Barrie Dunsmore: Climate change and the political landscape

Editor’s note: This commentary by retired ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore first aired on Vermont Public Radio.  All his columns can be found on his website, www.barriedunsmore.com.

We don’t really need United Nations climate experts to warn us. If we merely look around America, we see polar vortexes in the Deep South, record droughts in the South and West that starve crops and feed forest fires, excessive tornados churning through the country’s midsection and once rare powerful hurricanes and blizzards plowing up the Atlantic Coast seemingly every weekend. We know instinctively that our weather is profoundly changing — and yet far too many of us are seemingly oblivious or resigned to nature’s warnings. What will it take to shatter this indifference?

What if I were to tell you that what set off the current civil war in Syria, in which 150,000 people have been killed and millions made refugees — was not initially a dispute over democracy — or dictatorship — or religion?

It was ignited by climate change. That was the conclusion in a lengthy report titled “Understanding Syria,” published last year in the Atlantic. The author is William Polk, one of America’s true renaissance men — diplomat, academic, adventurer and Middle East specialist for more than half a century. I wrote about his analysis at the time, but in view of the latest U.N. global climate update, it’s very much worth revisiting.

• Four years of devastating drought from 2006 to 2011 turned Syria into a land like the American Dust Bowl of the 1930s. It was the worst drought ever recorded in Syria.

• Over a decade, extreme weather patterns dramatically reduced the arable land, the water and the crops needed to support a rapidly increasing population.

• Those years of drought and dust storms caused 800,000 farmers to lose their livelihood and a quarter of them simply gave up their land. Crop failures reached 75 percent. As much as 85 percent of livestock died.

Climate change, if left unchecked, will eventually lead to water and food shortages on a global scale that will threaten the very survival of millions of people.

 

Having set the scene, historian Polk then described what happened next. Tens of thousands of frightened, angry, hungry and impoverished former farmers jammed into Syria’s towns and cities, where they constituted tinder ready to catch fire.

The spark was set on March 15, 2011, when a relatively small group gathered in the town of Daraa to protest against government failure to help them. Instead of meeting with the protesters and hearing their complaints, the government saw them as subversives. President Bashar Assad ordered a military crackdown which backfired — and riots soon broke out all over the country. What had begun as a food and water issue, had turned into a political and religious death struggle.

That brief summary is a classic case study of how climate change can provoke violent breakdowns in civil order — and in Syria’s case become a full scale civil war. Syria is an early omen. Climate change, if left unchecked, will eventually lead to water and food shortages on a global scale that will threaten the very survival of millions of people. It’s an open question if any political system will be able to contain the kinds of anarchy that could be unleashed by such a human catastrophe.

Comments

  1. George Plumb :

    Thanks Barrie for connecting the dots on climate change, over population, and conflict.

    You are right that, “Climate change, if left unchecked, will eventually lead to water and food shortages on a global scale that will threaten the very survival of millions of people.” Actually, it will likely not just be millions but hundreds of millions. Unfortunately it will be the poorer nations that will first suffer the most. Because the 1% are largely climate deniers and they prevent the political actions that we need the only thing left at this point is for us as individuals to get off of fossil fuels in every way that we can and as fast as we possibly can.

    It will be interesting to see what the droughts do to food prices this summer in the great U.S.A.

  2. Joseph Gainza :

    Thank you Barrie for highlighting one of the least understood facts about climate change: it has social, political and economic implications which we ignore at our peril.
    As you point out, the 1% are mainly climate change deniers. Of course they would be as one of the essential changes which must be made if we are to survive climate change is a leveling of the wealth gap so that the poorest have the means for survival and the wealthiest cannot manipulate the political process to benefit only them.
    Climate activists must align with economic justice activists to provide straight talk about the political, social and economic decisions this environmental crisis will impose on people across the planet.

  3. Rebecca Jones MD :

    Absolutely right Barrie, you lay out the reasons climate change has to be approached as a human rights issue. As such, there is the potential we can motivate people to rise up and address it because it is the right thing to do, and not wait til it is literally burning down their own door. All of the great movements the country and the world have seen, have occurred because enough people simply cannot live with themselves anymore without standing up for what is right.

    • Steve Comeau :

      Rebecca,

      The die is cast on climate change. With about 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere and no ability of any government or individuals to reduce the current emissions quickly, it is a done deal. If people were to “rise up” as you say what should they do? What should they ask for?

