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Or at least that’s what seems to be going around in the mind of Condoleezza Rice, if this cable (Cable 1) from September 2008 is anything to go by. After successfully persuading countries like Brazil to let the American scientist Christopher Field run unopposed for an important position in a Working Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), US diplomats began behind the scenes lobbying to block the appointment of an Iranian scientist as its co-chair, since that would be “potentially at odds with overall US policy towards Iran.” Though Mostafa Jafari is admittedly a “highly-qualified scientist”, he is also “a senior Iranian government employee”, and so “close collaboration and often travel to or extended residencies in each others’ countries” between Field and him simply wouldn’t do. Disgracefully, if true*, Pachauri “agreed to work on this issue.” In the event, an Argentinian candidate was appointed co-chair, while Jafari was relegated to a far more junior position.

That said, it’s not of course the case that the US is uniquely responsible for climate fiasco after fiasco. Obviously, these cables don’t paint the US in a good light, what with its underhanded tactics to force countries into signing up to the Copenhagen Accords (a grossly inadequate treaty because of its soft targets and lack of enforcement mechanisms). But thanks to China’s sabotage** in the closed-door negotiations in Copenhagen – even cajoling developed countries against setting their own targets, while manipulating them into taking the fall in public – this is what we got. And while I understand the position of poor countries like the Maldives or Bolivia that it’s nowhere near enough to prevent devastating AGW, or Addis Ababa’s complaints about the absence of formal US guarantees of financial aid in exchange for their support (Cable 2), nonetheless there is a logic to the US strong-arming poor countries into the Accords since this at least gets “the international community moving in the right direction.” (A bonus in that cable is seeing Ethiopians arguing, just like Russians, for restricting foreign funding of NGO’s on the grounds that it undermines indigenous civil society).

* It likely is true, as the author explicitly warns the reader to protect Pachauri’s name.

** This is also the root reason why the ongoing Cancun summit will fail, as everyone seems to recognize. China’s position remains unchanged, sacrificing the global climate for a little greater period of fast economic growth. The US won’t do anything given the political ascendancy of the Republican climate dinosaurs. While hammering out an effective climate policy between 180 growth-centered countries and a dozen major emitters is hard enough, without China and the US it is completely impossible.

Cable 1

Tuesday, 02 September 2008, 23:30
C O N F I D E N T I A L STATE 093970
SIPDIS
EO 12958 DECL: 09/02/2018
TAGS SENV, PREL, UNEP, WMO, KGHG, IR, ML, AR, MA, MO
SUBJECT: LIFELINES FOR IPCC WORKING GROUP ELECTION
Classified By: Classified by IO“>IO“>IO/DAS Gerald Anderson for reasons 1.4(b) and (d)

1. (U) This is an action message. Please see paragraph 3.

2. (C) Summary. Missions should be prepared to assist the U.S. Delegation to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its efforts to secure a positive outcome to elections for working group co-chair positions at the IPCC Plenary being held in Geneva, August 31-September 4. USDEL is working actively to prevent the election of an Iranian scientist to the developing-nation co-chairmanship of Working Group Two, a position which would pair him with a U.S. scientist running unopposed for developed-nation co-chair of the same group. The focus of USG efforts is to support an alternate candidacy for the position, although the full slate of active candidates and their potential for election will not be known until the later stages of the plenary sessions. Curricula vitae of some of the leading candidates are at paras 6-10. End Summary.

3. (C) Action Request. Missions should assign a Point-of-Contact for this issue and provide phone and e-mail information to the US Mission to the UN in Geneva. USUN should appoint its own POC and relay contact information for all POCs to USDEL IPCC. In the event that USDEL requires assistance in working with counterpart delegations (e.g., coming to a consensus on a single strong alternate candidate to support), USDEL may contact Mission POCs directly, or via US Mission Geneva, to ask that Missions apprise host governments of the situation, with a view to arranging for instructions from capitals. Missions should do everything possible to assist USDEL if they receive such a request. Until such a call is received, however, Missions should take no action on this issue; USDEL will be interacting directly with host-country expert delegations in Geneva, and premature contacts/demarches with host country government officials in capitals, even to preview the background of the situation, could be highly counter-productive. Point of Contact for USDEL is OES/EGC,s Donna Lee XXXXXXXXXXXX.

4. (C) Background. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (http://www.ipcc.ch) is a highly influential body established by the World Meteological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to assess scientific issues related to climate change. This year, the U.S. has nominated Stanford Professor Christopher Field to the developed-country chair of IPCC Working Group Two, which assesses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change and the options for adaptation. His nomination is unopposed. Iran, however, has nominated Dr. Mostafa Jafari to be the developing-country co-chair of the same working group. Jafari is a highly-qualified scientist with research ties to the UK and Japan, but he is also a senior Iranian government employee who has represented Iran in international negotiations. Co-chair appointments are for a minimum of four years, and require close collaboration and often travel to or extended residencies in each others, countries. Having U.S. and Iranian co-chairs would be problematic and potentially at odds with overall U.S. policy towards Iran, and would significantly complicate the U.S. commitment to funding the Working Group Two secretariat. U.S. withdrawal of its nominee, however, would effectively give Iran a veto over future U.S. nominees in UN bodies. Moreover, having a U.S. co-chair at the IPCC significantly bolsters U.S. interests on climate change, a key foreign policy issue.

