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4 Action Points For Holyrood To Avert Climate Chaos

Kevin Anderson’s scary ‘optimistic’ scenario

December 2nd, 2009 · 1 Comment

Kevin Ander­son, of the world renowned cli­mate sci­ence Tyn­dall Cen­tre, was in Glas­gow last week giv­ing a talk in which he took the most opti­mistic IPCC mod­els he could and still arrived at a pic­ture of the future in which human extinc­tion seemed pretty much assured since ‘mar­ket eco­nom­ics can­not deal with non-marginal changes’ and he couldn’t see the pop­u­lace and politi­cians being will­ing to embark on the dra­matic changes needed. He argued that ten years ago we could have made the tran­si­tion to a cli­mate safe econ­omy, now we could still make it but it would be bumpy, if we wait another ten years it will be very painful and may be too late. Cur­rent inter­na­tional nego­ti­a­tions, if suc­cess­ful, are likely to take us to 4C. To hold at 3C (if hold is pos­si­ble at that tem­per­a­ture, with arc­tic melt, for­est fires, and methane release feed­backs under­way) would require a 9% cut in emis­sions per year, to aim for ‘hold­ing’ at 4C would require a 3.5% cut pa. He argued that we aren’t polit­i­cally and socially capa­ble of cut­ting by 9%; and although we can cut by 3.5%, we can’t live at 4C. Despite his analy­sis, Kevin was a com­pletely engag­ing pre­sen­ter, get­ting laughs sev­eral times, espe­cially when he said that the only way we know to cut emis­sions rapidly is eco­nomic reces­sion, later adding that the col­lapse of the Soviet econ­omy had cut emis­sions there by 5% a year, half the rate of reduc­tion needed now.

Why did the audi­ence find it so funny that cut­ting emis­sions meant end­ing eco­nomic growth? It reminded me of Monbiot’s point about ‘eco­nomic growth’ being our ‘immor­tal­ity project’, our col­lec­tive denial of our own and our planet’s lim­its. Speak­ing with Kevin after­wards I asked him why he didn’t directly address the point and say out loud that this par­tic­u­lar eco­nomic sys­tem is the force dri­ving extinc­tion? His answer was arrest­ing: he feared that if he said this explic­itly then peo­ple would dis­miss every­thing else he is say­ing. This fear – that the one thing that needs to be com­mu­ni­cated can’t be com­mu­ni­cated – can be summed up by one word: taboo. Break­ing a taboo means no longer being wor­thy of con­sid­er­a­tion. This explains why all such attempts tend to dress up the move from eco­nomic growth to a sus­tain­able econ­omy in terms of improved hap­pi­ness and well-being rather than going straight to the point: this econ­omy is killing peo­ple and planet, and it has to be trans­formed, and trans­formed now.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Mark Langdon // Feb 22, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Well said. We need to up the hon­esty quo­tient in dis­cus­sion around these issues. Politi­cians won’t tell the truth ther­fore we need a new breed of hon­est politi­cian and we need them now!

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