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Hope and climate change

June 25th, 2013

According to various reports, Obama is making a speech today in which he will announce limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. These limits can be imposed by regulation, and are justified by court decisions requiring the Environmental Protection Authority to control greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama has been a disappointment in all sorts of ways, but effective action on climate change would be sufficient, for me, to redeem his presidency. None of the other things we are fighting about will matter unless there is a livable planet on which to fight.

Going from realistic hope to wishful thinking, a sufficiently positive reaction on this might give him the nerve to block the Keystone pipeline. But strong action on power plants would be enough for me – it’s really up to Canadians to stop the oil sands menace.

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  1. Newtownian
    June 27th, 2013 at 13:56 | #1

    @Megan

    I would disagree that “6-8 degrees celsius” is “locked in” as far as the physics goes (unless all the feedbacks like permafrost methane etc.. work out really bad).

    But it might not be such a far-fetched “alarmist” suggestion if we assume the world continues to be run by the people and ideologies we have now (free market fundamentalists, neo-cons etc..).

    I agree with you Megan. It all depends on the scenario that unfolds and at the moment the horror of business as usual still looks on the cards.

    So Ikonoclast’s comments looks alarmist until you look at Graham Turners revisiting of the LTG story and then you wonder if maybe he is just a realist. I haven’t seen anything to contradict Turner’s analysis and they say up to 2008 essentially things had been business as usual in terms of so many development parameters. More broadly Robert May stated based on ecological footprint analysis we had 10 years to change the course of the Titanic perceptably. Here now in 2013 little seems to have change. There are green shoots, photovoltaics success stories and a new generation of activists emerging. But the mass change has yet to coalesce.

    Events since last decade seem to have further entrenched the current economic system that got us this mess, and hence business as usual, so I think Ikon deserves a bit of slack.

    If I’d seen a really substantive change internationally I also might think differently. But the Rio20+ conference completely fudged climate change and sustainability and ran the old line of ‘we’ll make the world all wealthy, then we will tackle climate change’. Yea right. Like ‘trickle down’ wealth. This is straight out of my neoclassical environmental economics text so it doesn’t point to any change in thinking of the kind needed in the halls of power. Then there has been the kicking the emissions can down the road since Copenhagen as seen most recently at Doha which is evident to anyone who has ever worked in a bureaucracy. It all points to business as usual.

    I’ve recently been made aware also that some partial ‘successes’ are fudges. The US and UK growth in CO2 seems to have slowed markedly since 1990. Hooray? Nuh. Have a read of Wiedmann T. 2009. A review of recent multi-region input–output models used for consumption-based emission and resource accounting. Ecological Economics 69:211-222.

    Much of the decline was achieved by deindustrialization of their economies as judged by the increase in imported embedded CO2 emissions. Neat trick that.

    As to being the locked into a runaway Greenhouse scenario which JQ says is outside the scientific predictions – The worry I have there is even if fossil fuel burning can be curtailed to a degree:

    1. The IPCC is considered to be conservative and they still include a scenario with a 6C upper bound in 2099.
    2. There are some nasty additional positive feedbacks comparable to what is happening in the Arctic Ocean which could boost climate change by themselves and as I understand haven’t been fully factored in here yet. I’m thinking here melting of the tundra and albedo change and microbial CO2 and methane emissions.
    3. Then you need to add the fact that the tundra is exactly where warming will be greatest.
    4. Beyond that if we get to 4 C in 2099 there will likely be additional rises also locked into the system unless this date coincides exactly with the peak in business as usual warming. Steven Schneider talked about this complication just before he sadly died.
    5. Even if emissions can be reduced by 40% by eliminating coal fired power say by 2050 economic growth could easily wipe out the savings.
    6. We are having enough trouble with the first easy decarbonisation steps. How the next harder achievements are to be made is anyone’s guess. Technically I agree climate change is probably possible. But so technically is world peace. Its just the politics and economics that gets in the way.

    I would like to be wrong but I just don’t see social changes. And given Republican recalcitrance and Obama still being committed to a growth economy I don’t hold much hope for his initiatives either.

  2. Newtownian
    June 27th, 2013 at 13:59 | #2

    @Ikonoclast

    The upper end of the scenarios (A1F1) in the very conservative and politically managed IPCC report comes in at a likely range of 2.4 – 6.4 degrees C rise by year 2100.

    seconded

  3. Newtownian
    June 27th, 2013 at 15:34 | #3

    @Mel

    If extreme ice melt occurs at a lower than expected temp and threatens the seaside mansions of the plutocrats and causes a profit-munching global economic shock as the world’s major cities face the serious threat of looking like New Orleans post-Katrina, action will happen on a heretofore unimaginable scale. The world would galvanise with a singular purpose not seen since WWII.

    Fran is also correct to remind us that a cautious exploration of geo-engineering measures is a possibility that shouldn’t be ignored.

