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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the weekend: The Copenhagen climate summit fails — how screwed are we?

Here’s one reason why I’ve been so depressed this week: The Copenhagen climate summit has been a disaster since the beginning, and yesterday it ended in an “agreement” that is nothing more than mealy-mouthed bullshit that won’t do a damn thing to reign in CO2 emission and, at best, puts off any action for years. The “agreement” sets no goals or deadlines on emissions and makes no provisions for doing so.

Guardian climate writer George Monbiot summarized it well:

Even before this new farce began it was starting to look as if it might be too late to prevent two or more degrees of global warming. The nation states, pursuing their own interests, have each been passing the parcel of responsibility since they decided to take action in 1992.

We have now lost 17 precious years; possibly the only years in which climate breakdown could have been prevented. This has not happened by accident: it is the result of a systematic campaign of sabotage by certain states, which has been driven and promoted by the energy industries. This idiocy has been aided and abetted by the nations characterised, until now, as the good guys: those which have made firm commitments, only to invalidate them with loopholes, false accounting and outsourcing. In all cases immediate self-interest has trumped the long-term welfare of humankind. Corporate profits and political expediency have proved to be more urgent concerns than either the natural world or human civilisation. Our political systems are incapable of discharging the main function of government: to protect us from each other.

Goodbye Africa, goodbye south Asia; goodbye glaciers and sea ice, coral reefs and rainforest; it was nice knowing you, not that we really cared. The governments which moved so swiftly to save the banks have bickered and filibustered while the biosphere burns.

(Emphasis mine.)

Now, two degrees Celsius of warming will be disastrous; more will be beyond catastrophic:

To point out the obvious: we are now in the yellow arrow, because action will not be taken in 2010.

And to belabor a point: please check out this page at Climate Progress, which summarizes the hell we are in for, and includes numerous links to many scientifically valid evidence and explanations of just how bad it’s going to be.

So, sorry to be a bummer, but here’s the question of the weekend: How fucked are we? Many people reading this can expect to be alive 50 years from now — I may well be (I’d be 90, but that’s not totally unreasonable). Many people reading this know and love children today who will still be alive in 50 years. What is the world going to look like then, for us and for them, either politically or culturally or geographically? Where would you move to escape the worst ravages of global warming? (I’ve heard suggestions that the Pacific Northwest may be in the best position, not just geographically but politically and culturally, to weather it, so to speak.)

Oh, and please ignore comments from global warming deniers: I’ll delete such comments, and there’s no reason to engage these people. If you’re tempted yourself to post a denialist comment, and you’ve got something that hasn’t already been readily shown to be bullshit — that is, you’ve got actual scientific evidence that global warming isn’t happening, and/or that it has nothing to do with human activity — then, my god, man, why on Earth are you posting it at a movie-review site in a weekend post designed merely to build a bit of community spirit and let regular readers get to know one another a little more? You’ve got the scoop of the century, and you should be approaching peer-reviewed journals and major science magazines. Imagine what wonderful news it would be if we could prove, beyond reasonable scientific doubt, that we’re not fucked! You know, kinda like all the honest science we have today says we are. (And no, deniers are not skeptics in the sense that the scientific method relies on skepticism.)

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD/QOTW, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTW sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • doa766

    to quote X-Men 2 “most people will never know anything except for what they see with their own eyes”

    nothing will change until there’re clear signs of this affecting the economy and people’s lives like sinking coast cities, lack of water and dramatic climate changes, and of course, by then it will be too late

  • Jolly

    Robert Bryce sums it up best:

    Renewable energy sources are touted as a key solution to our energy needs, but wind power and solar problem are incurably intermittent and that intermittency means that they cannot replace meaningful amounts of hydrocarbons, which now provide about 88% of total global energy needs.


    Unless we’re willing to do with radically less, nothing is going to happen. Monbiot makes this point over and over:

    Our freedoms, our comforts, our prosperity are all the result of fossil fuels… It is true that we have untapped sources of energy in wind, waves, tides and sunlight, but it is neither so concentrated nor so consistent that we can plug it in and carry on as before.

    So as long as cars, aviation and a host of other modern conveniences are part of our expectations, we’re not going to make any progress on global warming.

  • Paul

    Actually, a very recent article (Nov. 2009 issue) in the Scientific American outlines a plan for completely green world-wide energy grid by 2030. It looks like a lot of money, but not compared to the Pentagon’s budget. This is not to say I believe it will happen . . .

    That same issue has plans for 30 story greenhouses to replace loss of farmland. They write about building them in abandoned industrial areas where land is cheap.

    I think Canada should start thinking about it’s immigration policies, too. And I imagine hordes of Chinese moving to Siberia. Meanwhile Islam dies off as a religion because they’ve all run out of water, Africa finishes it’s decline into ruin, and MaryAnn has to move to Albany.