5. (C) Background continued. Prior to arrival in Geneva, USDEL contacted IPCC Chairman Dr. Rajendra Pachauri (please protect), who agreed to work on this issue to avoid the potential for disruption to one the organization’s three core working groups XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. Next, USDEL contacted the Austrian delegate serving as EU representative on the nominating committee that manages the election process, who showed an understanding of U.S. equities. USDEL contacted the Malian and Argentinean delegations, who have nominated highly-qualified co-chair candidates (see below), and the German delegation, who have been interested in advancing the Malian for co-chair of Working Group Three, for which Germany has nominated an unopposed candidate as developed-country co-chair. The Malians subsequently told USDEL that their candidate, Dr. Yauba Sokona, prefers Working Group Two to Working Group Three. Also prior to arrival in Geneva, USDEL contacted the UK and Netherlands delegations, both of which we have worked closely with in the past. Based on experience at prior IPCC plenaries, events related to the Working Group elections will likely unfold unpredictably and rapidly, necessitating a rapid and flexible USG response.

[AK: There follow lengthy biographies of Iranian candidate Mostafa Jafari, Malian candidate Youba Sokona, Argentinean candidate Vicente Ricardo Barros, Moroccan candidate Abdalah Mokssit and Maldivan candidate Amjad Abdulla. Jafari is not any less qualified than the rest in this group.]

RICE

Cable 2

Tuesday, 02 February 2010, 05:38
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ADDIS ABABA 000163
SIPDIS
EO 12958 DECL: 02/01/2020
TAGS PREL, PGOV, KDEM, MOPS, ECON, KE, ET
SUBJECT: UNDER SECRETARY OTERO’S MEETING WITH ETHIOPIAN
PRIME MINISTER MELES ZENAWI – JANUARY 31, 2010
Classified By: Under Secretary Maria Otero for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D).

1. (SBU) January 31, 2010; 4:15 p.m.; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

2. (SBU) Participants:

U.S. Under Secretary Otero Assistant Secretary Carson NSC Senior Director for African Affairs Michelle Gavin PolOff Skye Justice (notetaker)

Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles Zenawi Special Assistant Gebretensae Gebremichael

[AK: Cut.]

4. (C) Meles said the GoE is not enthusiastic about Kenya’s Jubaland initiative, but is sharing intelligence with Kenya and hoping for success. In the event the initiative is not successful, the GoE has plans in place to limit the destabilizing impacts on Ethiopia. On climate change, Meles said the GoE fully supports the Copenhagen accord, but is disappointed with signs the U.S. may not support his proposed panel to monitor international financial contributions under the accord. Meles made no substantive comment on inquiries regarding the liberalization of banking and telecommunications in Ethiopia. End summary.

Foreign Funding of CSOs Antithetical to Democratization

5. (C) Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told U/S Otero the development of a strong democracy and civil society is the only way Ethiopia can ensure peace and unity among an ethnically and religiously divided population. He noted that the Government of Ethiopia’s (GoE) commitment to democracy is directly related to stability, adding that for Ethiopia, “democratization is a matter of survival.” Responding to U/S Otero’s concern that Ethiopia’s recently-enacted CSO law threatened the role of civil society, Meles said while the GoE welcomes foreign funding of charities, those Ethiopians who want to engage in political activity should organize and fund themselves. The leaders of CSOs that receive foreign funding are not accountable to their organizations, he said, but rather to the sources of their funding, turning the concept of democratic accountability on its head. Meles asserted that Ethiopians were not too poor to organize themselves and establish their own democratic traditions, recalling that within his lifetime illiterate peasants and poor students had overthrown an ancient imperial dynasty.

6. (C) Meles said his country’s inability to develop a strong democracy was not due to insufficient understanding of democratic principles, but rather because Ethiopians had not internalized those principles. Ethiopia should follow the example of the U.S. and European countries, he said, where democracy developed organically and citizens had a stake in its establishment. When people are committed to democracy and forced to make sacrifices for it, Meles said, “they won’t let any leader take it away from them.” But “when they are spoon-fed democracy, they will give it up when their source of funding and encouragement is removed.” Referencing his own struggle against the Derg regime, Meles said he and his compatriots received no foreign funding, but were willing to sacrifice and die for their cause, and Ethiopians today must take ownership of their democratic development, be willing to sacrifice for it, and defend their own rights.

7. (C) Meles drew a clear distinction between Ethiopians’ democratic and civil rights on the one hand, and the right of foreign entities to fund those rights on the other. There is no restriction on Ethiopians’ rights, he asserted, merely on foreign funding, adding that the U.S. has similar laws. U/S Otero countered that while the U.S. does not allow foreign funding of political campaigns, there is no restriction on foreign funding of NGOs. Ms. Gavin noted the examples of foreign support for the abolitionist movement in the U.S. and for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa as positive examples of foreign engagement of civil society, and expressed that aside from the issue of foreign funding, the ability of local organizations to legally register, operate, and contribute to democratic discourse was of tantamount importance.

[AK: Cut.]

GoE Prepared to Move Forward from Copenhagen

13. (C) U/S Otero urged Meles to sign the Copenhagen accord on climate change and explained that it is a point of departure for further discussion and movement forward on the topic. She noted that while the agreement has its limitations, it has the international community moving in the right direction. Meles responded that the GoE supported the accord in Copenhagen and would support it at the AU Summit. However, he expressed his disappointment that despite President Obama’s personal assurance to him that finances committed in Copenhagen would be made available, he had received word from contacts at the UN that the U.S. was not supportive of Ethiopia’s proposal for a panel to monitor financial pledges regarding climate change. Ms. Gavin assured the Prime Minister that she would look into his concerns.

[AK: Cut.]

