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I have some stuff to say about climate change part I

September 16, 2009

This years World Development Report is out and as always it has provided an extremely sexy array of visuals. So sexy in fact that I am going to use them as the inspiration for a little story I have been meaning to tell, preliminarily entitled “A brief and incoherent account of why I am not a climate change skeptic”, which will henceforth be known by its accronym “AbiawIanccsk”.

I call it the “how about we just say we know enough to act” position.

I. Its the CO2 Stupid (probably)!

There are two ‘skeptical’ arguments you often hear wheeled out to justify a contrarian view on climate change:

  1. It isn’t clear that rises in CO2 levels are a result of human action, ’cause they vary naturally innit.
  2. Even if they are, err…whateverz, because it isn’t at clear that CO2 levels are a contributing factor to whatever changes in climate are happening, you know, because da climate varies naturally too…its Nature!

Stop oppressing me with your Climate Change religion!!! I am a free thinker and kind of like, you know, a hero…

Good for you. If you were around, there probably have been no Hitler, slavery would have been abolished in 1300BC, and we would have realised the world was round like waaaaaaaaay earlier, saving a lot of sailors a lot of pant-soiling nightmares about edges and abysses.

But before you march on Copenhagen maybe, just maybe, Rambo, it might be reasonable to consider what our best guesses in a situation defined by massive uncertainty, but potentially catastrophic consequences are.

CO2 off the charts

How'd that happen??


Wtf?! Why are the lines all going up...?

So first up, see the first graph: what we definitely do know is that CO2 concentrations have gone off the charts in the relatively recent past in a way which is clearly not consistent with normal variability.  Sorry.

Second, the graph beneath (which isn’t taken from the WDR but instead I stole from the good people at the Real Climate blog…I can’t find the exact post right now but dig around if curious). This uses a ton of different studies with different methodologies, measurements, datasets and so on,  to represent temperature change anomolies in the northern hemisphere. Since the middle ages or so there was a clear fall below trend which was fairly consistent for a period. However temperature has been trending upwards since say mid 18th century, and clearly increasing at pace after the mid-19th century (was that when they started the industrial revolution daddy? yes I believe it was son…), in a way that pushes exponential as we each the end of the century.  

Yes nothing is proved here and yes there is no causality to be inferred either. But what we do have are some slightly concerning evidence of stuff that has not happened before, AND co-variation between CO2 levels and temperature.

II. Its everyone’s problem 😦

Ok, so you’re a little suspicious of the science, and the strength of the consensus pisses you off. Well, we can give you that, because doubt can be good. So maybe, even though our best guess says you are wrong, you can still be the hero here…no?

Now to tell you something you probably should already know: if you are reading this from a high-powered computer in a developed country somewhere you are more than likely an asshole. In fact you stand in a long line of total assholes.   

You see you, or your great granddaddy (or someone else’s granddaddy…it doesn’t matter who the hell it was ’cause EVERYONE sitting in an industrialised economy benefits), created a series of these things they called colonies  from which enough resources were extracted to give real impetus to the processes which were to turn into the industrial revolution in Britain and France, which themselves allowed the industrial revolutions elsewhere through the spread of technology, investment capital, trade and so on. So no matter where you are, or who you are, even it was not one of the great colonial powers, the entire economic system you benefit from was founded in colonialism.

Now look below, then look back above: see what you (probably) did?

You come from a long line of selfish assholes

You come from a long line of selfish assholes

So you – yes you – did all this emitting as a fairly direct result of fucking over the rest of the world.

Oh, right, sorry I forgot, you’re a skeptic.

Ok, well lets think about that for a second. Maybe you consider yourself a sensitive skeptic who cares a lot about the poor and the povertiez, maybe you already hate yourself for the burden of this little bit of colonial history. Well now go shoot yourself in the face.

Here is a graphic of the best-guess we have for changes in agricultural yields across 11 major crop stables globally by 2050. It uses the mean of 5 different climate model projections (a parenthesis: climate models are notoriously weak because it is just so difficult to predicit climate, HOWEVER they have been found to perform much better on aggregate, why? In modelling this often suggests less than perfect models are not totally full of shit, but are each capturing something better than each other…in other words averaging them allows us to cancel out a lot of their weaknesses and benefit from their strengths, giving us better educated guess work).  