  • fm

    But, didn’t they actually agree to reduce emissions on 1990 level till 2050, so we have a BLUE line?

  • Muzz

    Carbon trading schemes are, I’m fairly sure anyway, a mid nineties idea of the sort Enron came out with (everything can be a deregulated market! It’ll be great!).
    They were the biggest obstacle, to the hole thing working out. They don’t necessarily do anything useful according to estimates from both greenies and utopian libertarian types. It might be a good thing in one sense if they fall apart.
    The next thing to overcome is every country saying (in unison, ironically) “Well we’re not going to do anything if they’re not going to do anything.” *foldarms*. We may just have to do it locally regardless of the apparent futility of non-global measures.

  • Victor Plenty

    No single locality can meet its current power demand with solar. Few, if any, single nations can meet their current demand with solar. However, the planet as a whole can meet all current and future demand for electrical power entirely with solar electricity. Wind, wave, geothermal, biomass, nuclear, and hydroelectric would be good supplemental sources, but we can get everything we really need from solar.

    The sun never sets on a global power grid.

    That’s what we’d be building right now, if we weren’t blinkered by the fossil fuel industries.

  • Bill

    Did everyone see Palin’s tweet on the issue? Here is part of it…

    “Earth saw clmate chnge4 ions;will cont 2 c chnges.R duty2responsbly devlop resorces4humankind/not pollute&destroy;but cant alter naturl chng,”

    Now, this is Art, no doubt. But let’s ignore rhetoric and focus on her mad science skilz. Earth saw climate change for “ions”? Really, Sarah? I question your climate science credentials.

  • Paul

    If Sarah Palin had scientific credentials, her base would reject her. The GOP has been in a state of dumbing down for decades. Bad enough “Dr.” Laura was posing as a therapist when her degree was in literature (?). Now the GOP doesn’t even bother; they play dumb and are proud of it. What I never wrapped my head around is the appeal of an AWOL reservist as commander-in-chief, even to good old boys and “I wanna have a beer with my prez” crowd.

  • RogerBW

    Have the guts to build nuclear power plants and orbiting solar receivers, or everyone dies (and a good thing too, if we can’t even manage that). Telling people to “make do with less” in the absence of an immediate visible threat has never worked and will not work now – especially when most of those people are in China, and have been waiting for their turn to get a decent standard of living while watching the West squander its seed capital.

  • Bluejay

    I checked out the Monbiot speech that Jolly quoted from and thought the full thing was worth sharing:


    And another take on Copenhagen:

    The failure of the climate talks breaks my heart. I understand the argument that this was just a small step, and progress is made up of small, imperfect steps–but dammit, we are losing precious time.

    MaryAnn wonders in another post why people aren’t rioting over health care, but I think this is what the rioting should be about. And if we aren’t up in arms, then we’re part of the problem (myself included). As others have said, I don’t think we fully appreciate how much of our modern culture is ultimately dependent on fossil fuels, and how much we have to give up in order to make any significant impact. If we demand drastic change from our leaders, we have to be willing to demand it of ourselves.

    [Muzz wrote] We may just have to do it locally regardless of the apparent futility of non-global measures.

    In the end, that’s all we can personally do,isn’t it? “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” We’re Sam in Mordor, foolishly rationing the lembas bread so there’ll be enough for “the journey home.” Maybe it’s a lost cause, but I’ll still try to be as “green” as I can (and I have a far from perfect record), even when it seems hopeless. Because the alternative is to despair, and I refuse to live that way.

  • Bluejay

    Adding: Thought I’d share this link as well, since it seems relevant to both the climate change and health care conversations here. I know DailyKos probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I found this an interesting take. With a discussion of Babylonian myth, fantasy, and science fiction to boot.


    A choice quote:

    And just because progressives look forward, it doesn’t mean we’re always hopeful. Sometimes we’re the ones who get fixated on certain goals, even when those goals are no longer realistic. The results of bumping against the stubborn mass of the world as it is can be frustrating. It’s not hard for progressives to find failure. We can find them even in our successes. […] But a low batting average is the price of science fiction. Predicting the future, even in the broadest terms, has never been an easy game and setting the path for the future is even tougher. We should not be bright-sided into an overly-rosy view of the future, but neither should be be constantly in a funk over the latest set back. It’s all too easy, especially on issues like the environment, to see every future as a dystopia.

  • Martin

    It’s strange. My usual position is that whether or not you believe in climate change (or at least man made climate change. I believe it to be just as arrogant for us to try and artificially keep an evolving system in our favour as it is to keep on pumping out pollution), nobody can deny that coal, oil and gas are finite resources (well, technically the sun is too but not in a few hundred lifetimes) so it’s only logical to look for more sustainable resources before they run out.