YATES

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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When denier ideologues make the transition to accepting the reality of anthropogenic global warming, one of the arguments they start to use tends to go something along the following lines: “Sure, the polar bears might get screwed over, but otherwise things will be just great. Crop yields will increase and northerners will get to have their own sun-drenched beaches”. You wish. New research* indicates that beyond temperature rises of 7C, “zones of uninhabitability” will begin to overspread much of the world (“An adaptability limit to climate change due to heat stress” by Sherwood & Huber 2010). Not a Mediterranean world, more like Mad Max in Waterworld.

Of late climate models have been leaning to the upper range of the IPCC’s projections for global warming, e.g. the median forecast from a recent MIT study gives a rise of 5C by 2100 (with a 10% chance it will exceed 7C). According to the Sherwood paper, “peak heat stress” (quantified by the wet-bulb temperature) never climbs above 31C across today’s climes, which is safely below the body’s normal temperature of 37C. But with a global temperature rise of 7C possible by as early as the late 21st century – even without accounting for predictable tripwires such as accelerated release of Siberian and Arctic methane – some regions of the world will be subjected to peak wet-bulb temperatures of 35C, inducing “hyperthermia in humans and other mammals, as dissipation of metabolic heat becomes impossible“. With a global temperature rise of 11-12C, a belt of uninhabitability will come to encompass the bulk of today’s densely populated areas.

Let that sink in. Forget the rainforest collapses, the icecap disintegrations, the plummeting crop yields as the increased CO2 fertilization effect is cancelled out by heat stress… during the long summers, the bulk of continental interiors below the Arctic Circle will become PHYSICALLY UNINHABITABLE for humans. Cities from Atlanta to Madrid to New Delhi will become ghost towns in the desert, crumbling relics to the long-dead gods of the industrial age.

“Periods of net heat storage can be endured, though only for a few hours… and with ample time needed for recovery”, but since “adjacent night time minima of [wet-bulb temperatures] are typically within 2-3C of the daytime peak, and adjacent daily maxima are typically within 1C”, conditions would prove intolerable “if the peak wet-bulb temperature exceeded, by more than 1-2C, the highest value that could be sustained for at least a full day”. Thus, e ven healthy individuals cannot sustain heat stress levels of above 35C for prolonged periods, because the skin must be at least 2-3C cooler than the body temperature, whose normal level is 37C. If the wet-bulb temperature rises to 38C, for instance, then the result will be a rise in body temperature to above 40C and death from hyperthermia.

Which areas will be effected? Just look at the maps below (click to enlarge, source).

real-world-heat-stress-map

[Map of max rates of global heat stress during 1999-2008. Graph represents incidences of various temperatures during this period at 60S-60N - Black is average temperature, Blue is max temperature, Red is max wet-bulb temperature. Note how maximum wet-bulb temperature takes a nose-dive after 30C, such that there are practically no instances of this measure exceeding 32C (in practice this means that today no areas are blocked off to human habitation because of excessive heat stress levels).]

simulated-world-heat-stress-map

[Same as above, except this time it's a high-CO2 world model in which global average temperatures are 12C higher than today. The white and purple areas are completely uninhabitable, while the yellow areas are only marginally habitable at best. Note how much of Siberia experiences a higher max wet-bulb temperature than today's tropics!]

For a preview of things to come, look no further than the 20,000 Parisians who died in the 2003 European heatwave**. True, most most were elderly folks with no air conditioning or climate control. But these things require a lot of energy. With dammed reservoirs drying up throughout Europe and hydrocarbon supplies peaking by 2030-50, a reliable electricity supply should not be expected (least of all during heatwaves). As the authors put it, “the power requirements of air conditioning would soar; it would surely remain unaffordable for billions in the third world and for protection of most livestock; it would not help the biosphere or protect outside workers; it would regularly imprison people in their homes; and power failures would become life threatening”. Not only people will begin to die away. So will plants and animals – indeed, the main catalyst for migration may become failed harvests and famine. Entire nations will have to pack up their bags and move north towards the peoples-teeming Mediterranean shores of the Arctic Ocean.

Finally, the authors point out that even these dark conclusions may be too optimistic, since “our limit applies to a person out of the sun, in gale-force winds, doused with water, wearing no clothing, and not working” (i.e. quite a lot of leeway for enhancing chances of survival!). In other words, it is quite possible that only polar, sub-polar, and mountainous areas will remain comfortably habitable (at least by the new standards).

One more thing I’d like to note is that the map seems to indicate that at least along coastlines, the moderating effects of the oceans will keep those areas livable. That is highly significant… even with the loss of continental interiors, some tropical and mid-latitude nations may continue eking out a bare bones sustenance existence by intensive use of permaculture, organic farming, and hydroponics (the oceans will be too acidic to support fisheries). But don’t forget about sea level rise and the ocean anoxic event.

Waves slowly lap on the quiet shore, slow-motion waves with the consistency of gelatin. Most of the shoreline is encrusted with rotting organic matter, silk-like swathes of bacterial slick now putrefying under the blazing sun… [W]e look out on the surface of the great sea itself, and as far as the eye can see there is a mirrored flatness, an ocean without whitecaps. Yet that is not the biggest surprise. From shore to the horizon, there is but an unending purple color — a vast, flat, oily purple. No fish break its surface, no birds or any other kind of flying creatures dip down looking for food. The purple color comes from vast concentrations of floating bacteria, for the oceans of Earth have all become covered with a hundred-foot thick veneer of purple and green bacterial soup. …There is one final surprise. We look upward, to the sky. … We are under a pale green sky, and it has the smell of death and poison. We have gone to Nevada of 200 million years ago only to arrive under the transparent atmospheric glass of a greenhouse extinction event, and it is poison, heat and mass death that are found in this greenhouse.

