Accept an admission of defeat and an abdication of humanity?

November 16, 2007 at 6:15 am | Posted in Advertising, Climate change, Energy, Environment, Food, Geoengineering, Global warming, Life on Earth, Lifestyle, Marketing, NERC, Next Generation Science, Produce, Science, Shopping, Strategy, Sustainability | 1 Comment

No! My feeling is that, before turning to geoengineering as discussed by policy advisers and scientists in Science today, our best bet would be to check out the new strategy by NERC:

Next Generation Science for Planet Earth

Next Generation Science for Planet Earth

NERC’s new strategy

On November 15 2007, NERC launched its new strategy, Next Generation Science for Planet Earth, which sets out an overview of how NERC, in partnership with others, will respond to the critical issue of the 21st century – the sustainability of life on Earth.

The strategy was developed with the UK’s environmental research users, funders and providers, and sets out the challenges for both our science and how we manage our activities.

Next Generation Science for Planet Earth (full strategy document – 2 MB)

An overview leaflet is also available.

However, NERC’s new publication appeared after I had discovered today’s discussion in Science. The ideas in the latter I would rather not rely on, and these were the reason for my questioning title about defeat and abdication. Here is the item I am referring to:

Science 16 November 2007: Vol. 318. no. 5853, pp. 1054 – 1055
DOI: 10.1126/science.318.5853.1054

News of the Week
Scientists Say Continued Warming Warrants Closer Look at Drastic Fixes

Eli Kintisch

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS–Last week, a group of prominent researchers who gathered here to debate whether scientists should study novel ways to alter Earth’s climate to counteract global warming gave a qualified “yes.” (For a discussion of the topic with some of the meeting participants, go to
Read the Full Text

Or, if like me you cannot access the full text, read the discussion instead, which begins like this, with text marked in red by me to highlight the assumptions that I believe should be addressed first, and not taken as ‘given’:

Science 16 November 2007:
Vol. 318. no. 5853, pp. 1054 – 1055
DOI: 10.1126/science.318.5853.1054

Should We Study Geoengineering?
A Science Magazine Panel Discussion

Last week, an elite group of climate researchers and policy experts met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to discuss geoengineering, the deliberate tinkering [yikes! tinkering is not a word that engenders confidence. If a car mechanic told a heart patient: let me tinker with your pacemaker” do you think that would be received lightly?] with Earth’s climate to reverse [reverse? That would make us cooler, unless we messed up and ended up chilled. In any case, there is no reverse to combat our fast forward. Slow to a natural halt would be a better analogy] climate change. Science covered the event, and its implications, on ScienceNOW and in the magazine.

Four panelists who attended the conference joined Science this week to discuss scientific, political, and moral issues surrounding geoengineering research. They included:

Jim Anderson, a Harvard climate researcher

Dan Schrag, a Harvard geochemist and co-organizer of last week’s workshop

Penny Chisholm, a biological oceanographer at MIT

David Victor, a Stanford political scientist

Science: This conference that just finished up at Harvard talked about actually altering the planet. How did we get to this point? Jim Anderson: Well, the motive force for this concern, of course, starts with fully grasping the degree to which the demand for energy is increasing. [So, why don’t we decrease the demand for energy?]

We looked at this additional 20 terawatts [of energy] required [desired is the word, now that we are talking luxury items] between now and 2050, which translates into two, two-and-a-half new coal-fired [why do they have to be coal-fired?] power plants per day for the next 4 decades [not only is this unsustainable, it is sheer madness]. This is becoming directly evident from the information that Dan presented to us that we have increased from 6.5 to 8.4 gigatons of carbon entering the atmosphere between 2003 and 2006 [while sceptics, deniers, denialists, contrarians, ignorant and educated, encourage this trend aided by lifestyle promoters maintaining cultural taboos and norms].

And then coupled to that is the climate system and the rate at which we observe it to be changing [I still do not think that enough people are aware of the rate of change as being significant, because lives are short, busy and distracted by the perceived need to consume, sort and store what we purchase.] Arctic summer ice has dropped by 50% just since 1980 in the latest data, and this arctic summer ice is now forecast to be essentially gone by somewhere around 2020. And this removal of arctic sea ice drives these powerful feedbacks of ocean heat input, downwelling, and the release of permafrost.

Dan Schrag: I mean, to put it simply, there are many things in the climate system that we don’t understand, and most of them lead to exacerbating current projections of the impacts of future warming [but the one thing we do understand is the one we are not tackling, i.e. …]. And we don’t seem to be doing a very good job of controlling emissions, and therefore people have suggested trying to offset the greenhouse gases with reflecting shortwave radiation, and this conference was trying to explore that.

Part of the intention of the conference was really just to broaden the discussions and actually bring a broader spectrum of climate scientists and scholars into this discussion, because it’s been a narrow subset of the community that’s looked at this.

