What you think you know about climate change could be bollocks. You might hear the voices of those with a vested interest in the status quo say that climate change is a swindle, a hoax, made up by the political left and scientists looking for grant money and propagated by the gullible environmentalists. Rubbish, of course. No, the real misinformation is about how much time we have to get the carbon out of our system. In reality, you’ve got time to solve the problem, but not to wait for “them” to give you a hand.
Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre spelled this out in no uncertain terms in the Cabot Institute Annual Lecture of 2012 “Real Clothes for the Emperor” in Bristol.
The scientists that turn the jargon-ridden scientific papers into something useful for policy makers, business and public alike have been overly optimistic. They’ve fallen into that all-too-human trap of wanting to please. It’s not the science that has been misrepresented, but the part of the system most difficult to predict – the reaction of humanity.
I’ve seen the same happen in business profit projections or forecasts of project spending when the proverbial shit is hitting the proverbial fan. Not wanting to be the unfortunate harbinger of bad news, managers account for all of the myriad of initiatives that have been conjured up to improve the situation and ignore the potential downsides. They may still end up with a little bad news, but it looks manageable, under control.
That was one of the reasons I wanted to get out of permanent employment as a project manager. I’d taken a more pragmatic and realistically honest approach, which had then got watered down and politically finessed before reaching the upper management, who were all to ready to subtly point the finger, or allow those below them to do so.
So I can see how it has happened with the projections for climate change. Kevin Anderson looked at the forecasts in a cross section of scientific summary reports and showed where the heroic assumptions have come in.
Their assumptions about the now are bad enough. They often start with a level of emissions lower than reality.
Then it gets really silly when you look at the future. Most reports upon which policy makers rely assume that global emissions will peak in 2014 to 2016, where in reality the rate they’re going up is going up. Then they assume that emissions will go down at an incredible rate. So fast in fact that if you make realistic assumptions about the rate of decrease of emissions in the developing world, then the developed world would have to abruptly, suddenly stop all greenhouse gas emissions in 2015.
The lesson? We cannot rely on “them” to replace our electricity supplies with emission-free alternatives quickly enough – it just isn’t feasible. We cannot rely on “them” to invent a way of making our cars or planes move without damaging the future.
The only way that we can get out of this mess is if those people who possess the solution prioritise the future for our children above their own luxury. That’s the 1-5% of the global population responsible for the majority of emissions, the people who earn £30K or more or fly once a year. That may well mean you.
To enact the solution might look like making sacrifices, like stopping flying or travelling less. In my experience life is a whole lot better when you make the change. I’ve got so much more time for my family, Britain is beautiful and the company of friends life-giving. Let’s enjoy real Life.
The next couple of posts will discuss how that might come about.