You’re not even remotely concerned enough

31 08 2012

I’ve just returned from a 6-week trip to the United States and I am now dealing with the intensity of things left undone for so long [sigh]. But that trip was interesting for many reasons. First, and as I’ve already posted, I finished a book with Paul Ehrlich that will be out sometime early in 2013 (but I won’t deal with that here). I also attended an interesting, if slightly confusing, conference on ecosystem services. And finally, I had the pleasure of meeting Tony Barnosky in person, and we decided that we should definitely collaborate on a few things.

Another thing that struck me – and this happens no matter how often I visit the U.S., is just how completely insane that country’s politics are. The extremist, libertarian, plutotheocratic bullshit spewed by the far right to the detriment of the very people who support them is enough to make you vomit. And this startling and thoroughly backward world-view is now starting to penetrate more and more into Australian society and politics. From an environmental perspective, it’s a continuation of a downhill slide that started with Reagan’s destruction of environmentalism in the U.S., and Joh Bjelke-Petersen‘s war on the environment in Australia, and will only continue to get worse.

Of course, the main victim of reason in all these polemic politics is that we are doing next to nothing to mitigate horrendous climate disruption. Only yesterday, George Monbiot was lamenting (nay, pleading) that our governments are doing practically nil to avoid what can only be described as the greatest threat to our way of life since the World War II – in fact, the War and its associated holocaust is small bikkies compared to what awaits us.

And this is the most stressing part – even people who choose to use their brains and accept that we have an immense, global problem on our hands generally are not even remotely concerned enough.

This fact was brought home to me in a plenary lecture by Clive Hamilton who was visiting the U.S. while I was there. Now, I haven’t yet met Clive, but he’s the sort of bloke who should be running the country (Australia, in this case) instead of the drongos now in office. Clive is Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University , and has written some pretty hard-hitting books. He ran for the Australian Greens in a by-election in the federal seat of Higgins in 2009, but came second. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see him speak at the American Sociological Association conference in Denver, but I read his lecture in essay form passed on to me by Paul Ehrlich. The essay is now available online. I’d like to reproduce some of the most distressing components of it here.

Let’s assume a completely unrealistic scenario where the world gets its shit together immediately. Here, (1) global emissions peak in 2020 (thereafter any increase in emissions from poor countries is more than offset by declines in rich countries), although realistically, emissions are more likely to keep growing until 2030 or beyond, and (2) emissions fall by 3% per year after 2020 until they reach a minimum necessary to supply the world’s population with food; this translates into a 6-7% per annum decline in energy and industrial emissions in rich countries. So what would happen under this ‘optimistic’ case? Clive explains:

“would see concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reach 650 ppm (the pre-industrial level was 280 ppm and it now stands at 392 ppm). That level translates into warming of 4°C above the pre-industrial global average. As oceans warm more slowly, a global average of 4°C means warming of 5-6°C on land, and even higher closer to the poles. Warming on this scale and at the expected rate, would radically change the conditions of life on earth. The world would be hotter than at any time for 15 million years, yet this is now regarded by leading climate scientists as the most likely future before the end of the century”

Well, shit.

He continues:

“Warming approaching 4 °C is uncharted territory. …the climate system would cross several tipping points and trigger various feedback effects that would render the climate system largely beyond human control. The idea that when things get too hot we can then turn the thermostat down is not how the climate system works. On the road to warming of 4 ºC the Earth system would cross several thresholds that would amplify warming and make the climate system unstable. The planet has warmed by 0.8 ºC above the pre-industrial average already and inertia in the system means that 2.4 ºC of warming is already locked in, with heating reaching 4 ºC perhaps in the 2070s.”

He goes into some more detail here, but the upswing is that even the once-possible 2.0 ºC increase cap by 2100 is now so completely unrealistic, that we can effectively bin that pipe dream (I can’t believe that a 2 degree increase is now considered a utopian ideal). In essence, we are now committed to such an increase that our entire society, biodiversity and life as we know it will be severely diminished by the end of this century.

So what are we doing about it? Bugger all. Instead, we have to listen to the likes of Gina Rinehart tell Australians that they just need to work harder to get rich, to Mitt Romney tell Americans that as ‘citizens’, corporations’ profits trickle down to the rest of us poor sods, and to Tony Abbott who stated in 2011: “Whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out to be is not yet proven”.

