The University of Manchester’s Professor Kevin Anderson responds to today’s report from the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change.
The IPCC report meticulously lays out how the serious climate impacts of 1.5°C of warming are still far less destructive than those for 2°C. Sadly, the IPCC then fails, again, to address the profound implications of reducing emissions in line with both 1.5 and 2°C. Dress it up however we may wish, climate change is ultimately a rationing issue.
“Until human society is prepared to acknowledge the huge asymmetry in consumption and hence emissions, temperatures will continue to rise beyond 1.5 and 2°C”
There is the problem. “Science” does not have the influence that OPEC and petroleum companies, and the huddled masses yearning to connect with the “American dream” without having to endure the likes of the current US government.
In the US the profiteers benefit from the evangelists of magical thinking like Senator Imhof, former governor and now Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and the pope of this church, President “clean coal” Donald Trump. Not even the medieval Roman Catholic Church had such a death wish.
I think what that article winds up concluding is that realistically it is almost certain that temperatures will eventually increase beyond 2C to 3C or 4C or higher. Each country has made a voluntary pledge under the Paris Climate Accord and each country is going to have to reduce emissions according to the circumstances of that country. I don’t understand where this top 20% emits 70% of the emissions comes from. China is by far the largest emitter and that mainly due to its extensive use of coal.
What people don’t say but seems likely, given all the interdependent systems at imminent risk, is a fast collapse of the supports for the global population, such as industrial agriculture, shipping, finance, and nice weather. This will solve the emissions problem quick, and the well-off won’t be spared. Suddenly the West will become the new Ethiopia/Sudan/Haiti, only without international aid. Ironically places that are poor now and reliant on subsistence agriculture will fare better. Some people will survive and carry on, after climate change has been averted in this way. No worries, everyone dies eventually anyway. So the rich, instead of setting up bunkers in New Zealand, ought to apprentice themselves to farmers and herders in Nepal or Mongolia.
Kevin Anderson has certainly been doing much better than whatever the last IPCC report is called (Even Worse Than We Thought, Seriously Dude We’re Not Kidding, Let Me Put It This Way) in focusing on the intersection of inequality and climate catastrophe. Better than practically anyone, actually.
But his prescriptions strike my ear as insufficient–only because (as a scientific genius) he may not be equipped to confront the real core of the problem, which is spiritual. Sure, there’s a chance we could spontaneously turn to compassion. That doesn’t seem bloody likely, Kevin.
Lord knows, I’m not saying everyone needs to start going to church–arguably, religion does more harm than good. But it’s so off-limits to even consider the moral plane of climate disruption that I know of few treatments. Pope Francis’ great Laudato Si is one of them, carrying a concern for equality similar to Anderson’s, but from a moral angle–which may be more productive if moral healing is the top priority.
All creatures great and small look after their children. We might think it grotesque that a male praying mantis gets his head chewed off out of concern for the next generation. That’s not even close to the grotesque spectacle of this one biped species, which seems to have forgotten how to effectively love their own children.
It’s pretty obvious that the biggest impact on GHG emissions would come by the highest emitters (current and historically and per capita) making the most significant reductions.
I think the top 20% emits 70% of the emissions has more to do with the class of individuals (their emissions and the emissions of industry, etc. that support this lifestyle) than nations. There are many Americans as well as Chinese among that top 20%. You see that Anderson includes jet-setting academics among them.
Anderson is one of the few climate scientist that uses the idea of a “carbon budget” to figure the effects of human behavior (e.g., burning fossil fuels) on global warming, rather than setting a final goal to be fossil fuel free with an date attached. This takes into account how quickly the curve bends down as an important factor in determining the degree of rise in global temperature.
I don’t see his comments as a conclusion or prediction at all, more as a “call to arms,” or more accurately a call to all earthlings to wake up.
Yes, I agree. And as a scientist, rather than an economist OR a spiritual leader, Anderson is constrained by academic and societal norms to mostly accept the conventional wisdom in those fields of knowledge and understanding. In this article he is probably stepping on some toes in both of them, for which I salute him.