* Back in November 2009, the article abstract was put online. Published in March 2010 (access from scribd) and made its way into MSM this May (e.g. see Telegraph story).

** Incidentally, I happened to be in Paris during the 2003 heatwave. Overall, it was a pleasant visit, though the heat and multiple cold showers every day stand out in my memory.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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As someone who has stuck his neck out for the imminent reality of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in both his real and online life, it would be fitting for me to comment on the Climatic Research Unit e-mail hacking incident (and as per usual, what was originally meant as a “comment” has blossomed into a long post). Anyhow, at least to me, the Climategate sage illustrates three things.

  1. Part of the “hockey stick” hypothesis – that pre-20th century global temperatures were essentially horizontal – is seriously challenged, perhaps sunk. However, contrary to denier rhetoric, the emails do not discredit AGW theory itself, nor do they lessen the magnitude of our current predicament, nor do they contain any hint of an overarching global conspiracy to enslave us under a green socialist NWO.
  2. Some academics form mafia-like cliques to promote themselves. Having many relatives and acquaintances who work in academia and have, at times, suffered from these cliques, these “revelations” are nothing new to me. Science stopped being purely about science ever since it evolved beyond the preserve of moneyed men with time to kill.
  3. It sheds far less light on the theory of AGW per se, than on some unsavory researchers and the AGW deniers (or “climate skeptics”) themselves. In particular, the ferocity with which the latter have latched on to the stolen emails as “proof” that AGW is a giant scam only testifies to their own paranoid desperation, but one that is disturbingly successful at swaying the public opinion. To the casual observer, this is further evidence for the intractability of our Limits to Growth dilemma; even “social capital”, i.e. the public’s tolerance for necessary but painful decisions, is growing short.

Why AGW is Real

Read my Top 10 AGW Denial Myths again. How often was the hockey stick graph mentioned? Just once – and furthermore, as half an answer. Based on this rough, but nonetheless fairly typical, example of pro-AGW arguments, the work of Mann at al was thus only responsible for, at best, 2.5% of the entire theory (remember that the late 20th-century temperature spike is still undisputed, it’s their suppression of the Medieval Warm Period that is discredited). There’s more on the matter from Real Climate here and here which gives a needed wider perspective, or see George Monbiot’s The Knights Carbonic for an easier and funnier read.

Contrary to the AGW denier position, amongst the “AGW consensus” that they love to deride, no-one is disputing that natural variability, usually accruing from fluctuations in solar irradiation, can account for spikes and troughs in the global climate well before the age of mass industrialism. That does not mean that humanity’s huge buildup of atmospheric CO2 is inconsequential; both theory and the current physical evidence indicate that the extra CO2, left to business-as-usual, will force the global climatic system into a hotter, more dynamic state (portents are already seen in the melting Arctic and crumbling infrastructure of the High North). As I wrote on another blog:

There are many models from respected scientific establishments indicating that a doubling of CO2 levels will lead to 5-6C global temperature rise (which as I understand it, are essentially based on solving a massive grid of heat equations in 3D – i.e., just physics, albeit with a large degree of uncertainty when applied to RL because we don’t know the coefficients with a high enough degree of precision). However, paleoclimate evidence concurs with the higher end predictions (5-6C) – our current atmospheric CO2 level of 384+ppm was last observed during the Pliocene 3mn years ago, when global temperatures soared by 3C. Since solar radiation was not substantially different from today then, this means that the kinds of projections made in the higher-end IPCC forecasts (or Arrhenius, for that matter) are likely valid.

Secondly, you point out that there may be powerful negative feedbacks and moderating factors, which are left out of the models due to their complexity. Yes, no-one disputes that. But the same holds for the opposite, e.g. a melting Arctic will reduce ice albedo and accelerate warming in the High North, which will in turn release more methane from the defrosting permafrost. Why do you think the negative feedbacks will be stronger than the positive ones? And what about the problem of global dimming which suggests that the real magnitude of global warming has been underestimated in the past decades because of the artificial cooling effect of increased aerosol emissions like soot and SO2 particulates?

Academia is a Mafia

Like in any bureaucracy where people compete for higher status and salary, there will form cliques dedicated to furthering the causes of their members. As bitter and vindictive scientific disputes throughout history prove, academia is far from the idyllic ivory tower paradise of popular imagination. I agree that the conduct of the researchers in question here is quite reprehensible, and sullies the reputation of the entire climate science community in the public eye. To show I’m honest, here’s a link to a skeptic (yes, a real skeptic, not a denier) sent me by a reader – Climategate and Scientific Conduct.

That said, academia remains a vital pillar of industrial civilization. It is a major driver of technological growth (which is at the root of almost all the secular increase in global carrying capacity) – and the institution which, because of its relative independence compared to most think-tanks, government agencies, or corporations, can provide the most effective “scanning” for possible solutions to our overshooting of the Earth’s carrying capacity.

However, nothing truly radical can be expected of academics, because they are part of the capitalist-industrialist System, its high priests, and cannot be expected to seriously challenge any of its core tenets. Quoting from this site’s introduction to my forthcoming book:

The latter category, encompassing private think tanks and academia, have a greater degree of freedom in asking questions. However, it is ultimately the state that pays academics their salaries. Biting the hand that feeds is always dangerous, especially if their fangs contain the poison of the forbidden question. Anathema unto them. Therefore, academia’s answers also tend to conform to the reigning paradigm – or even reinforce it further with elaborate universal theories such as Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” eschatology, which alleges that Western liberal democracy is the final phase of mankind’s ideological evolution.