    But I’ve come across enough deniers (all Christian) that have responded by saying that “God will make more” or “we’ll be Raptured by the time they run out”. If that’s the attitude of the people God put in charge of looking after the earth, I wouldn’t put them in charge of a pebble.

  • Paul

    Martin, one of my pet unproveable theories is that the reason Reagan and the Bushes didn’t mind running up huge government debt is because they believed the Rapture would take them all up into Heaven and leave the rest of us with the bill.

    And my usual end run around their arguements when dealing with naysayers on climate change is that clean water and air are good things in of themselves.

  • MaryAnn

    (Denialist comment deleted, as promised.)

    nobody can deny that coal, oil and gas are finite resources (well, technically the sun is too but not in a few hundred lifetimes) so it’s only logical to look for more sustainable resources before they run out.

    Exactly. And wouldn’t it be lucky for us if the fossil fuels ran out *before* we do irreparable damage to the environment? Wish I could remember where I read it, but apparently there are suggestions that we may only be able to use 60 percent of the oil we believe is left if we want to avert the very worst extrapolations.

    One way or another, though, we *will* be forced to stop using fossil fuels. Hopefully that won’t mean that runaway warming ends industrialized civilization and reduces the human population to a small percentage of what it is today. In my *Star Trek* utopian dreams, someone discovers cold fusion tomorrow, and we enter Cory Doctorow’s post-scarcity economy, and all we have to worry about from then on is our whuffie scores.

    We’ll probably end up somewhere in the middle, however, scrambing to make drastic, expensive changes to reformat everything about our civilization in an attempt to save some of it, and as many people as possible.

  • Paul

    Actually, I don’t think there will be a scramble to save “as many people as possible.” There will be a scramble to preserve our way of life in America, with lots of relocation and food rationing (maybe as simple as removing the federal subsidy for beef, since giving up beef would free up a lot of agricultural resources) until agricultural innovation catches up to the dust bowl effect (the technology already exists, what we lack is the political will), while millions of people die in the Third World until we spread our “new” innovations, assuming that the wars in Africa don’t prevent even that assistance. It is no great stretch of my imagination to imagine water and food wars across the Islamic world, either, or China eyeing Siberia.

  • Jolly

    And wouldn’t it be lucky for us if the fossil fuels ran out *before* we do irreparable damage to the environment?

    Be careful what you wish for. Our whole system, including agriculture, depends on fossil fuels as the primary energy source. We will also need those same fossil fuels to begin building whatever energy infrastructure will replace them. My impression from reading sites like theoildrum.com is that it is far from a given that: (i) we will make those investments in time and (ii) that various alternative energy sources can be scaled up in a way that will allow us to continue our current way of life. Whether crops fail due to an altered climate or an inability to produce the energy necessary to produce fertilizers for nutrient depleted lands and desalinize water after we have sucked dry the last aquidifier, starvation is still the end result.

  • allochthon

    I vacillate between “we’re so screwed” and “maybe we can do this” on a daily basis. I just live as green as I can, and I’m getting involved with the local food movement, and urban agriculture.

    When the oil runs out, we won’t be able to transport the food, even from the organic farms 100 miles out of the city, at least until we can breed up enough horses and mules to do the hauling…

    Urban food networks. That’s where we gotta be.

    Having said that, I really am screwed. I’ll starve in Jolly’s scenario, and I’d starve if I had to depend on my whuffie score, too!

  • PC

    I know a lot of people see Carbon Trading (as opposed to a straight Carbon Tax) as a bit of window dressing that is both unfair and ineffective but that’s to discount the Machiavellian nature of Carbon Trading.

    Politicians see Carbon Trading as a way to keep themselves and the next generation a bit more honest by creating a powerful lobby group to push for tighter caps on carbon motivated by greed and not altruism. Carbon Trading will make a lot of, not necessarily deserving, people very rich. These people will be market facilitators, not energy producers, and their greatest desire will be to make the carbon certificates they buy and sell more expensive.

    And, yes, politicians will be able to distort the carbon market by bestowing favours on certain groups and industries but that’s essentially living and breathing to any politician.

    The few that I know personally are saying, “Lets get a trading scheme in place no mater what we have to give away to get it because once the levers are there its simply a matter of time and pressure to tighten the levers and drop the concessions to make the scheme bite.”

    I see the process a bit like nuclear disarmament: it started out with a lot of fine words but little reduction in arms but it DID set up an organisation for cataloguing and verifying nuclear weapons. Over time, the more confidence nations had that nobody could cheat the system the more willing they were to make serious arms reductions.

    If you judged that process on its first few years you’d give up in despair and that’s the danger from Copenhagen – that we’ll simply give up before we start. Its human nature to take a long time learning to trust strangers. Let’s hope the planet gives us long enough.

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