      Here in the Vermont and the rest of the United States large scale energy use is embedded into everything we do. It is part of the social fabric. It is very hard to change. Just as you say climate change is a human rights issue, I am starting to think that excessive energy use and the resulting environmental damage is a social problem. An effective long-term solution will not come so much from the technical solutions, as it will come from social change.

  4. Kathy Nelson :

    Thanks for an interesting take on the Syrian conflict, Mr. Dunsmore, but I think there was more going on there than just drought.
    Two men chose to comment, George and Joseph, about the “1% climate change deniers” as though some artificial label was the source of the problem. Who do you suppose this 1% could be? Is this another Koch Brothers conspiracy theory? Or are we forgetting the religious fanaticism and power grabs perpetrated mostly by men?
    Sure, women, end up fighting in wars, that men start, and they do a lot of the dying. Do women wage war when men are not around? I haven’t seen it yet. Why is this aspect of war never mentioned much? If it had only been women living in Syria would they have used violent conflict and mutual slaughter to solve their agricultural problems or would they have found another solution? Hard to say since women never seem to get the opportunity to try.
    Climate change has been a fact of life for many millions of years and adaption has always been the key to survival. Humans have created a patriarchal imbalance that has brought about severe suffering. When men lay down their guns and resume an equal partnership with women and the life on this planet then there will be some positive possibilities. If not, then nature will have her way and she will restore the balance without any of us.

  5. George Plumb :

    You always have a different perspective Kathy. According to Wikipedia, “Archaic Homo sapiens, the forerunner of anatomically modern humans, evolved between 400,000 and 250,000 years ago.[10][11] ” And, “The last glacial period, popularly known as the Ice Age, was the most recent glacial period within the current ice age occurring during the last years of the Pleistocene, from approximately 110,000 to 12,000 years ago.[1]” Scientists almost entirely agree that the current climate change is the only one caused by humans.

    But if all the women of the world had access to good education, equal employment opportunities, free contraception, and full participation in democratic decision making the world would be quite a different place and we well might not be facing climate change and wars!

    • Kathy Nelson :

      George, whatever your views on Syria might be, or your opinion of Infowars might be, you may find this referenced tidbit interesting:

      http://www.infowars.com/turkey-behind-sarin-attack-in-syria/

      You might also want to start watching the news from Suspicious0bservers:

      http://www.youtube.com/user/Suspicious0bservers

      You might get some good info on there about how the sun drives climate change, like it is doing now. Humans do pollute and we are a filthy lot, no doubt, but we are not the only factor in climate change.
      Here is a brief blog on drowned cities:
      http://www.beforeus.com/drowned.html
      Cities have been being drowned for many thousands of years, before there were enough humans to make a dent in the earth’s workings.
      There are no immediate answers to climate change, other than it has been going on forever. Placing the blame on one factor is a gross error and will not lead to any survivable solutions.

  6. What’s the biggest single source of CO2 in Vermont? Bet you don’t know, largely because there’s a virtual media blackout on the topic and most environmental groups won’t talk about it (at least, not publicly).

    Give up? Biomass energy, with the McNeil Generating Station being the biggest climate culprit in the state.

    Here’s a rare article on the topic by Digger: http://vtdigger.org/2013/05/29/facing-climate-change-vermonts-biggest-polluters/

  7. Aly Johnson-Kurts :

    Great analysis. Thank you.

  8. John Greenberg :

    Tim Smith:

    Here’s your syllogism: The dinosaurs went extinct before there were people on the planet. Therefore, human actions never cause extinctions.

    • Glenn Thompson :

      Nor did humans cause the reversal of the last great Ice age!

      • Paul Lorenzini :

        Tim, you have great common sense because you observe the big facts, not the little factoids that those with a chip on their shoulder, or a boogeyman in the closet spit at us.

        • John Greenberg :

          Yeah, those thousands of climate change scientists with “a chip on their shoulder or a bogeyman in the closet,” what would they know anyway?

        • Lance Hagen :

          Did you ever wonder why some climate scientists are so keen at having climate change be viewed as a ‘crisis’? Follow the money, a ‘crisis’ receives a lot more research grant money. I know, I once played in this arena.

        • John Greenberg :

          Lance,

          I agree: let’s follow the money. It leads to some of the biggest corporations in the world who have a distinct economic interest in continuing to sell carbon-related products. There are literally billions of dollars at stake for them. And it’s not like there’s any mystery about this either: the think-tanks challenging the climate consensus ARE supported by fossil fuel companies. Over the years, I’ve seen quite a few articles detailing which companies provided how much funding, so specific information is readily available.