A grotesquely out of balance population may continue to exist on this planet if we can stop it from growing more out of balance, stop fossil fuel addiction, get everyone to eat a more sustainable plant based diet, adopt a more equitable, humble and compassionate lifestyle, decrease the CO2 in the atmosphere, stop wasting resources on wars and militarism and rapidly evolve the world economy away from capitalism. Come to think of it, contraceptives would be easier…
There are any number of unprecedented problems facing the Catholic church. But sometimes wisdom can be found in unexpected places. I’m riven by Francis’ Laudato Si. On the one hand, it’s probably the most beautiful analysis I’ve ever seen–making the point that poverty and climate disruption are interlinked.
On the other hand, even sympathetic Catholics wonder whether the moral authority of the church has dangerously slipped. Some quite ugly things and some quite lovely things have drawn inspiration from Catholic ways. (You can say the same about Judaism and Islam, of course.)
Meanwhile, though, a huge part of China’s emissions comes from products made for US consumption. Even were one to imagine somehow that this is a discretely Chinese problem and not an American problem, the percentage of Chinese nationals with command control over this process is tiny.
I therefore, that the claim has to do more with distinctions in class than distinctions in nationality, since highly positioned people in capitalist societies, even those that claim to be something else, use enormous amounts of energy.
Ask the people living around nukes like Fukushima, Three Mile Island, San Onofre and others what happened to their property values.
Why don’t you clean up your radioactive mess at Hanford, Savannah River and many more dumps and sites instead of making us pay for decommissioning, nuke waste disposal, etc. before trying to shove more nukes down the public’s throats?
Strictly speaking, nukes do not emit any carbon dioxide or any methane directly. BUT: Nuclear power generation over the life cycle of a facility, from site prep to mining and processing to operation to decommissioning, has an enormous carbon footprint. I don’t have the numbers, and it might be somewhat less carbon per megawatt hour than a fossil fuel facility.
But factor in all of nuclear power’s other drawbacks, including the consequences of poor planning, today’s inevitable shoddy workmanship, and cutting corners every step of the way to keep the burgeoning cost down, PLUS the cost (in money and carbon) of keeping the high-level waste bottled up reliably while untended even for two millennia, not to mention the mind-boggling cost of the occasional meltdown, nuclear power amounts to spending a dollar to save a dime.
Had it not been for the need for cover for making plutonium and enriched uranium for weapons, there would BE no nuclear power plants, or very few. All that hype in the 1950s about electricity too cheap to meter and other “peaceful” applications of nuclear fission (such as creating deep water harbors) was just that: hype. I consider it beyond credulity that any person smart enough and/or rich enough to be anywhere near fissile material in the 1950s was so ignorant as not to know it.
I’m not seeing how that does anything to establish that nuclear power is making climate change worse.
“Why don’t you clean up your radioactive mess at Hanford, Savannah River and many more dumps and sites”
Those are are both nuclear bomb production sites.
“instead of making us pay for decommissioning, nuke waste disposal, etc. before trying to shove more nukes down the public’s throats?”
There are several teams developing molten salt fast reactors which should be good at consuming spent fuel (and DU). It makes no sense to say they should pay for the nuke waste disposal before they can begin operating the reactors which would consume the waste.
“But factor in all of nuclear power’s other drawbacks, including the consequences of poor planning, today’s inevitable shoddy workmanship, and cutting corners every step of the way to keep the burgeoning cost down,”
Those are definitely some of the drawbacks of old-tech nuclear. As is the excessive complexity (largely due to trying to shoehorn a propulsion reactor into a role it was poorly suited for) and the very slow build times.
“PLUS the cost (in money and carbon) of keeping the high-level waste bottled up reliably while untended even for two millennia,”
Today’s spent fuel is only waste in today’s reactors. In something like a molten salt fast reactor, it becomes roughly 95% fuel. If we were to build around a terawatt capacity of such reactors, the U.S. supply of spent fuel could be consumed in only around a century.
“not to mention the mind-boggling cost of the occasional meltdown,”
That would not be possible with liquid fuel reactors.
“nuclear power amounts to spending a dollar to save a dime.”
I completely agree the economics of old-tech nuclear make it a very poor market contender for new builds. It’s pretty much going to be governments which continue building them for a while longer. But changing the economics is a major objective of most of the new kinds of nuclear currently in development.
Why won’t Big Nuke take all the billions it stole from the public and clean up its mess instead of trying to make guinea pigs of US again and pay for your failed experiments? It’s not like there are no alternatives now. We already have a nuclear reactor that can provide all the power the world wants in one day, more safely, more cheaply and one that isn’t used to build nuke bombs. It’s called the sun.