charged with the honourable task to make humankind survive after the total catastrophe and breakdown of society has hit? Bands of 100 people, or 1000 or 10,000, wandering about the empty spaces of tundra swamps? What would they eat? Extinct polar bears? With what tools and which skills? And the other 6 billion 599 million 990 thousand humans? Where did they go? How did they die? Such a flipping nonsense. In case of total collapse nobody will survive the last wars over the remaining pieces of bread and drops of clean drinking water. If some idiot would set off the bomb, it's over anyway.

Lancaster believes in future, yet-to-be-invented technological solutions. CCS has "a proven potential" and:
    "It all comes down to the question of political will. The remarkable thing is that most of the things we need to do to prevent climate change are clear in their outline, even though one can argue over details. We need to insulate our houses, on a massive scale; find an effective form of taxing the output of carbon (rather than just giving tradeable credits to the largest polluters, which is what the EU did - a policy that amounted to a 30 billion euro grant to the continent's biggest polluters); spend a fortune on both building and researching renewable energy and DC power; spend another fortune on nuclear power; double or treble our spending on public transport; do everything possible to curb the growth of air travel; and investigate what we need to do to defend ourselves if the sea rises, or if food imports collapse. If we do that we may find that we develop the technologies that China and India will need. If we can show that it is possible to cut carbon output dramatically without trashing our economy - well, that might be the single most important thing we could do, far outweighing the actual impact of our emission reductions.

    The idea is that by paying it now we would be keeping the world's economy on track so that by 2050 the developed world would be 200 per cent richer and the developing world 400 per cent, while our emissions decline by 60 to 90 per cent and theirs increase by 25 to 50." (article)
The earth's resources" are endless, it seems. Transportation is all right, as long as it's not by SUV or in airplanes. We can boost the economy and become richer, have more consumption, and at the same time reduce emissions up to 90 per cent. Technology is free of charge, causes no depletion and no pollution. Those are the incredible claims, not only of Mr Lancaster but of the large majority of our academic, business and political opinion leaders.

It's depressing to read yet another piece of saving the world with business as usual. The more we read this stuff, the more we believe that the realisation the hard facts and the stark measures that are needed is just too much and far too scary. The escape route is into irrealities, fancy solutions, dematerialisation and the like.

Everybody talks of climate change - we talk of a manifest overuse of resources (overshoot) and the urgent need to scale down our consumption levels, become slower, localise life, produce goods that last a lifetime and longer, and reduce population size.

Growth is suicidal. Contraction offers survival.

Helmut Lubbers, 30 March 2007

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