          In addition, it isn’t just “some climate scientists” who are “keen at having climate change be viewed as a ‘crisis’. It’s the IPCC’s latest report, which represents scientists from over 70 countries, reviewing and assessing the literature and presenting their findings to policymakers. If, as they clearly report, climate change is already happening and if there are steps that should be taken immediately to prevent it from getting worse, these scientists would be derelict in their duty if they failed to present the crisis as just what they believe it to be.

          Some of these folks may depend on research grants, but it’s far from clear that all, or even most, of them do. Research works differently in different countries, and not all of these scientists are involved in research in the first place.

          You’ll need to present more than your personal experience to make your accusation stick.

        • Lance Hagen :

          Now John, since you are always asking for references to support stated arguments, please provide links to support your statement of “I’ve seen quite a few articles detailing which companies provided how much funding, so specific information is readily available.” (And they can’t be from advocacy groups that support the ‘climate change crisis’. All they do is continue to make this claim without definitive proof)

        • John Greenberg :

          Lance,

          When I ask you for documentation, I don’t tell you where it can or can’t come from: “… they can’t be from advocacy groups that support the ‘climate change crisis’.” That caveat makes it far too easy for you to simplyh DEFINE any source I might cite as an advocacy group, as you’ve previously done with IPCC.

          In any case, I don’t remember the articles I read and I’m not willing to go back and try to find them.

          But it’s easy enough to Google on the topic and get all the sources you want.

          Here’s are 3 articles on the Koch’s and their funding for climate skepticism: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Koch_Industries ; http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2010/04/inside-kochs-climate-denial-machine; http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/solutions/fight-misinformation/global-warming-skeptic.html.

          Here’s 2 on Exxon-Mobil: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/jul/01/exxon-mobil-climate-change-sceptics-funding; http://www.environmentalleader.com/2011/05/09/exxonmobil-linked-to-9-of-top-10-climate-skeptics/.

          I could go on, but do I really need to? Google Chevron and funding climates skepticism and you’ll get more. Then try Peabody Coal. Got it?

  9. Good points, Barrie. Someone here said that climate change has been happening for ages. Sure, but does that give us an excuse to contribute to its acceleration ? Climate-change contrarians are mostly cop-out citizens under the influence of corporate connivers.

    • Paul Lorenzini :

      Everything is accelerated now isn’t it?

  10. Paul Lorenzini :

    If I lived in Syria now, I would prepare for a blessing of floods, and while dangerous and destructive they may bring prosperity back to the average people.

    If Syria floods, no one will remember the dry time, but all problems will still be blamed on climate change.

    When the glaciers grow blame man
    When they shrink blame man
    When it rains blame man
    When it doesn’t blame man
    When the skies are cold blame man
    When they are to hot blame man
    Why is it my fault?
    Because you say so?
    I think not.
    What problem are we solving with weather fear?
    Only Nostradaemus knows.

  11. Matt Fisken :

    “Climate change, if left unchecked, will eventually lead to water and food shortages on a global scale that will threaten the very survival of millions of people.”

    It’s fine to suppose that an idling car in Vermont will lead to horrible suffering halfway around the world (the butterfly effect), but if anthropomorphic climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions is in fact a serious problem, there isn’t much we can do about it at this point.

    Driving an electric car or putting up solar panels do not sequester CO2, but those are the in vogue responses to ACC because they are easy (for those with money) and have a significant wow factor.

    If anthropogenic climate STABILIZATION exists, it surely does not look like a shiny new car or a field covered with PV panels or a ridge line blasted off with a bunch of sky scraping windmills cranking away.

    Personally, I do not think GHG-based ACS exists. I agree with Kathy that adaptation is where we should be putting our focus. Our continued defiant reflex will get us nowhere, quickly.

    Now, microwave and radio frequency climate disruptions are another matter entirely. Unlike CO2, which is not easily removed from the atmosphere, RF/MWs disappear as soon as a transmitter is turned off. Just like when your microwave oven beeps itself off, whatever’s inside is going to start cooling down.

