Citizen Action Monitor

What does it mean to say “We’ll muddle through” this crisis? It means the rich live, the poor die

The problem with carbon is that it’s pervasive, “in every single facet of our daily lives” – there is no quick fix.

No 1960 Posted by fw, May 18, 2017

“The problem with carbon, it’s in the dyes in my shirt; it’s in the ship that brought my shirt here; it’s how we travelled to this event; it keeps the lights on; it’s keeping your computer running. Carbon is completely pervasive. It’s in every single facet of our daily lives…. We have no historical precedent of ever being able to remove or change society in a way with having to change it by removing carbon out of it within say two to three decades.”Kevin Anderson

“So why is the mood here [at COP21] quite optimistic? To me it seems that we may well have passed some tipping points. We’ll find out in the next few decades…. This is the modern version of ‘Let them eat cake.’ We seem to be accepting of the fact that our lifestyle will not change very much. But somehow, we have to put in a legal framework, a political framework, a governance framework to solve the problem, without affecting our lifestyles.”Hugh Hunt

The two passages above are excerpted from a spontaneous conversation between two of Britain’s most vocal scientists on climate change and engineering: Kevin Anderson, the Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, who holds a joint chair in Energy and Climate Change at the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester; and Dr. Hugh Hunt, a professor in Engineering Dynamics & Vibration at Cambridge University.

The 32:40-minute video-recorded conversation between Anderson and Hunt took place in December 2015, at COP  21 in Paris, and was likely moderated by journalist and filmmaker, Nick Breeze.

In Part 1 of this series, Hunt and Anderson emphasized the significance of the recent introduction of carbon budgets, as a measure of emission reduction progress, into the climate change debate: carbon budgets have been a big game-changer in terms of “really big policy implications.”

In Part 2, Hunt, while agreeing that time is the problem, attempts to inject a note of optimism into the conversation by suggesting there may be ways to “buy time”, enough time to put in place “low carbon energy supply” changes. Anderson quickly counters, calling for “realistic, not optimistic” ideas. Hunt and Anderson sarcastically dismiss technological quick fixes like Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Biomass Energy Carbon Capture Storage (BECCS). This section of the discussion ends on a note of agreement — this technology is not up and running, and working, and it’s very speculative.

In this powerful post, Part 3, Anderson and Hunt highlight four major climate-related problems humanity now faces: getting CO2 out of the atmosphere; ocean acidification; the enormous social challenge; and the risk of policymakers betting on some “Doctor Strangelove” quick fix. The problem with carbon-based energy, warns Anderson, is that it’s pervasive, “in every single facet of our daily lives” – there is no quick fix. Hunt asks why the mood at COP21 is “quite optimistic” given the challenges we face. We’re not prepared for future rising temperatures or for “the impacts.” If we do manage to “muddle through” it will be because we’re rich enough to survive, while the poor die. We’re failing, says Anderson, because of our “lack of humanity.” “Economics should be there to serve society. Now what we have is society is there to serve economics.”

The inhumanity of “muddling through”

This repost below includes the complete embedded video, my subheadings and text highlighting. As well, my transcript covers that section of the video beginning at 10:44 and ending at 18:21 minutes.

To watch the Video on You Tube, sans transcript, click on the following linked title.

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Dr. Hugh Hunt & Professor Kevin Anderson discussing Climate Change realities uploaded to You Tube by Nick Breeze, December 20, 2015

TRANSCRIPT

SCREEN MESSAGE: With CO2 levels now rising above 400 ppm, we’re already well above the agreed safe level of 350, and on course for dangerous warming. So we’ll have to perform some serious magic to “put the genie back in the bottle.” Do you think it’s feasible – if so, what can we do?

Humans have put a trillion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, now we have to get it out 

Hunt – One genie we have to pull out of the bottle is to get CO2 out of the atmosphere [that] we’ve put in the last 250 years, getting on to a trillion tons of CO2. A big number. What does this number mean? It’s so big. I mean how many grains of sand are there on a beach? It’s just uncountable. But it is a big number. We’ve got to get it out again.

Over the next couple of centuries, CO2 will acidify the oceans, putting this delicate ecology in an “extremely precarious position

Over the next century or two it’s naturally going to make its way into the oceans. And the oceans are going to become acidic. From what we know about acidic oceans, shell fish can’t make their shells. The delicate ecology of the oceans is in an extremely precarious position. So that’s one genie we’ve got to pull out of the bag.

The primary challenge we face is the current low “scare level”, which reduces any immediate sense of urgency to address the climate change problem 

Anderson – There are two genies here, if you like. I think one is much more realistic genie than the other one. The first one is – both are hugely challenging – but the first one, the social challenge of us reducing our energy consumption, whilst we put in place this low carbon energy supply.

Now we have done that before. Unfortunately, it occurred at times of things like wars, and we haven’t got a war metaphor. People don’t think of climate change like we do think of a war. Looking at the UK, we had 22 miles of channel, and we could see the enemy on the other side.

We don’t see climate change like that. That’s somehow the – the level of the scare of the urgency has to be one that is reflected by that sort of metaphor, which is hugely challenging but doable.

Another challenge will occur if policymakers bet that some future CO2-sucking technologies will buy us time

The other genie – there’s this highly risky approach of assuming that some technology in the future will suck the CO2 out of the air, and that also, in the interim, we keep our fingers crossed that these feedbacks that you were talking about before – this idea that the permafrost melting and releasing methane into the atmosphere – that these feedbacks won’t start putting lots of other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and then what we do is almost irrelevant.

So, there are two genies there. One [World War 2] we have some example of realizing it at time when things are very challenging for us, but we have done it. And the other one is this technology, Doctor Strangelove technology, in 2050 or beyond, and our fingers crossed in the interim that we’re not going to get these sets of feedbacks.

