I was listening to Science Friday, hosted by NPR's Ira Flatow. During the second hour on Friday, Flatow held a roundtable discussion with the provocative title Are We Losing the Race Against Climate Change?
The participants were—
Member, US House of Representatives (D-CA) Ranking member, House Energy and Commerce Committee Los Angeles, California
- Eileen Claussen
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) Arlington, Virginia
- John Ashton
Former climate change ambassador, United Kingdom, Co-founder, E3G, Independent commentator on politics and diplomacy of climate change London, England
- Michael Mann
Author, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, (Columbia University Press, 2012), Distinguished Professor, Department of Meteorology and Geosciences Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
Flatow kicked off the segment by playing that oft-replayed quote from Barack Obama's 2nd inaugural address, and then had Michael Mann give us a brief overview of the state of the science, and how much warming we can expect in a Business-As-Usual (BAU) scenario.
There followed a long, tortuous discussion which looked at various policy initiatives which address global warming, or lack thereof, in the United States, China and India. For example, California is now kicking off a carbon cap & trade market. On the other hand, India now has more coal-fired power plants in the works than China does.
I should note that "cap & trade" and other strategies are merely subterfuges which give the appearance of doing something of substance without addressing the core issues regarding climate. This strategy is akin to the imposition of overly large fishing quotas in overfished parts of the oceans.
No one doubted that BAU and the concomitant growth in CO2-equivalent emissions are possible over the next 50-60 years, but nevermind.
Now, as soon as humans ask the question are we losing the race against climate change?, it becomes clear that the race is already lost. And it was the very nature of the Science Friday discussion, its twists and turns, that made the answer crystal clear in this case. For example, much of the discussion revolved around the chances that the U.S., or China, or India, would make the "right" choices going forward to move toward low-carbon economies. Needless to say, the participants were forced to admit that the odds were not good in all the cases considered.
All the participants seemed to assume that such choices are possible.
Unfortunately, no transcript is available, so you will have to listen to that discussion by following the link above to verify for yourself the points I've just made.
But why is this the case? Why is the race lost as soon as humans ask the question?
This is a deeper question than it might appear to be at first blush, for the answer hinges around the delusion that humans are making choices (or have choices to make) with respect to emissions and concomitant warming of the Earth's surface. But as Mann made clear in his opening remarks, the window of opportunity to keep that warming below 2°C (averaged across the Earth's surface) is closing very rapidly. If emissions do not peak and decline in the very near future, the window will be closed altogether. See my recent post Climate Change — Rethinking "Rethinking Wedges".
To maintain the illusion that humans have the capacity to make choices, and thus might make good choices in the future, the war between humans and themselves must be posed as a question—are we losing the race... (You might ask who "we" are in a race against.) Asking a question leaves the matter up in the air. It appears to be quite impossible for humans to take the next (and obvious) logical step, and acknowledge that—
We (as a species) have not been able to change our behavior such that we can avoid 2°C (or more) of warming of the Earth's surface. Reality dictates that we have lost the race to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate.
You are not allowed to say it is a race against time. That formulation merely begs the question.
And in fact, the Science Friday discussion divvies up humans into political categories like "the United States", and "China", and "India". And then, within these categories, further subcategories are recognized (like "Republicans" and "Democrats" in the United States, and similarly for the others). And in this way, the war is lost, and the Awful Truth avoided. We get the same futile discussion over and over again. This has been going on for many years now.
Once one permits himself the basic observation given above, obvious questions arise, for instance—
What leads us to believe that we humans will be able to make good choices in the future which we have heretofore failed to make? In short, what is the basis for our hopes?
As we might expect—as it must be, I believe—the Science Friday panel discussion at no point enters this forbidden territory. See my post on "free will" called The Limits Of Free Will In Human Action.
Unfortunately, unless the general discussion among humans regarding the climate (and many other things) enters the taboo terra incognita I have briefly described, there will be no winners in the war between humans and themselves.