    • John Greenberg :

      Matt,

      When you say “It’s fine to suppose that an idling car in Vermont will lead to horrible suffering halfway around the world (the butterfly effect),” you misstate the science that’s invoked here: there is no butterfly effect involved. Current climate models suggest that CO2 building up in the atmosphere traps sunlight causing the planet to warm. Since the earth is one planet with one atmosphere, the locality of the release is irrelevant: a release in Vermont has the same impact as an equivalent release in Bangladesh.

      Filling the atmosphere is no different from filling a bathtub. If, in addition to turning on a bathtub faucet, I add water from another source – say a bucket – it would be false to conclude that the additional water in the tub resulted from “the butterfly effect.”

      Similarly, your statement that “if anthropomorphic climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions is in fact a serious problem, there isn’t much we can do about it at this point” does not comport with the current scientific understanding, which suggests that more CO2 means more warming, and vice versa. That’s a crucially important distinction: this is not an “on/off” model; it’s much closer to the ‘theory of holes.’ When you’re in a hole, stop digging.

      Many scientists believe that SOME damage has already been done and is irreversible, but the consensus strongly agrees that releasing more will mean greater warming, higher sea levels, etc. than if those releases never occur. In consequence, there’s a great deal we can do: we can STOP adding more carbon.

      Since your premises are mistaken on both these points, it’s unsurprising that your conclusion is also off-base: “Driving an electric car or putting up solar panels do not sequester CO2.” That’s true, but irrelevant. Driving an electric car or putting up solar panels are not INTENDED to sequester existing gases. They are attempts to achieve the same functionality as can be procured using fossil fuels, without introducing MORE carbon into the atmosphere, and, assuming the car’s electricity isn’t generated by carbon, they CAN be effective in doing so. In other words, neither of these (nor the many gestures to which they are similar) will reverse existing effect, nor are they intended to do so. They both WILL, however, stop adding to the damage, and that’s the intent of both.

      “Personally, I do not think GHG-based ACS exists.” That’s your prerogative, but it puts you at variance with the overwhelming majority of working climate scientists.

      • Matt Fisken :

        John,

        You have missed or manipulated my points.

        My example of idling in Vermont in no way suggested that the effects of GHG emissions are localized. It was an example of a choice many make (in this state and around the world) without believing/caring it has an effect on the planet’s atmosphere. I could have said, “using a leaf blower in Ohio” or “driving a stock car in Florida.”

        It is my understanding of geologic science that there is not a lot of economically recoverable/transportable/usable fossil fuels left in the ground. We have burned a vast majority of it already, meaning that future fossil fuel use will be not be about choice like it is today. Like peak oil/gas/coal/uranium, climate change is not something we can avoid or delay by changing our ways. We’ve made our bed.

        I completely disagree with your statement that “we can STOP adding more [green house gasses].” A world without GHG emissions is a world without people. Actually, it’s a world without anything living.

        I am not aware of any climate scientists who have stated that human activity can restabilize the climate (ACS). Can you provide evidence for your claim that the “overwhelming majority of working climate scientists” believe we have the ability to create a predictable/stable climate by changing our behavior? What do they consider stable? Does this horde of scientists believe stability can be reach by developing and building more technology and infrastructure, or by allowing nature to regenerate?

        While Mr. Dunsmore speaks to the EFFECTS of climate change, he does not even mention the likely causes or possible solutions. Mr. Greenberg often does, but I disagree with him that renewable electricity generation and electric cars are the same as “stop digging” or come anywhere close to “filling in the hole.”

        • John Greenberg :

          Matt,

          I assure you I was not trying to misstate your arguments, but as I read your new comments, I don’t believe I did. Let’s go point by point:

          1) You now say that you understand that the effects of climate change aren’t localized, but you still haven’t corrected the basic misunderstanding which the words “butterfly effect” imply, and THAT is what I replied to.

          The butterfly effect occurs when one event impacts another, not only in a different locale, but in a seemingly totally unrelated manner through a long chain of causality. What we’re dealing with here, however, is different from that and quite straightforward: call it the bathtub effect. Any amount of water added, regardless of the sources, fills the bathtub. That’s NOT what the butterfly effect suggests.

          2) Your “understanding of geologic science that there is not a lot of economically recoverable/transportable/usable fossil fuels left in the ground” is too vague to rebut, but appears to imply that using what’s there would be hunky dory. What the climate scientists are telling us, on the other hand, is that we need to leave MOST of the KNOWN reserves in place, rather than digging them up and burning them. That’s the very essence of the controversy about the Alberta tar sands: they ARE there; they ARE economically recoverable, and burning them would be devastating for the planet.

