Friday, 12 October 2018

The IPCC Report: All Of A Sudden - Nothing Happened.

Limited Vision: As a species, human-beings are superb at dealing with immediate dangers and short-to-medium term problems. Storing up food for the coming winter, setting aside enough grain for next year’s crops: thinking this way produced extraordinary human advancements. So many that, as a species, we never really saw the need, or acquired the knack, of thinking ten, twenty, a hundred years ahead.


ON TUESDAY MORNING the world should have awoken to financial chaos.* Stockmarkets around the planet should have been plummeting to levels not seen for a decade – or more.

For the markets to be in freefall, however, something truly shocking must have happened. Had the Saudi monarchy been overthrown? Had the President of the United States been assassinated?

The answer, of course, is: “No.” and “No.”

What had happened was that, on Monday afternoon, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had released its latest emissions report.

This sombre document speaks bluntly about the huge response required from the whole of humanity if the emissions targets set at Paris in 2015 are to be met. Massive and disruptive economic and social challenges loom ahead for the global community. The future of the human species (not to mention the survival of the millions of other species with which humanity shares the earth) now depends on those challenges being confronted and met.

But, as everyone reading this knows perfectly well, the world’s stockmarkets did not go into freefall on Tuesday. There were some jitters over the deepening rift between the United States and China – but these weren’t serious. Certainly, nothing approaching the financial Gotterdammerung of 2008-09 had unfolded – anywhere.

And that should tell us something about the problem of Climate Change.

Clearly, the “Masters of the Universe” – those expert buyers and sellers of financial derivatives, pork-belly futures and Apple shares – weren’t worried. The men (and they mostly are men) who drive the world’s markets up and down – had placed not the slightest weight on the IPCC’s pronouncements. They weren’t in the least bit bothered that the world’s leading climate scientists were telling them that by the 2050s (and maybe sooner) capitalism, as they understood it, would cease to be a viable system.

It’s not as if these economic movers and shakers are all Climate Change Denialists (although some of them undoubtedly are) or that they don’t believe in science. They do. In fact, market traders have a great deal in common with the climate scientists. Both groups spend their time developing models about the way the world works, and then using them to anticipate and shape future events. The big difference between the two, however, is that market traders base their predictions on the behaviour of human-beings, and climate scientists on the behaviour of the earth’s atmosphere.

The market traders know to a near certainty that nobody – or at least nobody that matters – is going to do a damn thing about the IPCC report. World leaders certainly aren’t about to hurl their respective peoples into a maelstrom of economic and social pain. The producers of coal, oil and natural gas are not going to stop sending their product to market – not while upwards of 90 percent of the world economy still runs on it. Those with money and status will continue to fly around the world to admire the scenery and soak up the cultures of faraway lands – regardless of the damage inflicted by their enormous carbon footprints.

“The American way of life is non-negotiable”, warned the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, in 2001. Seventeen years later, the rest of the world’s newly enriched citizens feel exactly the same way about the rising living standards to which they are rapidly becoming accustomed.

“But what about the rising seas!”, laments Greenpeace. “What about the extreme weather events? The floods? The forest fires? The hurricanes?”

To the world’s environmentalists, their fellow human-beings’ blank indifference to the looming catastrophe is both baffling and infuriating. As good ecologists, however, they should not be surprised.

As a species, human-beings are superb at dealing with immediate dangers and short-to-medium term problems. Storing up food for the coming winter, setting aside enough grain for next year’s crops: thinking this way produced extraordinary human advancements. So many that, as a species, we never really saw the need, or acquired the knack, of thinking ten, twenty, a hundred years ahead.

For the past ten-thousand years, humanity’s ability to master the planet’s creatures and plunder her natural resources has brought nothing but a longer and more bounteous life. In the desiccated remnants of that legacy, future generations will curse us for taking so long to identify our species’ suicidal trajectory, and wonder why we refused to get off it – until it was too late.

* In a wonderful example of Murphy's Law, two days after I filed this column the world's markets were in turmoil. Not, I hasten to add, in response to the IPCC's report, but still. - C.T.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 12 October 2018.

11 comments:

greywarbler said...

Solemn eh. In the absence of being perfectly ready, huh, for the coming disasters and trials of heat, cold and flood, why don't we start flexing our muscles. We have life coaches coming out of our ears, why not climate change coaches teaching us how to simplify and make do, and how to assess the liabilities we have and how to improve our situation. They would ca;; themselves the 1.5ers.

There would be regular meetings held throughout the country, they would be streamed, copies, videoed, funded from donations, from give a little, from alive people who will put in something for the future, and youth. Let's find out how we can prepare.

Let's start now. Advertise in comments on The Standard Open Mike as well as here, they need a boost of positive practicality; at present there is a toxic vinegarish lot that would make manholes in limestone in a year, not millenia. Please - we haven't time for the time-wasting garbage and hopeful Harrys and Harriets that we hear so much of at the moment.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Most of those people you are talking about seem to be buying houses in New Zealand for when it all turns to custard. I sincerely hope we get the plump ones, because I figure will be short of protein perhaps. And when their money is useless, they won't be able to pay for the usual coterie of "security". They're also buying gold for some strange reason – as if that's going to be of any use in a dystopian future. Except maybe as fishing sinkers – if at all there is any fish left. :)

peter petterson said...

All a matter of priorities, and climate change is not yet an immediate priority.

David Stone said...