    One could be forgiven reading this thread that you and Ikonoclast are a long way apart when you actually seem to primarily disagree on what it will take to change the current energy/economic/infrastructure system. You seem to feel we’ll get change in a timely manner, while he doesn’t. (I’m enjoying the view from the razor wire fence)

    If you are happy to accept this with proviso’s I’m curious about how you see breaking down the barriers such as the following:

    1. Increasing rather than decreasing global orientation toward growth:
    - I’m yet to see any movement toward de-growth or sustainability even of the form we had 20 years ago. There is a lot going on under the surface but it isn’t spring yet.
    - Sustainability has been reworked internationally/bureaucratically to mean ‘Green Growth’ as of Rio20+
    - (I would be interested in what JQ would see this new Green economic system looking like. I looked for something in vain in ‘Prosperity without Growth’ and am still looking without success).

    2. The extreme tolerance people seem to actually have for living in hell. Consider:
    - First word – Beijing.
    - Second word – Queenstown Tasmania.

    3. The capacity for becoming acclimatized like the frog in the cooking pot
    - e.g. only limited discussions about the Arctic Ocean melt.

    4. Lags in impacts
    - by the time the disaster you have mind (collapse of Greenland ice sheet?) it is likely to be too late because of the slow pace of heating.
    - the implications of the heat last January seem to have been forgotten but not surprising when you see what Qataris tolerate in Doha in July (good title to a climate change book).

    5. People’s tolerance for moving to a ‘war economy’ when there is no war in the traditional sense and a lot of profit to be made by the naysayers.
    - I think this actually took a lot longer despite the constant images of the Nazis and repeated appeasement – there were serious plans when the US entered the war but they had two years real warning and even then it was a near run thing.

  4. Fran Barlow
    June 27th, 2013 at 15:51 | #4

    @John Quiggin

    John Brookes said:

    I’m not voting for the bastard. {presumably R__d}

    PrQ responded:

    Fine. We’ll get Abbott and I’ll blame you every time you comment on anything.

    That’s the political hostage taker argument that one hears every election from the ALP. If both sides are equally pernicious, one must have the right to opt out, surely. As things stand, both sides stand equally condemned. Neither is supportable. That’s true not just in safe seats but in marginals too.

    Had I been planning to preference the ALP, I’d certainly not be doing that now.

  5. Mel
    June 27th, 2013 at 18:18 | #5

    Ikon:

    “In that case, secondary emissions and problems in ecological cycles, like forest fires, methane de-gassing from the tundra and drops in overall photosynthesis rates are likely to do the same job.”

    Nope. That’s just you playing amateur scientist. Rest assured the IPCC knows more about this than you and I and have factored it in to their calculations.

    “It seems a safe assumption that knock-on effects and unforeseen effects (tending to raise temperatures beyond IPCC estimates) will outweigh knock-on effects and unforeseen effects which would tend to lower temperatures. ”

    Nope. Actual experience contradicts your opining. Moreover significant numbers of micro knowns and unknowns cancel each other out. The literature on this is available at your finger tips.

    “I stand by my high end estimates as being a valid and justifiable opinion suggested by a broad view of relevant science.”

    You also stood by a UN graph on disasters as proof of a trend towards a crescendo of catastrophes without even noticing that the definition of disasters including disease outbreaks like HIV/AIDS; physical events not remotely connected to climate like tsunamis; and without taking into account improved reporting or population growth. You clutch at each and every available straw to support your claims without any discernible quality control. This is somewhat entertaining to witness but otherwise valueless.

    PrQ nailed it:

    Asserting that 6-8 degrees of warming is inevitable, or even likely, is both wrong and unhelpful.

    Nonetheless, if you enjoy fear mongering, knock yourself out. We’re all entitled to our pastimes ;)

  6. alfred venison
    June 27th, 2013 at 19:13 | #6

    Jim Rose :
    @alfred venison Alberta has high incomes and low taxes.

    jim rose
    low taxes & high incomes for people with jobs. being the only place in north america with no sales tax, means the richest province in canada is running a deficit budget while the oil corporations make runaway profits in a low tax regime.

    the office for managing oil royalties for entire province with reserves the size of saudi arabia is staffed by one man. any politician of any party critical of oil has no future in alberta. did i mention the highly popular premier, with massive grass roots support in his party, who mentioned the royalties, was removed in his first term?

    edmonton is the murder capital of canada, with vast new cheap gerry-built suburbs full of unemployed would-be oil workers from the east with knives, poor prospects and next to no social support.

    its a first past the post system where the conservatives have been in office since 1971 and social credit before that back to 1935. a two party system.

    local farmers & small business people, who in other places might stand for office for non conservative parties, are intimidated out of it and threatened with boycott & ruin of their small businesses and ostracism from their communities.

    the canadians won’t stop the oil sands because they really don’t control what’s going on. as long as american & china are prepared to buy the tar sands oil, the corporations will drill it up and ship it to them, get rich in the process, and leave the province an impoverished environmentally damaged wilderness when they go.

    its hard to do but they did it and alberta in 2013 makes social credit look good. -a.v.

  7. Jim Rose
    June 27th, 2013 at 20:14 | #7

    @alfred venison there are elections in canada, including landslides, governments can lose most of their seats

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