          It’s true that fossil fuels ARE finite, but more than one analyst has predicted a peak that didn’t occur because new reserves were found. In addition, the definition of “economically recoverable” changes over time. But there is no need to go into these subtler issues here, since the scientists are telling us not to use what we already know IS there and IS recoverable.

          3) You write: “Like peak oil/gas/coal/uranium, climate change is not something we can avoid or delay by changing our ways. We’ve made our bed.” I take this to mean that changing our ways will not prevent further climate change, and again, that’s simply not what the science says. If you mean that we can’t “avoid” climate change because it’s already happening, that’s true, but misses the point: we CAN prevent it from getting worse than it already is. In other words, “changing our ways” CAN both slow the warming process and reduce the gravity of the impacts which would otherwise occur.

          4) You’re absolutely right: we cannot reduce carbon emissions to zero and continue to breathe. I wasn’t trying to suggest otherwise, but my previous wording DOES allow that unintended interpretation. My bad.

          5) I never said anything about a “stable climate” or “the ability to create a predictable/stable climate.” Those are your words, not mine, and frankly, I don’t know what they mean, so I’ll leave this whole paragraph unaddressed.

          6) Your absolutely right to say that I often speak of the causes of climate change, or more precisely, I often convey the message that climate scientists are practically shouting at us now. If you think I’ve mis-conveyed that message, by all means tell us how. Otherwise, you’re merely repeating that you disagree with the scientific consensus, which is your prerogative.

          • Matt Fisken :

            I’m not sure why John so vehemently rejects the concept of the butterfly effect as it relates to climate change, specifically, as it relates to relatively minor increases or decreases in the rate at which GHGs are added to the atmosphere (compared to the levels at which they currently exist).

            I’m reading http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect :

            “In 1961, [Edward] Lorenz was using a numerical computer model to rerun a weather prediction, when, as a shortcut on a number in the sequence, he entered the decimal 0.506 instead of entering the full 0.506127. The result was a completely different weather scenario. … One meteorologist remarked that if the theory were correct, one flap of a seagull’s wings could change the course of weather forever…. The butterfly effect is most familiar in terms of weather; it can easily be demonstrated in standard weather prediction models, for example.”

            John invents a new definition for the term “bathtub effect” and then says it’s not the same as the “butterfly effect.” I don’t think anyone will argue with that logic.

            John says I “appear to imply that using [all remaining fossil fuels] would be hunky dory.” No. that is not what I said at all and I doubt it appears that way to most people (especially given the context of other comments/commentaries I have made on VT Digger). What I am saying as clearly as I am able (apologies in advance if my meaning is lost in someone else’s translation) is that:

            • as a civilization, we are hopelessly addicted to burning fossil fuels, and we will not stop until the supply is disrupted. This is an objective prediction—NOT a judgement of whether this is a good idea, as John suggested I implied.

            • as individuals, I think we should consider that small actions can have significant effects. However, we should not EXPECT dramatic, preferable changes will ALWAYS come from minor course corrections.

            • personally, I do everything I can to lower my carbon footprint (haven’t flown in 6 years, haven’t driven a car in 3 months, our bedroom was between 58-62° all winter), not because I expect my actions to slow/stop/reverse climate change, but because I expect the future to be less convenient and comfortable than things are today.

            To be clear, what I mean by “we’ve made our bed” is that there is no undoing what we’ve done. I think climate science is pretty clear that effects of GHG emissions are not immediate, are not entirely predictable and most likely involve tipping points which could lead to unchecked, runaway climate change (not necessarily continued warming).

            I respect John and others who believe we “CAN both slow the warming process and reduce the gravity of the impacts [of anthropomorphic climate change] which would otherwise occur.” Another name for this is anthropomorphic climate stabilization, which I originally stated I do not believe exists, which John says “puts [me] at variance with the overwhelming majority of working climate scientists.” I assume he thinks I meant anthropogenic climate change, but I don’t really care.

            The main problem I have with this whole debate is that there will never be any way of knowing how things might be different if we “fight climate change” with all we’ve got, or fail to do so. There is no “control” Earth to which can compare results.

            Just to be annoyingly clear:

            I believe our happy-go-lucky fossil fuel use and other human activities have and will continue to change the climate.

            I believe that the enormity of the problem, the unpredictability of the planet’s climatic and geologic/seismic systems, and our general inability as a species to change unless we are forced to means that we won’t be grabbing this ACC bull by the horns and wrangling it into submission.

