A Thought

If our world leaders cannot cooperate enough to stop dangerous climate change in the scant time we have left…..how do they expect to be able to cooperate enough to adapt to the kind of world they’re committing to with their inaction?

If we can’t figure this out, how do we expect to able to get along in what we’re choosing instead?

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15 thoughts on “A Thought

  1. It’s a combination of “We’re so clever we’ll adapt!” and “Somebody Else’s Problem”, I think. These (combined with “I got mine, and **** you”) are arguably the biggest cognitive blockages we’ve got to overcome as a species before we can deal with non-obvious disasters (i.e. Daniel Gilbert’s work).

    One of the first signs that really crushed my early optimism on this was when I read the US military think-tank reports (i.e. Age of Consequences, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, and so on), and not one of them suggested using the defense budget to pay to reduce emissions (i.e. spending some now to reduce a tangible threat later), instead opting to discuss it in terms of a “threat multiplier” (read: Make existing problems more expensive) that we’ll deal with when it happens. (I’m oversimplifying a bit, naturally, and it does the reports some disservice, but the observation about the defense budget holds.)

    Regarding Copenhagen: We asked for so little – and boy, did we get it.

  2. As Gwynne Dyer points out in his book (and podcasts) Climate Wars, if we think it is hard to come to an agreement now, how much more will it be when the geopolitical structure destabilizes due to war, famine, drought, rising sea levels, and when climate refuges are flooding other countries, and the have-nots who are suffering the most are very angry with those they perceive to be responsible for their suffering (developed countries).

    When I heard PM Harper say it was a fair deal for Canada, I knew that meant an extremely weak deal even before I heard about what had been achieved.

  3. What sort of adaptation are you thinking of that would require worldwide coordination/cooperation?

    I would have thought “adapting” was something that could be done in a decentralized fashion, without much need for international cooperation. Local states, nations, cities, individuals and companies react to whatever local problems happen to crop up when and as they threaten to become a problem. Farmers “on the margin” shift into different crops or farming areas, organizations that maintain breakwaters build them slightly higher, etcetera.

    [Even if you really meant “mitigation”, most projects along the lines of the Superfreakonomics “cool the world” pipeline could be done unilaterally by any one country or company that was sufficiently motivated. Global inaction and bickering wouldn’t prevent this; it might even make it easier.]

  4. A nice observation. On the other hand, urgency in deadlines, and in this case I do mean “dead”, motivates. Right now, even though most of those in attendance in COP understand that something bad is coming, they don’t know what or when exactly. An in the face of these unknowns, our human failing is to “put it off” when actions are at present inconvenient.

    We will have to cram for the final exams, and stay all night for a week writing that term paper we did nothing about….and maybe, maybe it will work out. But maybe not…

  5. And taking that less than ideal college student mentality further, the long we put things off, the more that will come due….This does not bode well for our student.

  6. Monbiot presents a perspective to this “not-a-failure” but a pact-that-wasn’t at
    http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/12/18/scramble-for-the-atmosphere/#more-1233
    IMHO he’s a little too much of a doomer, but f.e. the situation in the Bangladesh-India border might be a good example of what’s to come. With some evening unluck, the effects of AGW will hasten throughout the world and no one can scramble for the remaining arable land, since they lack the energy.

    Another doomer (IMHO) I’ve recently come to know is the writer of the blog “letters from 2030”, he’s off probably by a 100 years, if you ask me. Maybe I’ll start growing some of my veggies in the yard, and get me a proper crossbow.

    I’m sorry for this outburst of low spirits. There’s still quite a lot (but maybe not all that should be done) that we can do, IMO.

  7. One possible upside of the “failure in Copenhagen” is that if a major emissions agreement had come out of there, the denialosphere and their fellow travelers in Congress would have kicked up a #@!%-storm of major proportions. As things turned out, they have very little to squawk about, and perhaps this will allow Congress to do something of consequence. Just a thought…

  8. Humans do not do preparatory adaption, we wait until it has already happened. Airports already at risk will not be replaced until they have been inundated a number of times. Robert Repetto has an interesting paper “The Adaption Myth”

    In the course of human history, times are pretty good right now. If we cannot cooperate to avoid certain calamity, how much less likely is cooperation when times get very tough.

    I am substantially more pessimistic than George Monbiot. Brian above has suggested, more than once, I should stick to the peer reviewed science for information. But when the slow feed backs are ignored in the modelling, and paleoclimatology shows us the slow feed backs are not that slow, I do start to worry.

    I am beginning to suspect that the scientists who say that we only have a few years to act, realy mean that in a few years our doom will be assured not that action now means all will be OK.

  9. I think that the ‘biggies’ (the countries that count – US, China, India, Canada, etc) have made the gamble that they can adapt faster than the climate changes. China in particular is still set on the idea that the next 30 years of industrial progress will bring it so much more wealth and power that it will be in a strong position to dominate any adaptation / relocation processes after mid century. Nobody wants to sacrifice if their rivals aren’t equivalently sacrificing, so the US and India are not going to act if it means China races ‘ahead’. They’re probably in a worse situation against the climate, however they can’t afford to let China grow at their expense.

    So yes, not much hope for co-operation I fear unless the US and Chinese leaders are able to work out a mutually beneficial deal between themselves that can spearhead the eventual global action.

  10. Didn’t you watch Jurassic Park? Life will find a way.

    [Whether or not we like that way is another question altogether. -Kate]

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