Guest post: Good News/Bad News

November 9, 2009 at 1:34 pm (Politics) (, , , )

After a dead week up here, we get a guest post from Vorex, sometimes commentor, sometimes political debator with myself off the list.  I’ll post my own response later on, but for now, thanks for chiming in, Vorex!


Followers of climate change politics will not be surprised that recent news out of Stockholm indicates a practical impossibility of any binding agreement at Copenhagen. It really shouldn’t have taken a disagreement on how the thing would be funded, the fact that every nation in the world is turning up with a ‘you go first’ attitude has made it clear that these talks would be ultimately fruitless. So in the absence of the political will necessary to address this on a global scale what do we have? Well, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is that it won’t be as bad as some are saying. No matter how bad warming gets it won’t be the end of life on Earth. That’s remarkably hard to do without physically breaking the planet, and even then it’s a job and some. It won’t even be the end of human life on Earth … we’re now so numerous and so technologically equipped that we could probably survive, in some form, even an acute disaster like a catastrophic asteroid impact. We’d manage the gradual creep of climate change. Some of us, anyway.

 The bad news is that it’s not all going to be OK. Oceans will rise, and become more acidic. Sea life, much more abundant than land life, will be affected. Changing climactic conditions will alter the viable range of plants, including food crops. Land will be submerged, some of it highly valuable, some of it highly populated. Most of it problematic. The people of the future will live in a world which is geographically and ecologically quite different to today.

 One of the many distractions taking place in this arena is the question of whether warming is anthropogenic, that is to say are humans responsible? I don’t see that it really matters. The implication in the question is that if it’s not our fault then we don’t have to do anything about it. It equates ‘natural’ (in the sense of not man-made) with ‘benign’ and couldn’t be more wrong. The eruption at Pompeii was ‘natutral’, the recent pacific tsunami was ‘natural’, hurricane Katrina was ‘natural’ and the meteor impact which lead to the K-T boundary was ‘natural’ … but is it safe to say that we would expend significant resources on each of these events had we known with certainty they were coming.

 For that matter, every mass extinction to date has been entirely natural … and yet managed to wipe out vast swathes of life on earth. There remains a debate as to whether we are currently experiencing a mass extinction event (the Holocence) and whether this is anthropogenic or not. Ultimately, again, I think the question is irrelevant. Wherever the extinction event came from (if there is one) we can either act to prevent it, or not. It’s either worth it, or not. Those are really the only two options.

 The same is true of climate change. We are currently in an advantageous climate, and we can either work to preserve it (regardless of the source of change) or not. Politically, it would seem that we have chosen ‘not’.


1 Comment

  1. H. o'Dagg said,

    And why should this be a surprise to anyone? You’re right, I’m not an optimist on this.

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