            However, I DO think that taking steps as individuals, communities, and maybe even states, toward reducing one’s reliance on fossil fuels, electricity, and fiat currency is worth doing to lessen the jarring impacts of future events.

            Food for thought:

            http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/03/opinion/forget-sustainability-its-about-resilience.html

            “[A] shift from sustainability to resilience leaves many old-school environmentalists and social activists feeling uneasy, as it smacks of adaptation, a word that is still taboo in many quarters. If we adapt to unwanted change, the reasoning goes, we give a pass to those responsible for putting us in this mess in the first place, and we lose the moral authority to pressure them to stop.”

            DISCLAIMER: I take no responsibility for how this comment is interpreted by others in this forum. As much as I sometimes appreciate the opportunity some responses have provided for me to clarify my thoughts, the cat and mouse routine that often results is much less appealing now that winter is over and there is so much to do outside. Goad all you want. I’ve got better things to do.

          • John Greenberg :

            Matt,

            I’m sorry you think I deliberately misinterpret what you write. All I can tell you is that I’ve tried to respond to what I understood you to be saying. But there’s little point in belaboring the point.

            1) “I’m not sure why John so vehemently rejects the concept of the butterfly effect as it relates to climate change….” Your quote makes the point I was trying to make: “if the theory were correct, one flap of a seagull’s wings could change the course of weather forever” That IS what I understand by the butterfly effect, and it’s NOT how I understand that climate change works.

            One pound of CO2 adds one pound’s worth of greenhouse gas: nothing more, nothing less. There is no threshold. Consistently with your butterfly analogy, you write: “I think climate science is pretty clear that effects of GHG emissions … most likely involve tipping points ….” If you’re right about the tipping points, your butterfly effect analogy would be valid, assuming that the tipping points mean that there is little or no effect until the tipping point is reached and then a significant effect (and if there are multiple tipping points) the same thing all over again until the next tipping point).

            I thought I was coining the notion of a “bathtub effect,” but I see from Googling that the term has been used by others, both in this sphere (and in a different sense: http://fore.research.yale.edu/climate-change/science/the-greenhouse-effect-and-the-bathtub-effect/) and in completely unrelated matters (and a COMPLETELY different sense).

            I hope, despite that confusion, that my point came through: my understanding of the science is that climate change happens in proportion to the amounts of greenhouse gas that are thrust into the atmosphere and there is a continuum of effect, rather than a threshold.

            2) I am confused by Matt’s use of the term “anthropoMORPHIC climate stabilization.” And yes, I did read your original statement, which simply used the initials “ACS” to mean “anthropoGENIC climate stabilization” which you did use in the paragraph preceding your introduction of the initials.

            At this point, I am also really confused by what your position on the whole issue is.

            As I said earlier, there clearly are scientists who agree with the notion “that there is no undoing what we’ve done.” Not being a scientist, I’ll leave that question to the experts. It makes no practical difference in terms of policy, since as Matt and I appear to agree: what’s done is done.

            The question which remains concerns the future, and that DOES involve significant questions of policy.

            So I’ll be as clear as I can. My understanding of what the scientists are telling us is that the atmosphere is warming thanks to the introduction of massive quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (well beyond those caused by natural biological processes like breathing, farting, excreting, etc.) Human activity – mostly industrialization of human culture – has been responsible for injecting these gases into the atmosphere, whence the term “anthropogenic.”

            I thought I understood Matt to be saying that he doesn’t believe that this IS the cause of climate change and that therefore it doesn’t matter whether we continue to inject greenhouse gases into the atmosphere or not.

            Now, he makes a distinction between what he thinks WILL happen (as he notes, a “prediction”) and what he thinks SHOULD happen (“a judgement of whether this is a good idea”). That’s fine.

            He also SEEMS to suggest that he thinks we SHOULD take actions – at least at a personal level – to inject fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If so, we agree. Yet, he is also at some pains here to say that he doesn’t “expect my actions to slow/stop/reverse climate change” and he certainly appears to be saying that none of the kinds of policy solutions which have been debated will have that impact either.

            My original reading of what he said above here (and elsewhere) is that he actually does NOT believe that human actions CAN have an impact, which is certainly consistent with NOT believing that the problem arises from the introduction of greenhouse gases and rejecting the anthropogenic origin of the current phenomenon. But now he claims I’m misunderstanding him.