Academia are an essentially conservative body. The IPCC relies on consensus and generally excludes the most controversial and “pessimistic” research from its reports, of which there are more and more of, mostly focusing on the positive feedback loops that could “tip” the world over into a runaway global warming of 5C+, a degree of warming (no pun intended) that will make widening swathes of the Earth simply physically uninhabitable and will almost certainly spell the end for industrial civilization.

The Real Problem

Since geoengineering is unlikely to work, what is needed now is truly drastic action, sustainable retreat instead of business-as-usual development, something like a transition to green socialism:

  • World unity – to prevent the climate and resource wars which will otherwise become inevitable, and to prevent nations from free-riding on others’ sacrifices.
  • Social leveling – forcefully stymieing growth under capitalism amounts to an extremely regressive tax, which the people won’t stand for – at least in liberal democracies*.
  • Bigger state – to promote anti-industrial values in favor of older, communal values; to enforce social leveling / economic coercion; and to co-opt or destroy alternate sources of political power (be they multi-national corporations, terrorists, religious leaders, etc) that could challenge the worldwide green agenda.

And yes, I realize that this all sounds pretty creepy and Orwellian. This is one respect in which the deniers really do have a point, so if they suspect that the “elites” have this objective in mind, no wonder they are so fervent in opposing AGW theory with such a blatant disregard for logic and facts. But what the deniers haven’t noticed that no-one in government or even mainstream journalism is calling for the above measures, which I by now believe are the only way to possibly avert catastrophe a few decades down the road. Some policy-makers may well be aware of humanity’s predicament, but are simply too imprisoned by public opinion to ever dare voice it out aloud.

* Pursuing carbon emissions reduction mechanisms under the capitalist-industrial System, as currently proposed, is not going to work at any level. In particular, the idea of doing carbon rationing by introducing a virtual parallel currency inter-changeable with real money is unrealizable – it is extremely regressive, and unlikely to pass in democracies (and if does will breed social instability – if you make the cost of carbon high enough to have any substantial impact). Furthermore, nation-states are not going to risk implementing such drastic measures within their borders unless most other states are doing it – otherwise, it would be too hard to convince their electorates that the effort, which is in the end futile (due to non-compliance and free-riding), is worth it. Note that cooperation in a multi-player game like this is exceedingly hard, and no state will want to be the first to take the plunge. These psychological factors spell doom for any attempt at national cap-and-trade or international contraction-and-convergence.

Climategate: The Death of Social Capital

Perhaps at a subconscious level people really do realize our predicament, and after all, denial is the first phase of recovery (though in all fairness, some have moved on to bargaining – “geoengineering, markets, technology, aliens!”, while others have even advanced onto the depressive state – “it’s so bad it’s too late to do anything anyway”). But mostly, it’s still anger and denial. Around 59% of Britons, to be precise, to whom populist blowhards like James Delingpole cater to (together with the stunningly ignorant and Russophobic Tim Collard; I think Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is the Telegraph‘s only good columnist).

Speaking of Russia, Russia Today has latched onto this story, seeing a good market for those Anglo-Saxons frustrated with their “globalist”, “NWOish” media (in some ways, a funny fit, though on second thought quite logical). Furthermore, it’s also well known that Russia is one of the few countries, along with Canada, to benefit from global warming, as I pointed out in Towards a New Russian Century? So perhaps the Kremlin has given signals to its media to downplay AGW? To be honest, I doubt it – frankly, I doubt the Russian government’s strategic vision is that good. But it’s food for thought.

Below is an interview with a frothing Alex Jones.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdTYxis6UZ0&w=425&h=344]

And another one featuring a debate between Aleksey Kokorin (pro-AGW), the WWF’s Climate Program Coordination in Russia, and Piers Corbyn (anti-AGW), a maverick British weather forecaster. Watch it, it gets quite heated in the end. ;)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anHuOAXIl0M&w=425&h=344]

[Kokorin is incorrect that there was no malaria in Russia prior to the period of accelerated global warming - it was a major scourge, during summer when even Siberia became very warm due to its continental landmass, prior to eradication efforts in the 1930's. However, both the scope and duration of the region of malarial danger has increased substantially since the 1990's in Russia, and almost all GW forecasts project an increase in malarial infestation. Unfortunately, Kokorin has a very poor interview technique and spends most of his time appealing to authority, which just happens to be under question after Climategate. Corbyn comes across as a loon. But I suspect more people will believe him regardless.]

Anyhow, why am I showcasing this denier propaganda? To illustrate how individuals acting for their own individual, corporate, or national gain, are free to pander to the fears and sensibilities of electorates to forestall the necessary changes and to tar those pushing for them, even just by association (as pointed out, the damage to the public’s perception of the pro-AGW will be far out of proportion to the actual damage on its internal consistency / validity, which is pretty minimal). This is not an indictment of democracy, except perhaps by implication; just an observation.

5. Climategate: A Turning Point in the Malthusian Loop?

Furthermore, this illustrates another facet of our Limits to Growth predicament. At least in their modeling, the authors stuck to quantitative aspects such as the resource base, the production base, the agricultural base, pollution, services, etc. One of the major things they neglect, however, is the socio-political side of things – the “social capital” that sustains political legitimacy, especially important for liberal democracies that only have limited coercive tools at their disposal.