I believe in human induced climate change. I know I should put a solar roof on my house and buy an electric car that can be charged up from it. I know I should address the appalling prospect of the resource consent that would be required to erect a large enough windmill to run my sawmill. But at what point in time do I make these the priority. The thing to do today instead of the myriad of other things I have to do, that might not be as important but are more urgent. I suspect I'm like nearly everyone else in this respect. If we each did what we can as an individual would it be enough? Lots of people could do the solar roof and electric car part. And reduce unnecessary travel both overseas and local. has anyone driven into Auckland lately? Not much sign of anyone reducing their emissions, much more of increasing them. It's no use blaming the oil companies.
But I think there were times in past history when mankind did take a longer view than we do now even though there was no catastrophe staring us in the face. The Cathedrals in Britain and Europe took lifetimes to build. Masons did their apprenticeships on one and worked their whole lives on the same building. The pyramids in Egypt must have been even longer in construction.
And a voyage like Cook's , to set out and explore and navigate and chart an unknown half of the world took years to plan and years to complete. Everything had to take more time than it does now because of the technology available. I think the world has speeded up dramatically. We did plan further ahead in the past than we do now, we had to because everything took longer.
D J S

sumsuch said...

The best characterisation of H.s.s. in the 10,000 years since agriculture is a 'raid'. Hence raid-ers (e.g. Trump) are truer representatives of us than ethicists (e.g. religion and the Left) who continually try to stabilise and make right present times.

Matt Hooten, after denying climate change forever, as per most right-wingers for some (central to their, thus, disproven core) reason, tells one truth, about how it's probably too late to deal with climate change, and another not likely reality that it can be coped with in any way. Spoze we should go with the 'not likely'.

Modern life, or how comfort killed the cat. There is no special virtue to our species. It's all been our unique abilility to enjoy the ride.

GJE said...

Your opening comment says it all...and there’s a reason why short term thinking is infinitely more vital to human survival than any sort of medium or longer term strategy. Experience tells us that it is almost impossible to predict the future with any sort of consistency. The further out the prediction the longer the odds become. We all know this instinctively hence the annoying dismissal by most of us of those who persist in trying to predict (in the case probably quite correctly) future events..

Guerilla Surgeon said...

David. All very well, but as Catherine Ryan said – little bit of a surprise there – on national radio the other day, there are numerous people who simply can't afford an electric car or solar panels – yet who need cars and electricity to survive in a country with bugger all public transport relatively speaking. I read somewhere that if we all painted our rooms white it would help. But imagine the uproar if the government told everyone to paint their roofs white. Probably almost as bad as the uproar over using a few Maori words on national radio.

Jack Scrivano said...

Back in 2003, I was working for a consultancy in London. One of the interesting projects that I worked on was an attempt to get a handle on what people felt that they, personally, could do about climate change.

More than half of the people we spoke to didn’t think that climate change was a real issue. They didn’t need to do anything. It was all just a hoax stoked up by the media.

The people who thought that climate change was – or might be becoming – a real issue didn’t think that they could do much either. Yes, they could get an electric vehicle, but the cost of changing over was far too great. It was a rip off. They could stop going to Spain and Portugal for their holidays, but equivalent holidays in UK were simply too expensive. UK holidays were also a rip off. They could simply travel less and consume less, but why should they? USA wasn’t cutting back. China wasn’t cutting back. China was getting worse. India wasn’t cutting back. India was getting worse too.

And, anyway, who wants to see the country covered in bloody wind farms? Just a bloody eyesore.

Of course, that was 15 years ago now.

greywarbler said...

Future generations will need to look at today's faulty forefathers and foremothers and bear in mind that we have passed on those traits to them, both genetically and by following our patterns of behaviour that they have observed and absorbed. Perhaps they will have to brainwash themselves. Certainly they will need to be humble when they are feeling indignant and critical.

The best thing we can do is to start breaking down the unthinking acceptance of TINA that surrounds us in a fog. If we could have monthly debates and planned arguments, games for children that enable them to take up velvet bricks with arguments inside that they hurl at each other, and then stop the game while the answer to a question is read from the appropriate brick. And then have a discussion on whether that is a good reply. Then another throwing session. There would be lots of noise and afterwards a vote taken on what was the agreed position on the original question. We have to start thinking in NZ now!

All our education and we end up in the shit we are in - and about to celebrate the something of WW1. We just don't progress in our thinking, most of us are still in the 20th century, and were behind in our understanding at that time also! Start thinking and imagining now before the next disaster, don't waste time compiling tomes on why everything is on a 1000 year cycle or such. The NZ way, fault an argument quickly, before your mind-wheel starts turning and using up your energy.

greywarbler said...

I have just put up a comment and got an apology from a broken capital B. Hope it does get to you Chris - about Alfred Wintle and Sumsuch.

Geoff Fischer said...

While I support the idea that individuals should do what they can to avert climate change, there are practical difficulties. You can ride a bike or take a bus instead of driving a car. You can forgo overseas trips. You can limit your new acquisitions of all sorts of material goods bearing in mind that every product has a fossil fuel component).
But your landlord will use the rent you pay them to fly to Europe or cruise the Caribbean. And if you give to the poor the money you have saved through self-denial they will, likely as not, take a road trip on it.
So one answer is to be a miser (accumulate but don't spend wealth) and authoritarian (dictate, as far as you are able, other people's consumption).
Not very attractive traits but necessary in some shape or form if a catastrophe is to be averted.
The world has been through this before. "For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark ..."
The cause of the flood was corruption. "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of men was great in the earth... so the Lord said I will destroy .. both man and beast"
Human corruption in the form of neo-liberal capitalism is the root cause of our present predicament, and the only answer we seem to have is survivalism. "So Noah with his sons.. went into the ark".
This is the story of how civilizations decline, fall and make way for new civilizations. The difference is that short of a miracle of God, modern industrial capitalism may be the last civilization of all.