11 August 2009

Signs that the Mainstream Climate Debate has Lost Touch with Reality

Speaking in Korea at the World Environment Forum 2009 UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has given a speech that is remarkable for its over-the-top rhetoric and also its disconnect from anything resembling reality. He starts with an apocalyptic warning:

If we fail to act, climate change will intensify droughts, floods and other natural disasters.

Water shortages will affect hundreds of millions of people. Malnutrition will engulf large parts of the developing world. Tensions will worsen. Social unrest – even violence – could follow.

The damage to national economies will be enormous. The human suffering will be incalculable.

Moon tells us that time is short:
We have just four months. Four months to secure the future of our planet.
He also tells us that all the solutions are in hand:
What is needed is the political will. We have the capacity. We have finance. We have the technology. The largest lacking is political will.
He says that we are being guided by a non-human power, science:

When the leaders of the G-8 agreed in July to keep the global temperature increase within two degrees centigrade by the year 2050, that was welcomed and I welcome that statement.

But I also said again, it was not enough.

But leaders have agreed to cut green house gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. That is welcomed again. But that must be accompanied by the ambitious mid-term target by 2020 as science tells us to do.

This speech is wrong at just about every level. Reality is that:

1. The costs of climate change are calculable and highly uncertain (see, e.g., IPCC, Stern, etc.).

2. We have years and decades to act, not four months. In fact, it will take an effort of many decades to successfully manage energy and climate issues.

3. We have political will but lack the technologies needed to decarbonize the global economy and capacity to reduce vulnerabilities.

4. We are guided by a very human politics, not a disembodied thing called "science."

If Moon's rhetoric is even noted in the mainstream climate debate it will be applauded, and certainly not critiqued. Is it any wonder that climate policy is such an utter mess?

10 comments:

  1. A search of Google news for “Ban Ki Moon” and floods yields 215 news articles in the last 24 hours. Reuters, considered by many as a reputable source treated the speech as a straight news story and placed it in the context of the upcoming Copenhagen conference.

    It’s only reasonable to expect that other stories from Reuters are just as reliable.

    I understand the motives of Ban Ki Moon, but what is driving the media?

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  2. He forgot to mention War:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/09/science/earth/09climate.html?_r=2&hp

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  3. 1) Reuters? Reliable? Not even close.

    2) This climate hysteria is sounding more and more similar to the parody of the infamous and ancient “Good Times Virus” hoax!

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  4. Even though I'm not an american, I'm glad that the climate debate is much more civil than the healthcare debate.

    In the climate debate there is no death panel, only death train.

    In climate debate their is 'never' any mention of Hitler, the Nazis or the holocaust, people only ask for Nuremberg type trial.

    It is also a good that in the climate change debate no one is trying to scare people into considering their option has the only one.

    Oups, I just woke up the climate change debate is very similar to the healthcare debate.

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  5. Roger:
    I think he gave a well-constructed persuasive speech that urges the duplication of existing "success stories". It is as realistic as most political speeches urging a particular policy or solution set such as those made currently about health care. It defines the scope and immediacy of the problem to be congruent with the preferred solution. It grossly underestimates the complexity, uncertainty and cost of the solution. It assumes that there are no "virtuous" losers in the proposed solution.
    I think he is badly wrong. The sad part is such political speeches are not readily refuted with logic, science or facts. Alas we will pay a price with illogical solutions such as the closing of power plants without an alternative.

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  6. Everything reminds me of great movie lines:

    "If we fail to act, climate change will intensify droughts, floods and other natural disasters."

    "...real wrath of God type stuff."

    "Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!"

    "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"

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  7. Roger: "This speech is wrong at just about every level."

    Is this part also wrong, at just about every level?

    "Second, developing countries need to take nationally appropriate mitigation actions in order to reduce the growth in their emissions substantially below business as usual.

    "Their actions must be measurable, reportable and verifiable.

    "Third, developed countries must provide sufficient, measurable, reportable and verifiable financial and technological support to developing countries.

    "This will allow developing countries to pursue their mitigation efforts as part of their sustainable green growth strategies and to adapt to accelerating climate impacts.

    "Significant resources will be needed from both public and private sources.

    "Developing countries, especially the most vulnerable, will collectively need billions of dollars in public financing for adaptation.

    "I am talking here about new money – not re-packaged Official Development Assistance. This is one of the most important issues which we are going to discuss on September 22nd in New York, and this year again at the G20 Summit Meeting in Pittsburgh on September 24th.

    "Fourth, we need an equitable and accountable mechanism for distributing these financial and technological resources, taking into account the views of all countries in decision-making.

    "Accomplishing all of this requires tough decisions. It will take flexibility and hard work to negotiate the most difficult issues.

    "Trust between developed and developing countries is essential."

    As for your own points, Roger:

    "1. The costs of climate change are calculable and highly uncertain (see, e.g., IPCC, Stern, etc.)."

    Has Moon disagreed with you?

    "2. We have years and decades to act, not four months. In fact, it will take an effort of many decades to successfully manage energy and climate issues."

    I imagine Moon agrees that we are in for a century+ scale effort. But isn`t Moon referring to the schedule of negotiating an extension or replacement of Kyoto, for which there are definite time limits?

    "3. We have political will but lack the technologies needed to decarbonize the global economy and capacity to reduce vulnerabilities."

    While we certainly lack the technologies at current prices to decarbonize, clearly the nations of the world collectively until now have lacked the political will to move forward on a global deal that would change institutional structures in a way that meangfully prices carbon and incentivizes greater investments in the technologies needed to decarbonize.

    "4. We are guided by a very human politics, not a disembodied thing called "science.""

    Sure, "science" itself doe not "tell us" to do anything. Moon is clearly making a short-handed political argument that, for many political and civic leaders, the current state of knowledge about risks is suffient to justify taking coordinated state action on climate - both to mitigate and to adapt.

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  8. If there is only 4 months to act, it is clearly too late, so let's just get busy getting wealthy. Pays for all those dykes and stuff we will need.

    A bit confused by you first point Roger "calculable but highly uncertain". I am yet formulate a personal opinion on the likely SIGN of any climate effects, let alone size.

    Can't see how that amounts to calculable.

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  9. Time is short. Time is running out, no question about that."

    A farmer and a captain in the War of 1812, William Miller became convinced that the coming Apocalypse, alluded to in the books of Daniel and Revelation, could be mapped out by interpreting prophetic clues. Using this logic, he predicted the date of the physical Second Coming of Christ as October 22, 1844.

    Miller preached throughout New England and upstate New York with the vigor of one waging battle, speaking to hundreds of thousands of people, mostly farmers. As the Millerite movement grew and thousands became "adventists," their faith became fodder for editorials and cartoons in Boston papers, which erroneously depicted them as wearing mythic "ascension robes" and waiting on rooftops for Christ's return.

    On October 22, 1844, as many as 50,000 Millerite adventists gathered in prayer on farms, having given up jobs and let fields go fallow. When the sun set that day, they kept singing, for the night was only a dark curtain that God himself would tear aside with light. When he did not and the world survived into the awful burden of October 23, a term was born:

    The Great Disappointment

    The warming hysterics are becoming more and more worried that they are about to face The Great Global Warming Disappointment

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  10. An Inconvenient Sun - Trailer
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuOnvlleiGY

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