Real living standards have grown slowly, for some income groups even stagnated, since the 1970′s. Some attribute this to the pernicious influence of neoliberalism; I see it as one of the earliest expressions of approaching limits, of which the 2008 economic crisis is part and parcel (global energy production stopped growing exponentially from the 1970′s). At this point of the “Malthusian Loop” (see my article The Belief Matrix), the hoi polloi are becoming disillusioned, even restless.

Before the industrial era, all societies were subject to Malthusian dynamics in which population growth saturated the carrying capacity of the land and leveled off at an unstable plateau. The period of high growth was typically regarded as a Golden Age of bucolic virtue (e.g. republican Rome), which I’ve labeled The Rise of Empire. Because of limits to growth, this could not last. Subsistence stress resulted in the growth of cities and large standing armies to soak up the landless poor, and literate bureaucrats to manage the new problems. Paradoxically, even as problems loomed on the horizons many aspects of culture like literacy, inventiveness, etc, flourished. This is because society encouraged its thinkers to “scan” for solutions to these problems. [Society moves towards down on the Belief Matrix, towards "Rationalism" / "The Idea of the West"].

However, these same cities and intelligentsia fuel feelings of resentment on the part of peasants on account of a) their perceived decadence and lasciviousness and b) the fact that said degenerates are supported by their taxes. To accommodate the rising reaction and diminishing surpluses, politicians and kings are forced to go back to the future. Way back. [There is a reaction against "Rationalism", and society moves up along the Belief Matrix towards "Mysticism"]. Quoting from my notes on Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies:

At this point, decomposition rapidly becomes inevitable as “scanning” ceases, for the system no longer has the surpluses to do it. In most cases rigid behavioral controls are imposed, innovation and positive change is stymied and corruption, authoritarianism and feudalism begin to dominate … for society is enslaved to its own myths of superiority and delusions of grandeur.

… Censuses and historical detail thin, as literacy and science declined during this period to be replaced by an “increase in mysticism, and knowledge by revelation”, as well as by “increased propaganda about patriotism, ancient Roman values, and superiority over the barbarians”.

Yet this is only a stopgap measure, for by now eventual demise is inevitable:

Increasingly radical attempts to save the system, even cardinally change it, cannot permanently reserve the trend towards further complexity and disequilibrium; eventually, everyone loses faith in the system and there is a severe collapse. …

… According to RM Adams, “By the fifth century, men were ready to abandon civilization itself in order to escape the fearful load of taxes”. In 476, after being denied payment or settlement in Italy, the Roman barbarian army mutinied, sacked Rome and deposed Romulus Augustus, the last Western Emperor.

In other words, society begins by rejecting the “Idea of the West” (in Roman times, proxied by “rule of law” and Greek scientific-rationalism), and the state intensifies efforts to both legitimize itself and coerce people into believing in it. But nonetheless, a breaking point is eventually reached and society loses faith in the state (hitherto, tradition), culminating in the collapse of civilization, a prolonged period of anarchy and reversion to older forms of social existence focused on family, clan and community (denoted as The Collapse of Civilization).

Mark Lynas bewails the war on science in Leaked emails mark dangerous shift in climate denial strategy.

And the strategy is simple. Given that scientists are one of society’s most trusted groups (unlike journalists or politicians), the climate denial movement has begun a battle to undermine public trust in climate scientists themselves. No more will the legions of anonymous researchers who collect and interpret data from meteorological stations, satellites and ice cores be considered above the fray – they now run the risk of personal attacks, exposure of their private lives and vilification.

It is important to understand the significance of this. Scientists are not politicians. They are not used to communicating publicly. They trust in their objectivity, the objectivity of their peers, and the rigour of only citing work published in learned journals. They will have private views, but are very used to keeping these out of their work – indeed the entire scientific method is based on conducting research which can be replicated by peers in order to check its accuracy and objectivity.

Like the 9/11 conspiracy theories before it, the global warming conspiracy is palpably absurd. The idea that scientists have teamed up with governments and the United Nations to foist some kind of social control project on an unwary public is laughable – it would need conspiratorial activities involving thousands of people, for a start..

None of this would matter if the public weren’t fooled. But they are. Polls show climate “scepticism” is rising, perhaps even to a majority position, on both sides of the Atlantic. Presumably public trust in climate change scientists is falling commensurately. This will in turn undermine consensus in mitigating climate change – which is of course the very intention of the deniers in the first place.

I expect an intensification of the war on science in the decades ahead. Climategate proves just how shallow “social capital” really is. Is there an economic crisis? Too bad, let’s stimulate the economy with even more debt-driven spending and forget those pesky greens (too bad we’ll see more and more peak oil-driven economic crises in the future, the next one probably in 2011-12). Is there at least one group of ethically-challenged climate researchers? Too bad, let’s dismiss all of them. With attitudes like this, it is impossible to surmount our Limits to Growth predicament.

The strongmen who will replace internationalist liberal democracy before the final demise of industrial civilization will have little interest in people even asking the wrong questions, let alone venturing the correct answers. Those that don’t toe the party line, be they high priests or peasant grunts, will be strung up, the old order purged and overthrown. “Scanning” will end. The show may be fun to watch, though increasingly dangerous.

What is to be Done?

Lynas ends his piece with this limp-wristed plea:

We have to start accentuating the positive, rather than constantly invoking apocalypse. Getting off fossil fuels is a necessity, but that does not mean that people’s lives must be made harder or more austere. Forget all the “war economy” analogies, locally grown jam and appeals to save old clothes. Our message needs to be a forward-looking one of hope, prosperity and technological progress.

