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Globe 2010: Climate Change Denial

By Bill Henderson

25 March, 2010

Denial is a defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence...The concept of denial is particularly important to the study of addiction. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denial

GLOBE 2010, one of the world's largest and longest-running events dedicated to the business of the environment, comes to Vancouver March 24-26. Denial is the key word for Globe 2010 because almost everybody in business concerned with climate change has to shoehorn the climate change debate into continuing business as usual (BAU).

Below I will sketch out the present science bottom line - that climate change is high probability civilization if not humanity threatening; that the most sinister climate change danger is non-linear, possibly abrupt, runaway warming; and that, finally, the emerging global carbon budget science bottom line must be a Draconian 100% emission reduction by 2020.

Since this level of emission reduction is impossible within BAU, too uncomfortable to accept, Globe 2010 won't be about needed climate change mitigation but the bubble building presently labeled the low carbon economy. This is criminal denial because we are carbon addicts imperiling all future generations.


Shellnhuber's graph describes the 100% by 2020 reduction needed by countries like the US and Canada with 20 tonne plus per capita annual emissions. The 100% emission reduction by 2020 is in order to have a 60-70% chance of staying below 2C, the presently agreed upon precautionary ceiling to protect against dangerous, uncontrollable, runaway warming.

This is not just his opinion but the product of several key papers on a global carbon budget published over the past couple of years: Meinshausen, Allen, the WGBU (Shellnhuber) paper, and the Anderson-Bows paper commenting upon what we've learned about carbon budgets.

If you have high per-capita emissions (plus 20 tonnes) and the global per-capita emission rate over the next century to stay below 450 ppm / 2 C is somewhere below 2 tonnes annually then you are using a decades worth of your 21st century budget each year of present emissions. Countries like the US, Canada and Australia will, at present emission rates, use up their whole carbon budget for the next century in just the next decade. Deep, immediate cuts are necessary.

The Bali target of 25% of 1990 levels by 2020 is today regarded as a big stretch, laughable now in these post-Copenhagen, Climategate times, but the actual science, the reality, is that to have only a 70% chance of staying under 450 ppm / 2C the bottom line is 100% by 2020.

But the Arctic is melting and with the possibility of potent latent positive feedbacks in a climate history where even small forcings have whipsawed climate in our past, there is a substantive scientific case that getting below 350 ppm fast - not just staying below 450 ppm - has to be our new precautionary bottom line. Climate change isn't a slow, long term threat but tipping points that we are passing over today. Climate change is an emergency requiring urgent action.

Mark Lynas amongst others has described the dangers of increasing global temperatures by one, two, five or six degrees C. Two degrees is civilization threatening and six is probably extinction for most species including man. The history in ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica is that an increase of global temperature by one or two degrees can with latent feedbacks lead to temperature increase past six degrees to major extinction events. A one degree increase is already happening. The melting Arctic ice cap will accelerate warming with albedo decrease and melting permafrost. The inter-generational ethics precautionary ceiling has arguably been exceeded.

So what level of emission reduction should we be making in 2010? And what actions should we be taking to reduce emissions?

But there is such deep denial, we are so mis-educated, so constrained to only considering BAU friendly mitigation methods, that even a proper debate about science-based due diligence to future generations is not allowed. There are no credible voices arguing that the science demands action including the closure of the tarsands and all coal, rationing of carbon and/or truly effective, $300 and going up carbon taxes (funding a transition economy).

No speaker at Globe 2010 will be so heretical as to acknowledge our true climate change predicament. There will be only more denial: whatever emission reduction is possible incrementally within BAU: messaging for green consumerism, financial instruments such as a carbon tax or cap and trade that fit into BAU, and, of course, green energy to replace fossil fuels.

The Age of Stupid green economy path offered at Globe 2010 will mean continuing increasing not decreasing emissions. This is criminal denial that seriously obstructs needed change.

MIT's Stephen Pacala has calculated that the wealthiest 7% of the global population produce more than half of all emissions while the remaining six billion individual carbon footprints are negligible. ( Barry Saxifrage on Pacala's insight: brilliant read.)

Canadian's carbon footprint exceeds 20 tonnes annually, amongst the very highest in the world. In carbon addict denial we consider only weak, incremental limitations on our ever growing emissions instead of the cold turkey withdrawl that is so urgently needed: a quick end to addiction that we would agree to if we only allowed ourselves rational thought about our actions, their consequences, and real paths to transition.

On the Friday morning before the opening of the Olympics I met in Vancouver with a climate change specialist for a big ENGO who shall remain anon. My topic was denial and mis-education by ENGOs on climate. He was open, very bright, had a big heart - the best - and he gave me time to make my arguments but he was constrained by his ENGO limitations. He's a young dad and it was his daughter's first birthday he told me as we parted and we have two daughters and now two granddaughters too, and I was walking through Olympic Vancouver and saw many families in town for the Games and I thought: How many of these young dads have a clue about the foremost danger to their families, their kid's futures? If they did have the best information about this danger would they still be coming to and in favor of the Olympics? For just the most obvious example?

If you are a parent and now out of denial about the climate change danger to your kids, what do you think about Globe 2010 and the continuing denial that keeps us from needed action, emergency action to end our addiction? What can we do about business's inability to escape carbon addict denial?

bill (at) pacificfringe.net



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