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Climate Mitigation Alternatives - Sorting Them Out

By Bill Henderson

25 November, 2014

Now that we all agree that climate change is happening, has become an emergency after at least two decades of denial and procrastination, and requires urgent action, I suggest that presently there is no informing dialogue about the full spectrum of climate change danger with the full spectrum of possible solutions.

Naomi Klein's book THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING has provoked a wide spectrum of reviewer reaction in arguing that fighting back capitalism is the only real climate change solution.

Especially interesting has been the criticism by those that agree with Klein that climate change is an emergency requiring urgent action but view the path to needed mitigation much differently.

The reaction to Klein's book and argument is mirrored at the more liberal section of the political spectrum by a Paul Krugman column based upon a New Climate Economy Project report, and a working paper from the International Monetary Fund - we can easily solve climate change in BAU with a little economic tweaking, a carbon tax or support for renewables.

Dr. Krugman's climate mitigation path was then critically lampooned by climate hawks such as Richard Heinberg and David Roberts. ( Sam Bliss has pointed out the the NCEP report mandate is all about getting the most emission reduction in BAU, not importantly, an emission reduction of a scale necessary.)

Even if you have agreement that climate change is happening, even if there is agreement on emission reduction targets such as 2C and concerning the carbon budget calculations to stay under 2C, there remains fundamental worldview disagreement about possible mitigation paths and their efficacy.

ENERGY ALTERNATIVES - Surveying the Alternatives (PDF) points out that there is no shortage of alternatives but no real evaluation framework:

What They Might Mean for Action

Tables 1-3 should shame into thoughtful silence all who have ever challenged a critic of fossil-fuelled energy systems with the dismissive question "What's the alternative?", and induce in them a contrite resolve never to ask such a question again. As the tables show, there is no shortage of detailed, creative, even inspiring initiatives for moving away from fossil fuels.

But as the tables also show, the questions that these initiatives ask, the assumptions they make, and the interests they seek to serve are bewilderingly diverse. There may not be a lack of alternatives, but there is clearly a lack of a framework to make sense of them and discuss them in a democratic way. If the many divergent conversations about "energy alternatives" being carried on globally are to be brought together, analytically or politically, their points of difference and conflict as well as their possible areas of synergy must be recognized and mapped. To support uncritically any and all initiatives that describe themselves as "energy alternatives" would be to invite chaos and unending conflict – as well as making impossible a livable energy future.

Don't you think it would be useful to have a serious exercise in presenting alternatives in a transparent process where all the pertinent but never answered questions can get asked instead of factions just claiming that my tax or my electric car or my governance innovation is the only climate change alternative?

What if we could have a fully facilitated discussion where we took the time to first come to an agreement about the suite of dangers, and then the degree of mitigation needed, and then a real dialogue on how each of us saw the path or possibly multiple possible paths to get to that effective mitigation?

Imagine the protagonists as Naomi Klein, Amory Lovins, Jim Hansen, David Spratt, Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, Roger Peilke Jr. or some such collection of climate activists, and then the possibilities get interesting.

The facilitated discussion would be an iteration of written submissions with maybe meetings (real or online) when needed.

There might be some difficulty agreeing on degree of danger and what degree of warming should be a safe ceiling (maybe already passed) and then the emission reduction schedule (carbon budget timelines) necessary to stay under such a ceiling. Say there was agreement on only a 1.5C rise above pre-industrial levels, Schellnhuber's contraction-convergence calculations, and adequate allowance for slow feedbacks not presently in IPCC modeling.

Then, with this agreed upon understanding about the severity of danger and frame for mitigation, each particapant would propose their particular path(s) to effective solution, including strategies, tactics and timelines and maybe probabilities of success.

Then, using this agreed upon understanding, they would critique each others proposed path - Can renewables power our existing economy? System change, what system change? Emergency government, eco-fascist or re-local? etc - for as many iterations as would be valuable.

Such a process would help clarify our situation; activists could find strength in broad agreement and useful criticism of our particular advocated paths, maybe even a wakeup call that individual participants hadn't fully understood before. Each participant - and those who follow the process online broadly sharing their climate perspective - would have to understand how others see climate and effective mitigation. Everybody would have to do some learning.

Finally, given the presently denied seriousness of this emergency, we'd have a much better idea of how to proceed.

Right now the solution-must-be-compatible-with-BAU imperative forces most such attempts to formulate climate mitigation down paths with little hope of solution. Possible paths that are outside of this box don't get anywhere near adequate attention or debate. Impediments to needed change, rightful consideration of neoliberal governments as central problem, for only one example, would finally be included for consideration.

If the participants undertook such a (well facilitated) process, say online with opportunity for improving comment maybe, alternative approaches to both quantifying danger and mitigation options could be deliniated and argued out. This would be very valuable indeed - a far cry from the unexamined, siloed, blinkered by BAU, present climate conversation and negotiation. It could be a big step in overcoming solution aversion.

This level of discussion/dialogue/policy making should be bottom line given climate's probable catastrophic dangers and our responsibility for our (societies) use of fossil fuels today. Presently policy formation excludes meaningful debate on real paths to climate solution because all policy formation is dominated by fossil fuel controlled bodies, by 'dominant advocacy coalitions' in governments and organizations themselves mostly completely captured by fossil fuel and other related business interests,.

All it would take is an enlightened, reputable organization to facilitate. Transparently online. Develop the platform and solicit representative opinions.

Presentations of real paths to climate change mitigation in a process where all the hard questions will need to be answered, where criticism from other worldviews can be incorporated usefully. Where we quickly dispatch paths that presently promise but cannot deliver the emission reduction mitigation necessary.

Action on climate - what type of action now? Our political leaders won't lead so those who do recognize the dangers and who are serious about climate mitigation must step up to the plate.

Bill Henderson is a frequent contributor to Countercurrents on climate change. He can be reached at bill (at) pacificfringe.net






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