Unfortunately, I am almost 100% certain this will not work. The AGW movement thrives on (justified) alarmism. Forsaking this, especially at this late stage of the game, will only serve to relegate the issues to the backburner (until it burns us all). If it hadn’t been for their depictions of fiery Hell, the high priests of any civilization wouldn’t have been anywhere near as effective at preventing sin, or legitimizing the state that made both sins and high priests possible. (In a collapsed anarchy, there is neither).

Revolutions aren’t made by sissies, not when the people themselves are against the revolutionaries anyway. We must press on and attack, undermine the capitalist-industrial System in every way possible. (Necessary disclaimer: legally, of course). The time for waiting, for pointless Earth Days and meaningless street solicitations for Greenpeace, or for green Gramscian subversion to show results, is past. The hour is late. Green socialism must be pursued with Bolshevik fervor.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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I’ve long viewed the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) denial movement with a certain sense of bemusement. The causal links are rock-solid – could it really be a coincidence that atmospheric CO2 levels started rising at the very same moment as industrial civilization got into swing, within decades reaching magnitudes big enough to decisively interrupt the glacial-interglacial cycle that previously held steady for hundreds of thousands of years? Is it really surprising that given the heat-absorbing properties of CO2 (known to science since the 18th century), global temperatures entered into a period of steep ascent since the 1970s, rising by around 0.9C from the 1900-1910 period to the last decade? Occam’s Razor anyone? And considering that only 6C or so separate us from the Ice Ages, when ice sheets descended into central Europe, southern England was a polar wasteland scoured by icy, dust-laden winds and dessication affected even the tropics, should not even the possibility of seeing the world warm by up to 6.4C during this century – corresponding to the high end of the IPCC’s forecasts in 2007 – invoke a certain level of concern?

I plan to write more on climate change, since it is going to be one of the key trends of this century (along with resource depletion and growth in computing power). But for now – and to forestall any future objections – I would like to take a moment to expose the top myths and misconceptions of AGW deniers.

10

It’s all a conspiracy – scientists want research funding and environmentalists want to impose socialism on us.

Frankly the idea that tens of thousands are colluding in a massive conspiracy is risible. If anything it is the denier camp which has economic incentives to promote their views, given the funding they receive from the fossil-fuel industry. The Bush administration scientists pursued a campaign of disinformation and outright censorship regarding AGW. So who are the real conspirators?

9

In past warmings temperatures in Antarctica began rising some 800 years prior to rising CO2.

The warmings took 5000 years to complete, so CO2 can’t account for just 1/6 of it. The initial warming is likely related to the Earth’s orbital cycles around the Sun. After a certain critical level of temperature rise is passed, more CO2 is released into the atmosphere – perhaps from its deep ocean sinks, since it takes around a millennium to diffuse heat to the ocean depths. This further amplifies warming in a positive feedback loop. Read more here and here.

8

There is no scientific consensus on AGW. And even if there is, it doesn’t mean it’s right.

Yes there is. In a January 2009 poll, 97% of climatologists active in research today said they believed that “human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures”. A 2004 study by Naomi Oreskes of close to a thousand papers related to global climate change found that not one rejected the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change.

Though consensuses are sometimes wrong, they are right in the vast majority of cases. Though Patrick Michaels may claim there is a “paradigm problem” (borrowing from T. Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions) with the conservative IPCC which serves to suppress mavericks, it goes the other way too – the IPCC generally neglects to mention new, outlying research which suggests that climate may change at a much more sudden and violent pace because of previously-unknown positive feedbacks and underestimated climate sensitivity.

7

Satellite sensors and equipment on weather balloons show evidence of cooling, thus disproving that eight of the hottest years have been since 1998 and other sensationalist claims.

Satellites don’t just measure the troposphere (the lowest level of the atmosphere) – which is what matters – in isolation, but also the higher stratosphere. The latter is expected to cool during global warming, because more heat is absorbed by the Earth and less is re-radiated into space. Furthermore, satellites are dependent on weekly recalibration by weather balloons so they cannot even be said to be independent.

As for the weather balloons, the problem is that during the 1960′s and 1970′s their on-board thermometers were not shielded from the Sun’s glare – thus inflating temperatures for that time period. Since this (obvious) oversight was fixed in the past couple of decades, the juxtaposed records appear to invalidate global warming…appear being the operative word. For when the analysis is restricted to just night-time measurements, surely enough the data shows a clear warming trend.

6

With “friends” like Al Gore, the global warming lobby needs no enemies!

Al Gore is a popularizer who happens to make good money from his activities. He has an admirable spirit of capitalist enterprise. Good for him. For the record, I haven’t even watched An Inconvenient Truth in full (and don’t plan to any time soon – it is nothing more than a basic and long-winded intro to the subject). The pilot fishes who drone on about AGW-supporters being “Gore’s dupes” are (US-centric) idiots.

And though Jurassic Park was brilliant and Prey was very good, with “friends” like Michael Crichton the AWG denial lobby needs no enemies!

5

Surface measurements indicating warming are flawed because increasing urbanization over the past few decades skewed the global data upwards, since cities hang on to heat better than the natural landscape.

Intuitively unlikely, because the greatest warming took place over Arctic regions well away from big population centers (global warming is more severe there because retreating ice and reduces snowfall diminishes the albedo of the land, resulting in greater heat absorption). Furthermore, urban heat islands occur mainly at night and are reduced in windy conditions. A study showed that global temperatures have risen as much on windy nights as on calm nights, “indicating that the observed overall warming is not a consequence of urban development”.

4

The global warming alarmists base their theories of man-made climate change on spurious allegations of a “Hockey Stick”, and neglect the dominant role of water vapor as a greenhouse gas.

