Time to raft up – Part 1
So says Chris Rapley, a professor of climate science in the Department of Earth Sciences at University College London, in Nature magazine on 30 August 2012 (vol 488, pp 583-585 [behind paywall]).
The title of his 3-page article (a commentary on the current state of climate science), is explained in its final paragraph:
The warning signals from the planet are clear. Now is the moment for our community to adopt the rallying cry of sea kayakers confronted with conditions too challenging to handle alone: “Time to raft up!”
However, Rapley begins his article by recounting a discussion with prominent British right-wing politician whose parting shot was a triumphalist “Among key political power-brokers your case has been lost!” This sounds like the sort of thing Lord Monckton would say, but is it true?
It may well be true, as indeed Rapley laments in his article, that a surprisingly-large proportion of the UK population remain unsure as to whether they can trust what climate scientists say. It may well be true that the UK’s Coalition government has not delivered the “greenest government ever” it promised (far from it – it has pulled the rug from under the feet of many of those who would like to invest in renewable energy). However,
in its public pronouncements at least, it remains fully committed to the urgent need to minimise anthropogenic climate disruption. Therefore, the only way in which this triumphalist remark can be seen as having any validity is that our governments have failed to honour a commitment made at the 2009 G20 Summit in Pittsburgh (PA):
1. To end their long-running sponsorship of the fossil fuel industry; and
2. To commit to a timetable for phasing-out fossil fuel-based power generation.
However, whatever victory this anonymous right-wing politician thinks has been won, he or she is getting all triumphalist over something about which no-one should be proud – the ability of humans to hide from unpleasant truths. This common human flaw was the central point of an article in the by Kurt Eichenwald in the New York Times last week on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist atrocity: The argument being that 9/11 was not prevented because the neo-Conservative government chose to ignore warnings about Al Qaeda because they were convinced Saddam Hussein was a much greater threat. In other words, this was Cognitive Dissonance on an unprecedented scale – and it resulted in the deaths of nearly 3000 innocent people. Peter Sinclair posted an excellent summary on his Climate Denial Crock of the Week website, entitled ’9/11, Climate Change, and Why Facts Matter’. I have written much on this blog about cognitive dissonance and Leon Festinger (see category index) but let’s move on…
In fact, let’s get back to Chris Ripley’s article in Nature magazine. Rapley highlights the apparent disconnection between the pronouncements of governments and mainstream climate scientists. This was brought into sharp focus recently when the UK Government’s own chief scientist, Robert Watson, admitted that the above failings at an international level mean that we probably cannot now limit warming to 2 Celsius (a supposed UNFCCC/IPCC target). Indeed, since at least 2009, mainstream climate scientists have been saying that we are heading for at least 4 Celsius rise in average global temperatures. Rapley therefore suggests, “the voices of dismissal are evidently trumping the messages of science”.
However, are the triumphalist voices those dismissing the science? I doubt it, actually. I think the people winning the argument are those who say we can have it both ways (i.e. that we can keep on burning fossil fuels with impunity because carbon capture and storage [CCS] technology will solve all our problems).
Unfortunately, this is a lie the coal industry has been peddling for decades. Even more unfortunately, as I demonstrated last week, this is a piece of propaganda that we must now rely upon being turned into a reality.
So, is it not reasonable to ask why our governments do not acknowledge that we are currently on track to a +4 Celsius or +6 Celsius planet? The answer is, of course, that, were they to do so:
This would necessitate the action none of them is willing to take (see points 1 and 2 above).
I will conclude this review of Chris Rapley’s article tomorrow.