Now that sure is a lot of red on that map, and though there is enough green that if these best-guesses turn out to be anything close to accurate that maybe we won’t all starve, just note the colours you see in Africa, Latin America, and South and South East Asia.  You see, its the same peoples whose who you plundered to provide the push that was needed to jump-start the industrial revolution, and later who you also used as the markets to help drive forward this same process which led to the emissions that are fucking everything up (probably), who are going to be most affected by the consequences of the process which began with you screwing them over in the first place. You know its almost poetic if you think about it.

And this is just by a really basic proxy (i.e. agricultural production)…lets not even begin to talk about the basic fact that the rich everywhere and rich countries more generally obviously have far better coping mechanisms to deal with change as and when it does occur. 

OH NO WAIT! You’re a fucking skeptic…! I keep forgetting.

III. Show me the moniez!!

Ok, so maybe you’re gonna grant me that the world is a bit unfair, but the past is the past and we all know climate change is the issue-de-jour, shit is being done (too much attention is being given to it probably if we were to ask you), its not your fault anyway, blah blah…something to do with China…blah blah…now can we just chill the f*ck out a little, hit up the drive-thru, and get a couple of Big Macs?

I hate you.

I hate you.

Just stfu.

So, I know you are a skeptic, but hows about we think about this…there is a chance that economic system on whose spoils you feed, whose history is one of the exploitation of vast swathes of the world who still remain excluded from most of its benefits, is causing the climate to change irreperably in ways which will directly affect the people in those same parts of the world that were fucked most to get us to this point…there is a decent chance that this is true, and you want to be a skeptic?

You want to know why you really really are an asshole most of all? The below graphic shows estimates of the annual funding necessary to deal with a 2 degree (yes its just an estimate, but I presume everyone would agree it’s the smart move to go with our most informed guess, and by the way this is the smallest change we are aiming for in a climate agreement, and we may not even agree on that) – between $140-675 billion for mitigating climatic effects (i.e. measure to try and minimise climate change), and between $30-90 billion for adapting to already present effects (shifting rainfall patterns, increased prevalence of drought, increased frequency and severity of major climatic events etc.). We currently spend an estimated $10 billion on these two issues combined. I could compare that $10 billion to the amount spent on dildos annually in Texas or something, but you can do that for yourself.



But ok shitbag, you ask, well where is this money gonna come from???  Why don’t you use some of that up till now completely-and-utterly-wasted-with-zero-positive-impacts-development-assistance-that-just-pays-a-bunch-of-salaries-and-goes-into-pockets-of-corrupt-officials for your new-fangled climate based needs?

Well maybe we should a bit, since a lot of good adaptation (e.g. reducing vulnerability to disasters, agricultural investment etc) is just good development work. But lets be clear: the TOTAL amount spent on development assistance did not amount to this amount of money in a year across all sectors in all places…and so maybe it wouldn’t be good to ask developing countries to forgo clinics, schools, roads, to deal with a problem whose history we’ve already said enough about. To put some figures on this if $50 billion of aid commitments went on adaptation, according to Oxfam (and here I am plagerising from the blog of Duncan Green, Oxfam’s Head of Reasearch), that could mean 8.6 million fewer people receiving treatment for HIV and AIDS, 4.5 million extra child deaths, and 75 million fewer children in school in 2010 than could otherwise have been the case.

IV. Bail-outs

No this doesn’t provide an answer for where it is going to come from. Maybe we’ll hear something super interesting about this coming out of Copenhagen…(here’s hoping).

But lets be clear, in the present times when we mobilise funds a the drop of a hat to deal with a “financial crisis” (how many trillion was it? I lost count…) there is nowhere to hide. If money can be found to save this system that still operates for the benefit of the few, if it isn’t found to save the planet for the fuctional use of the many, then there simply no point even pretending that we fundamentally operate in accordance with some vague thing we call morality.

The sweep of history brought us here; the violation of large parts of the world by the peoples of other parts who convinced themselves of their superiority, violations that produced a system that has eaten up resources and spat out poisons, a system that maintains, and possibly even requires, that the vast majority of the world are simultaneously and permanently denied agency.

Skepticism is fine, but the fact is that in this case it is rotten and hypocrytical to its very core. We know enough to know we don’t know much; but do know enough to act, to fight and to struggle. This is about justice. End of story.

There never was the end to history that Francis Fukuyama so famously foresaw, but perhaps now is the moment to invert that; this moment now must be the beginning of history, or it is the beginning of the end.

One Comment leave one →
  1. theflithyviewer permalink
    September 17, 2009 1:17 pm

    we kinda knew the world was round a long time ago…its just that we would forget.

    …nonetheless, hilarious. and excellent.

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