Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Paris Climate Summit Success Hinges On Subduing the 'Old Brain'

"I've come here personally, as the leader of the world's largest economy and the second largest emitter to say that the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it". - Barack Obama at the Paris Climate Summit yesterday

Obama's words were bold but his other promise that alternative cleaner energy sources for poorer nations  (like India)  can be funded by Republicans (i.e. the WH can get them to), is perhaps wishful thinking. The Repubs are dug in on this issue, and most of them - see previous post - are not even sufficiently scientifically literate to recognize the problem or want to do something about it. Instead - like WSJ's Matt Ridley in a recent piece ('Your Complete Guide to the Climate Debate', Nov. 28-29, p. A11) they continue to confabulate distortions and lies about it. In fact, contrary to Ridley's header (and as a former scientist he ought to be ashamed of himself) there is NO "debate".

In their analysis of the extent of scientific consensus on global warming (Eos Transactions, Vol. 90, No. 3, p. 22) , P. T. Doran and M. Kendall-Zimmerman found that (p. 24)

“the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely non-existent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes.”

In their analytic survey for which 3146 climate and Earth scientists responded, a full 96.2% of specialists concurred temperatures have steadily risen and there is no evidence for cooling. Meanwhile, 97.4% concur there is a definite role of humans in global climate change.

Ridley,  like the more sophisticated 'pukes, also dredges up other shibboleths*  like "global warming has slowed significantly over the past two decades",  a canard that caused the Reepo Presidential candidates to earn failing marks when they regurgitated it. (See previous post). Ridley is also guilty of making statements such as: "Antarctic ice is increasing" - supposedly offering inconsistent evidence for global warming.  But I already showed the errors of this interpretation in a past post:


In their book, New World, New Mind: Changing The Way We Think To Change The Future, authors Robert Ornstein and Paul Ehrlich show why humans don't always recognize approaching threats and often fight making necessary changes - even to ensure survival.  For example, referencing overpopulation (p. 197):

"Overpopulation causes no cracking branches, no thunderclaps, no darkening of the cave door. It leads to small annual changes in columns of numbers, hidden in reports.  The lethal threats of overpopulation are not even signaled by demographic statistics.  Those statistics- birth rates, death rates, growth rates, life expectancies and the like - were all very well known to demographers a generation ago. The numbers were there, but to the old mind they signified little, Sure, the population was growing and fast, but so what?"

When the future finally arrived, the recalcitrant old mind (or old brain, given the process called 'mind' emanates from it) could see how overpopulation contributed to the deterioration of the international economic system, and manifested in multiple way such as increases in the prices of food, less potable water, higher energy costs, higher home costs, etc. But instead of accepting the need for change the old mind often invented new rationalizations and excuses not to alter the status quo, e.g. "population growth is needed for economic growth".

The same, of course, pertains to climate change. This has been seen coming since the 1970s but little has been done, say in terms of expediting the emergence of alternative energy sources, until now we have reached a critical threshold for action. Again, the old brain - like that of Donald Trump - fails to appreciate that, as when he babbled on 'Morning Joe':

"One of the dumbest statements I've ever heard in the history of politics ...was Obama's that our number one problem is global warming"

Embodying all the atavistic aspects of the old brain we recognize.

As the authors note, in respect of the inherent problem (p. 3):

"We don't perceive the world as it is, because our nervous system evolved to select only a small extract of reality and to ignore the rest. we never experience exactly the same situation twice, so it would be uneconomical to take in every occurrence. Instead of conveying everything about the world, our nervous system is 'impressed' only by dramatic changes. This internal spotlight makes us sensitive to the beginnings and endings of almost every event more than the changes, whether gigantic or tiny, in the middle. "

In the same early pages, Ornstein and Ehrlich note how this "old Mind" of a nation or people can be ramped up collectively and reinforced if its leaders also display and act on their own 'old Minds' prejudices, beliefs, etc. This is certainly evident in the statements of the current Republican field and their denial of global warming, or distorting it to portray it as not that big a problem.  Thankfully, not all Americans are "old brain"- compromised, as recent polls show that 64 % acknowledge it is mostly human caused, while 53 % say it is the most important issue, even surpassing the economy.

In terms of the Paris Climate Summit, the choices at this point are few to halt the 3.6 F threshold increase the participants are supposedly committed to halting. The problem is the steps needed now may be all but impossible to implement politically - especially as the GOP's old mind denizens have vowed to fight anything Obama agrees to.

To fix ideas, Bill McKibben's mathematical limits are instructive. We have roughly 550 gigatons (gT)  of carbon remaining that we can deposit into the atmosphere before earthly "Hell"  is unleashed in the form of rising seas, hellish temperatures and super heat waves, prolonged droughts and superstorms.

Give a current 30 gT/year deposition rate - and assuming we don't add to it,  that leaves us roughly  18 years before - give or take a fraction -  we end up in a likely runaway greenhouse world. It's a world you don't want to live in, believe me.  McKibben's  point was that if we are to avoid that crash inflection point everything must be done to limit the current rate of carbon deposition, including pursuing alternative energy options and imposing significant carbon taxes to limit demand.

The problem? The energy- and fossil fuel empires that govern most of our politicos and economic system don't see it that way. McKibben cited the fact that Exxon's share price, for example, is based on a total carbon deposition of at least 2,800 gT - which also conforms to expectations set by hedge funds, et al including Peabody Global. Thus, again, oil economics is poised against the welfare of humanity and the planet.

This isn't just scare mongering. The most recent reports on melting glaciers (Denver Post, Nov. 27, p. 16A),  show that "90 percent of the world's glaciers are retreating and many of the smaller ones - as in Glacier National Park - are disappearing most rapidly". Most significant is the impact beyond the loss of majestic scenery (such as wifey and I beheld on trips to Switzerland in 2014 and to Alaska in 2005).  Specifically, "thawing glaciers account for 20 percent of the sea level rise recorded in the past century in the past century adding to the meltwater coming from the polar ice caps and ice sheets."

 To put it as McKibben might: Do you want to be able to drive anywhere you wish cheaply and easily, or do you want to fry in endless 'summers' that last all year long...or ...with hundreds of F5  tornadoes to deal with -not to mention new diseases like cholera, amoebic dysentery and dengue fever?

The answer of the old brained Republicans is twofold: 1) they plan to vote to repeal power plant emission rules limiting CO2, and 2) they aim to block funneling and money to developing nations as part of the UN 'Green Climate Fund' to fight increasing CO2 levels. (WSJ,  Nov. 28-29, p. A5)  Nice guys! But....saddled with old brains!

Apart from the knuckle-dragging Reepos who we expect to be reactionary, McKibben's question needs to be answered by each of the 147 nations represented at the Paris Climate Summit.  The problem is that answering it correctly will mean subduing their "old brains". Can they do it? Given they haven't up to now, I am not too confident!

See also:


*An old idea, opinion, or saying that is commonly believed and repeated but which has since been shown to be untrue.

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