Has the quick fix to the Ozone problem given people a false sense of hope in “a neat engineering solution to the CO2 problem?”  

Hunt – Don’t you think that the fixing of the ozone layer by getting rid of CFC [chlorofluorocarbon], it’s kind of given people this false sense of – Look, we solved the ozone layer problem by replacing CFCs in our refrigerators, so we can solve this problem?

And the scale of the problems is completely different. And there was a neat engineering solution to the CFC problem. What is a neat engineering solution to the CO2 problem?

The problem with the carbon problem is that it’s deeply embedded “in every single facet of our daily lives” – there is no quick fix

Anderson – This is a huge issue. We think we have these historical precedents like the ozone issue, like acid rain. The ozone issue was solved by bolting a hydrogen molecule onto the same chemical they were using before, and selling it from the same company – and they made money from it. And the acid rain problem was solved by losing low sulphur coal.

And that was pretty much how we managed to deal with it in the end. And making a shift to gas to a degree.

And we think now we can do the same thing with carbon. The problem with carbon, it’s in the dyes in my shirt; it’s in the ship that brought my shirt here; it’s how we travelled to this event; it keeps the lights on; it’s keeping your computer running. Carbon is completely pervasive. It’s in every single facet of our daily lives. That’s not the case with CFCs. It wasn’t the case with the issues that fed into acid rain. We have no historical precedent of ever being able to remove or change society in a way with having to change it by removing carbon out of it within say two to three decades.

Why is the mood at COP21 “quite optimistic” given that we may have already passed some tipping points?

Hunt – So why is the mood here [at COP21] quite optimistic? To me it seems that we may well have passed some tipping points. We’ll find out in the next few decades.

“I feel as if we’re not prepared”

I’ve been a scout leader for awhile and our motto is “Be prepared.” And I feel as if we’re not prepared. It’s like we’re hiking and we’ve still got another ten miles to go before our campsite. It’s getting dark. Do you think we ought to pitch up our tents? And we say, “Oh, we didn’t bring tents.” I mean…

We’re not prepared for future temperatures, and not at all prepared for “the impacts”

Anderson – We’re certainly not prepared for the sorts of temperatures we’re heading towards and the impacts, we’re not prepared for that at all. The crowd optimism comes from rich people in the northern hemisphere think that we can buy our way out this. We see what the Dutch did. The Dutch live below sea level. You’re not going to do that on the coast of Bangladesh where a thirty million people live. And it gets hit by typhoons.

Belief we’ll “muddle through” means: “We’ll muddle through because we’re rich enough to do it, and the poor will die.”

The people in the northern hemisphere think somehow we have the wherewithal to deal with a sort of 2-3°C temperature rise. But the poor people around the world simply won’t. And you hear a lot of people use this language: “We’ve got to muddle through.” What that means is – “We’ll muddle through because we’re rich enough to do it, and the poor will die.” That’s what we mean by that.

The language we use about other parts of the world is “fairly savage” – We’re failing partly because of our “lack of humanity”

There are some very concerning – the language we use, if you peel away the layers and look underneath it, what we’re saying is fairly savage about other parts of the world. It’s quite a sad reflection of us as a species, not being able to look at this issue which is probably one of the first fully globalized issues that we’ve had to try to address. And we look like we’re failing at it. We’re failing at it partly because of a lack of humanity.

This is the modern version of “Let them eat cake”

Hunt – This is the modern version of “Let them eat cake.” We seem to be accepting of the fact that our lifestyle will not change very much. But somehow, we have to put in a legal framework, a political framework, a governance framework to solve the problem, without affecting our lifestyles.

Consider the paltry sum we’re looking to hand out to the poor parts of the world

Anderson – We’re even buying our consciences. We’ve got this discussion that will be going on in COP, this “loss and damage”. A $100 billion – that’s less than a fifteenth of the UK [unintelligible] they were going to hand over every year to the poor parts of the world to deal with the impacts of climate change that we in the rich part of the world, primarily, have caused. And they’re still arguing about a $100 billion. That’s probably a few years’ salaries for people in the premier division of football. And that’s what we’re looking to hand out to the poor parts of the world.

Meanwhile, the global subsidies for fossil fuels this year will be $5.3 trillion!

At the same time, the IMF recently pointed out we have, with the subsidies to fossil fuels for this year [2015] will be $5.3 trillion — $5.3 trillion! That’s more than global spending on health. That’s the subsidy to fossil fuels. Not to renewables. To fossil fuels.

$100 billion – a few pence — to the poor, to deal with the damage we caused – Just to ease our guilty consciences

And we’re arguing about whether we should be able to find a $100 billion to hand to the poor countries to deal with the climate change that we caused. We don’t care about the poor, but it helps us salve our conscience. We’ve given a few pence.

Hunt – We have a disconnect as well – even the concept of a subsidy for fossil fuels. How do we start to count the cost of the damage caused by fossil fuels, and attribute that cost directly to fossil fuels? We’d need an amazing crystal ball to be able to see what the damage will be.

“Economics should be there to serve society. Now what we have is society is there to serve economics”

Anderson – That’s partly the IMF. I should point that out. The IMF estimate does include some of those damage functions – local health issues particularly are played out there. And cost per death. What it does point out though, is that the subsidies to fossil fuels is enormous. Therefore, when we talk about renewables we should not worry about the cost of renewables because it’s always cheaper than the cost of fossil fuels. But because we’ve got a peculiar way of looking at this thing called economics — I prefer to call it astrology — because we have that approach we therefore say that this expensive fossil fuel is somehow cheaper than the cheaper renewables. They’ve twisted the whole thing round. Economics should be there to serve society. Now what we have is society is there to serve economics.

END OF PART 3

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