            Indeed, he seems to be saying that human-emitted greenhouse gases DO contribute to the problem, and that we should do what we can to produce less of them. If that’s the case, then we agree on that as well.

  12. Paul Richards :

    How much man is contributing to climate change is unsettled science. There is too much politics brought into the issue making it hard for anyone to ever get close to the truth. Besides the world is so complex that I don’t believe any scientist, looking at this snapshot in time, can determine what effect, if any, man is having on warming overall.

    The government has created such a huge distrust that no one believes them. Especially when they tell us they want to extract more money from us to pay to reduce the global warming that man is causing. If you want to know why people are not warming up to this idea just look at their track record. They are like a crack addict. They just cannot bring themselves to stop spending beyond our means so are constantly looking for schemes to extract more money from us.

    If we really wanted to cut down on carbon we would have started building more modern nuclear power plants decades ago but that is a political no-no so we mine for the raw materials to make solar panels, batteries and wind generators instead. It makes no sense to me. You don’t get something for nothing. Nuclear power provides the best bang for the buck. By the buck I mean environmentally.

    • John Greenberg :

      1) Paul Richards asserts: ‘How much man is contributing to climate change is unsettled science.”

      Actually, it isn’t. The scientific community speaks with one voice now on this issue. An analysis of “the peer-reviewed scientific literature, examining 11 944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’” concluded that “the number of papers rejecting the consensus on AGW is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research.” http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/2/024024/article

      Similarly, a survey sent to 10,257 Earth scientists, completed by 3146 individuals, found that “the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes.” http://tigger.uic.edu/~pdoran/012009_Doran_final.pdf

      Of course, ALL science is “unsettled” in the sense that conclusions and theories are always subject to modification and even contradiction by the introduction of new evidence: that’s a basic feature of the scientific method. In addition, there are always outliers who doubt the consensus models of science: There are still folks who claim the earth isn’t round. There really is a Flat Earth Society. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Earth_Society But in any meaningful sense of the term, climate change is now settled science.

      2) None of this has anything to do with “the” government’s credibility. The IPCC report, which Barrie Dunsmore’s article discusses, was written by 350+ scientists from 70 countries; it is not the product of any government, though governments from around the globe participate in the IPCC process.
      3) Finally, Mr. Richards is entitled to his opinions about nuclear power, but former NRC Commissioner Peter Bradford put it best when he wrote: “If asked whether we should increase our reliance on caviar to fight world hunger, most people would laugh. Relying on an overly expensive commodity to perform an essential task spends too much money for too little benefit, while foreclosing more-promising approaches.
      That is nuclear power’s fundamental flaw in the search for plentiful energy without climate repercussions, though reactors are also more dangerous than caviar unless you’re a sturgeon.”
      Bradford too “anti-nuclear” for you? Try John Rowe, former CEO of Exelon, one of the US’s biggest nuclear operators: ““At today’s [natural] gas prices, a new nuclear power plant is out of the money by a factor of two.” He added, “It’s not something where you can go sharpen the pencil and play. It’s economically wrong.” His successor, Christopher Crane, recently said gas prices would have to increase roughly fivefold for nuclear to be competitive in the U.S.”
      Mr. Richards seeks to blame the lack of nuclear construction in the US on politics (“If we really wanted to cut down on carbon we would have started building more modern nuclear power plants decades ago but that is a political no-no ….”), but actually the blame lies squarely with the industry itself and its funders on Wall Street. Actually, US current and past federal energy policies have promoted nuclear power for ½ a century, and continue to promote the construction of nuclear plants in this country. But even with all the money the government has offered, private capital refuses to front the billions of dollars needed.

  13. George Plumb :

    Thanks John for your in depth responses to the human caused climate change deniers. If that isn’t enough here is one more source of 176 analytic statements of why they are wrong.
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php
    But even if they are correct having our whole economy and all of our lifestyles dependent on diminishing fossil fuels is unsustainable anyways. Why not just use some of the remaining fossil fuels to build renewable energy sources rather than pollute the air by burning coal and oil which is also bad for our health?

  14. Engaging with climate change deniers is a waste of time and only puts more wind in their sales.

    Unfortunately there are various degrees of climate change deniers…those rightly opposing fossil fuels because of CO2 emissions yet advocating for biomass energy–which has higher CO2 emissions per unit of energy produced–is just another form of climate change denial.

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