So stick your fingers further down your earholes, close your eyes and sing loudly and joyously your favourite ‘la-la-la’ lyrics as we race towards oblivion.

CJA Bradshaw


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13 responses

28 02 2013
Crying ‘wolf’ overlooks the foxes: challenging ‘planetary tipping points’ | ConservationBytes.com

[...] due to us. Species are going extinct faster than the would have otherwise. The planet’s climate system is being severely disrupted, so is the carbon cycle. Ecosystem services are on the [...]

10 02 2013
I am because we are | True North Blog

[...] In his presentation Prof Hamilton summarised the latest research into global warming and came up with the conclusion that the best we can hope for is to limit temperature increase this century to 4C and this will mean in the words of Cory Bradshaw “our entire society, biodiversity and life as we know it will be severely diminished. [...]

21 01 2013
Scaring our children with the future « ConservationBytes.com

[...] written before about how we should all be substantially more concerned about the future than what we as a society appear to be. Climate disruption is society’s enemy number one, [...]

13 10 2012
Planeetan pelastamisesta – yritysten vai tieteen ehdoilla? | Viljami Kankaanpää

[...] CJA Bradshawn sanoin emme ole läheskään niin huolissamme kuin pitäisi. Ilmastopolitiikkka ja ekosysteemipalveluiden turvaaminen vaativat voimakkaita toimia heti eikä [...]

1 10 2012
Why do conservation scientists get out of bed? « ConservationBytes.com

[...] climate change much worse than appreciated [...]

7 09 2012
Native invaders divide loyalties « ConservationBytes.com

[...] if to mimic the weirder and weirder weather human-caused climate disruption is cooking up for us, related science stories seem to come in floods and droughts. Yes, research [...]

3 09 2012
Kirsti Abbott

Euan – I like this! thanks. I agree though. And until someone like Clive Hamilton can make serious decisions, I feel as though we’ll still be having these conversations when we’re 80 and our kids are flipping through books saying things like “ooohh, Dad, I remember you talking about this animal. A dingo, right? Weren’t they the ones you were trying to save?”…..

3 09 2012
antilopine

You are right Kirsti, wish you weren’t :(

3 09 2012
antilopine

G’day Kirsti, some of what you’re highlighting is discussed here:

http://www.cell.com/trends/ecology-evolution/fulltext/S0169-5347%2810%2900272-7

What is the balance though? I still think we need vastly different approaches to what we’re doing (trying to stem biodiversity loss), as clearly it’s not working

3 09 2012
antilopine

G’day Kirsti. Your points (well some) are also made here: http://www.cell.com/trends/ecology-evolution/fulltext/S0169-5347%2810%2900272-7

Euan Ritchie

3 09 2012
Kirsti Abbott

Thank god (or anything else) someone else thinks Clive Hamilton should run the country. I remember sending him a personal email after reading “Affluenza” begging him to run for politics again! Hear hear Corey.
Though it is small bikkies, it’s worth acknowledging those who make small changes at a local level, and admonish the mainstream media for woefully cherry picking their news for the money hungry masses. Actually, then go hard on advertising and marketing cronies.
Why can’t stories like your blog post here be told in daily news instead of awesome infomercials on crap I don’t need? Ok, I know the answer to that. But seriously. I also need to hear some good news stories from the ghettos. Some inspiring small bikkies byte that will also motivate my next door neighbour to use her frontal lobe.
Nice post. I might print it out and do a letter box drop. :)

3 09 2012
antilopine

All well and good Corey, so we’ve all failed in a sense. So how can we bring about change? I think we must tell it as it is, but if most are deaf to this approach, with no sign of changing, do we need to rethink our approach? Don’t get me started on Gina, her comments were outrageous, but worst they passed with little criticism. Very keen to work with you and others on strategies for changing the current trend (perhaps starting with a Conversation piece and then other ideas), as when I read this and similar posts and think of my kids and the environments I love, well, there isn’t enough beer in the world to numb the pain.

Euan Ritchie

1 09 2012
Mikkel Christensen

Unfortunately, it may be even worse than described here, and that’s enough to make any sane man/woman cry ….. a timely piece describes how – see http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/271-38/12588-focus-global-warmings-terrifying-new-math

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