An Obesity Analogy
By Bill Henderson
30 May, 2007
we see now, even in the most progressive governments as far as climate
change is concerned, is that they're giving up on the key climate change
target, which is preventing global temperatures from rising by more
than two degrees centigrade, 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above a pre-industrial
Now, this is a critical
target, because if you get beyond that point, that's when the positive
feedbacks start to begin. That's when the biosphere, the world’s
natural systems, begins to produce far more carbon dioxide, far more
methane. It begins to absorb less of the carbon dioxide, which we produce,
and that is a point beyond which we can't do anything more about it.
Two degrees of global warming, centigrade, leads automatically to three
degrees, because of positive feedbacks. Three degrees leads automatically
to four degrees. Once we get to that point, we wash our hands of it.
There's nothing more we can do. So we must not get to that point. That
is a critical thing. We can't allow two degrees centigrade of warming
to happen. To have a high chance of preventing that from happening requires
a 60% global cut in carbon emissions by 2030.
So why are we still doing
next to nothing as greenhouse
gas emissions skyrocket? Why after two decades of procrastination
are we now only aiming at woefully inadequate emission targets? At impotent
caps and emission trading?
Well the usual suspects include
the Church of Business which continues to use money from increasing
returns in the fossil fuel economy to obfuscate and muddy climate change
science, contain debate within sacred BAU and greenwash supposed green-lite
consumption. The major media are, of course, CofB acolytes with no real
interest in making any case for needed radical change. Politicians -
well they're politicians.
The better half of the population
seem to have an almost genetic predisposition against even thinking
about potential catastrophe. Blonde, Oprah and Madonna have better things
to do it seems than consider whether our present cumulative actions
will win us the Supreme Darwin Award for self-extinction.
Runaway climate change is
an insidious evil, an unmarked threshold not a flesh and blood enemy.
Perhaps we would already be mobilizing into real action if the climate
change danger had a sinister human face.
But maybe it is how the climate
change - global warming story has been told; maybe the disconnect began
with a faulted diagnosis that we as patient continue to cling to instead
of undertaking life saving change.
Consider an analogy with
the spectrum of health risks due to obesity: the doctor had first warned
that we risk type two diabetes, arthritis, breathing problems and an
increasing risk of certain cancers if we continued to add weight. When
he first started alerting us to the risks of obesity he might or might
not have mentioned that there was also an increased risk of cardiovascular
disease but now, in our advancing state of obesity, he tells us that
we have a serious, increasing risk of having a fatal heart attack too.
Sea-level rise in 2100. An
increasing risk of hurricanes, weird weather and heat waves. Risks to
farming and forestry; drought and famine leading to failed states and
refugees. Corroding ecosystems; species extinction; disease migration
and bug infestations. Predicted increasing but adaptable - not terminal
- risks as the temperature rises.
Just don't think about the
possibility of a life ending jammer at any time soon.
Our perception of global
warming - climate change began with warnings about problems far off
in the future. Because the immediate risk was negligible and life was
good we never really considered the lifestyle change that was needed.
We promised to go on a diet but never really stuck to it. Now, with
our increased 'weight', change will be harder; we will need to make
radical, maybe even enforced lifestyle changes not just pushing away
from the table, maybe even have our stomach stapled and we really don't
want to think about it.
So we don't focus on the
increasing probability of death soon but content ourselves that the
new diet - strict targets this time and better, cleaner food - and controlling
the secondary health risks are enough. And everybody's happy. Don't
have to give up the obese consumption economy.
And because economists, the
parish priests or vicars of the CofB, seem to also share a congenital
inability to appreciate our present predicament as potential
jammer catastrophe, and because the whole spectrum of climate change
awareness and possible mitigation is lead by economists, we will continue
to have a public debate that is completely within BAU with the argument
centering upon how strict a diet we must go on now in order to not have
costs of 3.86 trillion pounds or such in 2050.
A qualifying phrase such
as if there is an economy in 2050, if we survive to 2050, is never included.
We, the patient, continue to expect a happy old age maybe a little tempered
by bad weather. There will be an economy in 2050 surely? Life goes on
Bill (at) pacificfringe.net
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