Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Time to raft up – Part 1

with 7 comments

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.

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Written by Martin Lack

20 September 2012 at 00:02

7 Responses

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  1. I thought you meant sea level was accelerating so much, we would need to make rafts to float happily thereafter…

    Patrice Ayme

    20 September 2012 at 08:13

    • I’m glad I am keeping you guessing, Patrice. However, hopefully, I have now made clear my position on CCS: “Unfortunately, this is… a piece of propaganda that we must now rely upon being turned into a reality.”

      Martin Lack

      20 September 2012 at 10:11

      • One word: C O S T. The thermodynamic financials of CCS don’t work, that’s why it’s done in only 5 places. carbon tax has no cost.

        Patrice Ayme

        20 September 2012 at 15:51

        • Carbon Taxes will never work because people no longer trust their governments to do the right thing with the money (as if they ever did).

          James Hansen’s analysis of this issue is incisive, brutal, and – as yet – unfalsified. It has also been ignored by politicians because there is no benefit to them (or business) in pursuing it.

          Hansen observes that the UNFCCC/Kyoto process has failed:
          – Emissions have not been curtailed (they have continued to accelerate).
          – Humanity is definitely interfering with the climate system (a clear breach of Article 2 of the UNFCCC).

          Emissions trading does not provide any incentive to reduce emissions (it only provides polluters with an excuse to do nothing). Behaviour modification will only be achieved by providing incentives. The market alone cannot do this; but neither can taxation.

          Hansen’s Fee and Dividend solution is elegantly simple: Suppliers of fossil fuels pay a fee per unit volume sold and the government distributes all the income received equally to all citizens in the form of a dividend (through the tax system). The government therefore gains nothing; and citizens who reduce their consumption the most will see the greatest benefit.

          Sadly, this solution will never be implemented unless voters demand that it is. Government of the people, by the people, for the people is therefore the solution. Sadly, I know of no country where such a system exists: What most people in most Western countries currently have is government of the people, by politicians, for big business.

          Martin Lack

          20 September 2012 at 16:13

        • Carbon tax exist in some countries, in various forms, including the UK. The big failure has been the USA. So far. And Obama should be ashamed to have started nothing that way, when he could. Because of the USA mentality that environmental ravage is a friend that kills all Indians, and plenty of blacks., and is very profitable, besides. But times are changing. California has started to bend the market towards sustainability. For real this time. Also carbon tax would bring back jobs out of China. It’s all related you see: plutocracy everywhere behind.

          Patrice Ayme

          20 September 2012 at 16:23

  2. [...] This is the second half of my review of an article by 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 first half or this review was published on yesterday. [...]

  3. [...] and The Media has reported that the renowned British climate scientist – and prominent critique of UK government policy – Professor Robert Watson, recently told a California audience [...]


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