David Victor: Politically, it is proving incredibly difficult to control emissions. [Politically, that is not due to lack of public concern, but due to pressure from vested interests who do not care about the environment sufficiently to feel anything but delight at constructing more massive power stations, selling more fossil fuels, etc.] Emissions control is one of the hardest problems to address because it requires a very large number of countries to cooperate. [Er, so, are you saying that we can geoengineer our entire planet, without asking all the other countries that will be affected, for better or worse, as a result of our tinkering? The mind boggles.] Those countries have often diverging interests [yes, and diverging interests will also come into play when geoengineering is on the table for discussion], and at the end of the day it’s very difficult with the known tools of international law to constrain a country that doesn’t want to do its part to control emissions. [Exactly. That is why the rest of the world is so frustrated with America and Australia, to name a couple of major emitters in the developed world, who have dragged us down to the depths that make us even consider this discussion plausible by their selfish approaches to world affairs.] So, in addition to all the climatic factors that have been identified politically, this is proving to be even more difficult than people had anticipated originally. [No, it is business-as-usual, with power in the wrong hands. Many world-class businesses around the world with intelligent and caring CEOs are collaborating like never before: working to fill the climate policy vacuum with their own initiatives. They are the new leaders for this century, not the heads of government, elected officials, and unelected out-of-touch business leaders who dodge the issue.]

My initial reaction is that researching drastic geoengineering further in the circumstances described below would be a total waste of time, money, and effort.

We have millions of world-class expert-hours (not mere man-hours) spent studying, reviewing, summarising, assessing and synthesising reports on climate change (i.e. IPCC AR4) and a similar mammoth effort has gone into producing the Global Environmental Outlook (i.e. GEO4) under the auspices of the United Nations.

We have more deeply researched and authoritative information that anyone could read in a lifetime, yet most people have changed their lives very marginally, as they do not feel the need. In fact, we are encouraged not to!

Members of governments are still not scared enough of climate change consequences to take the bold best steps to protect their people.

The difference with geoengineering is, of course, that it would be like defence and nuclear power: taken out of the hands of the people and left to governments and vast enterprises to deal with, no questions asked. Meanwhile, we would all be expected to carry on using more and more energy in our own sweet ways.

The problem that geoengineering appears to answer is not framed correctly in the first place. It dodges the issue of changing attitudes because that is too, er, scary for governments to deal with.

There is no way this geoengineering message of possible drastic fixes can be conveyed to the public in Britain, for example, without them thinking “Great! Someone else is dealing with it. Let’s hop on the next plane to New York for Christmas shopping because the dollar is so low these days we’d be fools not to. There are major bargains to be had over there!”

Yesterday, I found it bizarre to be sitting quietly at dinner with women who are planning their next long weekend shopping in New York, while I have persuaded my family that flying to California for Christmas holidays would be damaging the atmosphere unnecessarily. The ladies would save far more money on clothes than they would spend on the cost of each (£200?) ticket. They would also have a wonderful time and exciting stories to tell and clothes to wear after their trip.

Other people fly to Spain to save on the cost of heating their homes during the cold snap in Britain. It’s a trade-off, but obviously more cost-effective for such couples than staying in an under-insulated British home. In this case, in an ideal world, elderly folk should be able to get their homes insulated and their energy from renewable sources cheaper than flying to warmer climes to avoid those extra wintry costs!

Those who run the world need to ration energy, not promote it. Energy greed and wastefulness is at the heart of our entire social political cultural structure.

The number one flaw in the argument for geoengineering is the unquestioned assumption that we have to stay on ever-increasing demand track for fossil fuel use.

So, I will question it: why?

Why can’t we be limited in our fossil-derived energy usage?

Why am I faced (or should I say ‘enticed’) with Blueberries from Argentina, Raspberries from Mexico, Blackberries from Chile, Strawberries from Holland, Apples from New Zealand, Green Beans from Kenya, and Nectarines from South Africa when I would like to buy local produce?

In the end (not being keen on foreign strawberries, and considering eating summertime strawberries in sub-zero temperatures seems daft), I picked up the only vegetable I could find in Marks & Spencer this morning that was grown in England, and it was — Sweet Corn! (Not exactly a typical homegrown staple of the British diet.)

Any day of the week, I can walk to the shop that sells produce from far-flung airfields, or I can drive to the Farm Shop to buy locally grown organic produce in season. If there is one reason for using transport, this short detour to a local supplier could be it! Alternatively, I can walk to the weekly Farmer’s Market, when it is in season.

Basically, it is far too easy and way too acceptable for ordinary people to do the wrong thing for the climate. Geoengineering under these circumstances would be a cop-out. However, if we were all already living under wartime conditions, digging our own backyards for victory, living in well-insulated homes, not entertaining foreign holidays, let alone long weekends, and we were still desperately snowed under with climate disasters, then, geoengineering might be worth a try—when all else had obviously failed.


1 Comment »

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  1. Great post , You’ve hit the
    mark with this, I just don’t understand why people quite get what you’re saying.
    I’m not for sure how many people I’ve talked to about this very
    thing in the past week, and they just don’t understand.

    , Excellent post!

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