Late 20th century temperatures are indeed anomalously high relative to the past millennium, thus forming a hockey stick on a temperature over time graph for the period. Evidence for AGW is far more extensive that just this, however.

Although water vapor is indeed acknowledged to be the most important greenhouse gas, it is primarily a feedback because of its extremely short (ie measured in days) residence time in the atmosphere. This means it merely responds to forcings such as CO2 levels or solar radiation. Increased anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases will amplify the greenhouse effect, strengthen evaporation and increase the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere.

3

You can’t use computer models to predict something as complex and chaotic as the global climate.

Though the details are indeed hard to capture, it is easy to see that a thicker blanket of greenhouse gases will cause the Earth to absorb more heat and force the climate system into a new, hotter and more energetic equilibrium. It’s also clear that due to changes in albedo, some areas will warm faster than others and global water and air flows will be altered. There is nothing wrong with using computers to model them by solving lots of physical equations – it’s much quicker than doing it by hand (speaking of which, in the 1890′s the Norwegian chemist Svante Arrhenius solved the riddle of the Ice Ages, attributing it to and correctly predicting the lower CO2 levels of that time; using the same method, he forecast a temperature rise of 5-6C for a doubling of CO2 levels, thus almost mirroring the IPCC’s high-end scenarios). Finally, it’s not all computer models, of course – there’s also paleoclimatic studies, which if anything hint at an even more pessimistic state of affairs. Our current atmospheric CO2 level of 384+ ppm was last observed during the Pliocene 3mn years ago, when global temperatures soared by 3C.

2

Climate fluctuations are all down to solar cycles and cosmic rays.

This does not account for the strong warming seen since the 1970′s – as you can see in the graph below, direct measurements of solar output since 1978 show a steady rise and fall over the 11-year sunspot cycle, with no upwards or downward trend.

Though there are arguments about the relative importance of solar forcing in the distant past, it is clear that in the present day its effects have been largely swamped by the sheer amount of CO2 we’ve emitted – though it continues playing an important role as perhaps illustrated by how the 1998-2003 period of mid-latitudinal drought coincided with the peak of the most recent wave.

Similarly, cosmic rays can’t explain the recent warming either.

1

Global warming my ass! There’s a mighty blizzard where I live right now!

Weather is not climate. Using this example as “proof” of the lack of AGW is about as valid as citing a particular heatwave as “proof” for it. That is, not at all.

Furthermore, global warming does not mean absolutely every place on Earth will on warm – due to heat redistribution, some places will warm much more than others, and some might even cool. For instance, the collapse of the ocean conveyor belt in the North Atlantic could theoretically plunge Europe in a new Little Ice Age.

Other objections

Not to worry. Though warming is happening, the IPCC is unduly alarmist since there are many negative feedbacks. Past changes were slow and we will adapt easily over the coming centuries. It will get warmer, nicer and crop yields will soar. And if not, there’s always geo-engineering.

Somewhat more intellectually valid…but still probably wrong.

As mentioned in #8, the IPCC is a slow, conservative institution that has up till now relied on conventional AGW models without accounting for potential catastrophic positive feedbacks (ocean acidification and the dessication of the Amazon rainforest removing vital CO2 sinks; melting permafrost and oceanic clathrates resulting in massive methane releases). Since Greenland and West Antarctica were recently found to be inherently much more unstable than previously thought, large-scale ice sheet collapse and inundations could occur over decades rather than the centuries and millennia projected in IPCC reports. Though there may exist negative feedbacks, such as a drier troposphere or increased cloud formation (yet even here the question of whether it will constitute a positive or negative feedback is poorly understood), they seem easily outnumbered by positively positive feedbacks.

There are plenty of examples of dramatic climatic shifts in Earth history. The Younger Dryas-Holocene transition 11,000 years ago consisted of a series of sudden jumps over a few years. Sea levels can also rise at rates far exceeding those needed for smooth human adaptation. Considering that greenhouse gas levels are rising at rates probably unprecedented in Earth history and that global dimming may have suppressed as much as half of the real warming (thus indicating that the climate sensitivity to CO2 levels used in conventional climate models is dangerously under-estimated), changes in coming decades are likely to be rapid and not for the better. Ocean acidification will finish off the world’s already depleted fish stocks and droughts in today’s temperate regions will break the world’s major breadbaskets; though agriculture can in principle be moved to Siberia and the Far North, the soils there are thin and acidic, and are unlikely to compensate in net terms.

Geo-engineering is, not surprisingly, rather risky – the climate system is not well understood, and fiddling with it could further worsen the problem. And not every country is expected to have absolutely altruistic aims when it comes to tweaking the world’s climate. Yet ultimately, for once we agree – I think it very likely that humanity will be forced into gambling with geo-engineering as the century unfolds. Perhaps climate stability is doomed and geo-engineering – in essense, humanity taking control of planetary ecological services previously provided for free – is already the only realistic choice left.

The hypocrisy of “Earth Day”, and other limp-wristed measures: the one issue where I find common ground with the deniers

Considering that there are 8760 hours in a year, turning off your lights for one of them is going to do absolutely zilch and is nothing more than an empty gesture of false atonement for one’s ecological sins; it is a kind of social placebo to delude people into thinking they’re doing something good for the environment, whereas in reality it is just an escape clause for guilt-ridden liberals that allows them to avoid making the real and initially painful changes society needs to attain long-term sustainability. As such, I join AGW-denying conservatives in boycotting this farce – albeit for obviously diametrically opposite reasons.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.