I have been following an email discussion about climate change which started off with questions about what kind of preparations we should now be making for the calamitous consequences of global warming. Consequences which it seems some people are beginning to wake up to, with e.g. forest fires and drought hitting countries around the world. In other words, as our addiction to fossil fuels seems too hard to kick, how will we learn to adapt? Climate change adaptation will be an expensive business, and for some it will be impossible. Low lying countries, from Bangladesh to Kiribati probably won’t have the resources. Kiribati already plans to decamp elsewhere. Bangladesh is getting a wall (or a fence) courtesy of India – to keep Bangladeshis out of India.
An interesting but I think passé concern raised in the email thread is the question of moral responsibility. As a philosophical question this is fine, but as a practical question it is useless, since it begs for the creation of a just economy. If one believes in the progressive instinct of human kind, that with the application of intelligence and reason our species will eventually overcome hunger, war, disease, inequality, etc., etc. that too is fine – but when will arcadia arrive? When will all peoples occupy the same stage of moral, i.e. just equilibrium?
As things stand, in the context of climate change and as graphs produced by Aubrey Meyer illustrate, the imbalance between debtors and creditors in the climate change economy is practically (if not theoretically) irreconcilable (25% of the population created 75% of the problem). How in practical terms would the beneficiaries of fossil fuelled industrialisation compensate the non-beneficiaries, that is, the ‘creditors?’ Even if we could detect a genuine desire on their part to do so, the remedies currently offered fall hopelessly short. At least Trump is honest enough to say he’s not playing the game. Others pay it lip service but carry on by and large with business as usual. One email correspondent asked when will an emergency be declared? One hopes not to be around when it is.
Another strand to the discussion has, in my view obsessed too much with population growth. As Aubrey’s analysis shows, population growth in itself did not bring about the present crisis. 50% of the CO2 released since 1850 remains in the atmosphere, so the cumulative effect of emissions predates the more recent explosion in population. If (a massive if) future births enjoyed carbon neutral lifestyles, it wouldn’t be a climate change issue (but may well have other resource implications). So to address our current climate change problem through the prism of population growth is a non-starter, and merely exacerbates the sense of injustice felt in poorer countries who see population growth as a component of economic development (c.f. China’s abandonment of the one child policy). Developing countries say ‘You’ve enjoyed development, now it’s our turn.’ This is but a different iteration of the concept of the ‘just’ economy.
So in the meantime, we’d best prepare our defences and wait for Pearl Harbour. On current trends, we won’t be waiting long.
UK government hypocrisy doesn’t get much worse. The killing of 29 children on a school bus in Yemen has failed to win a condemnation from Theresa May and her minions. If the perpetrator had been Russia, instead of Saudi Arabia (and its UK and US allies) we wouldn’t have heard the end of it. At least the BBC news last night did make a point of exposing the government’s absence of scruples, making the point that our arms trade with the Saudis has benefitted since the war in the Yemen began. The last word goes to Tory MP Andrew Mitchell (he of Plebgate) who wrote in the Guardian last June:
The British government finds itself not on the side of innocent families who fear the fire that falls from above, but on the side of the perpetrator who has launched a huge military gamble
A new academic paper, by Prof. Jem Bendell, (published by the Institute of Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) at the University of Cumbria) online a couple of days ago provides a sober assessment of the current state of climate change science and politics. “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy” doesn’t just look at the science – and yes, some of the uncertainties in that science – but the much less examined nature of our psychological and societial response to climate change, which the author posits underestimates the imminence of severe impacts which one feels will be unprecedented in our time. It’s a long paper, but it is well worth reading, raising as it does vitally important questions about what the hell we think we are going to do, in all probability, in our own lifetimes.
We seem to have come to the end of a heatwave – an ‘abnormality’ which many scientists predict will become the new norm – and already tales of crop shortages are rife. For the time being, the worst outcome may be temporarily higher prices for some foodstuffs. So what? We’ll get over it. But what I have found co-incidentally interesting these last couple of weeks was the story that the government has been seeping ministerial talk (this government talks more than it plans) about stockpiling food in case of a no-deal Brexit.
Now Brexit in global terms is neither here nor there, but the model of our trade, where things are delivered ‘just in time’ from distant markets is crucial to our concept of just nipping down to the supermarket for whatever produce we may fancy on a whim. If we have to think about stockpiling merely because of the government’s inability to get a Brexit deal, what hope in hell have we got when climate change really begins to bite? Our society is simply not prepared for that and if as is possible there are a couple of years of significantly bad climate change ‘abnormalities’ (and who said climate change needs be linear) then we are likely to experience shocks which will be highly unpredictable in their outcomes and possibly beyond the capacity of government to control.
Of course, some will say ‘crying wolf.’ If you trust Nigel Lawson, fine. But despite the likes of him et al (all the way up to the White House) measurements show that since 1850, of the 18 hottest years globally, 17 occurred since 2000. We’re going to need more than just sun cream. It may not just be food we need to stockpile.
I thoroughly recommend reading this paper.