Put nature on the rack and make her scream for us

“Manchester Salon” is linked to the fruit-cake libertarians at the “Destitute of Ideas” in ways that I’m too indolent to investigate. On Wednesday 21st they held a “post-Copenhagen” event at Blackwell’s bookshop. All the suggested reading was from the Times Online and “spiked magazine”, the drearily foam-speckled rantosphere that disses all things environmental as enemies of progress. The Times stuff was about “Glaciergate”- a pseudo-controversy if ever there were one. Nonetheless, neither speaker came out swinging with “it’s all a hoax.” In some ways that would be better; by appearing to be ‘reasonable’, these guys are part of the ‘let’s do very little’ movement that is making people massively underestimate the urgency with which we need to act.

So, there were two speakers- one a political scientist, the other a transport wonk. The organisers of the event didn’t provide anything from a proper working climate scientist to compensate for this oversight. A short piece by Kevin Anderson would have added a bit of reality, for example.

Indirjeet Palmer admitted that he hasn’t ever talked to non-academic audience (Manchester University obviously doesn’t reward its employees for engaging with taxpayers). Having lowered expectations by saying that what he knew of climate change could be written on a postage stamp, he didn’t embarrass himself too much. Sure, he misnamed an outfit that’s been around for 22 years as “Intergovernmental Conference on Climate Change” (It’s IPCC, and the P stands for Panel), claimed that there was no consensus on climate change, and calling Todd Stern Todd Steinberg, but those weren’t the bits that bothered me.

Oddly for an expert on US power he claimed that the US was reactive to the world in the early 20th century. This will come as a surprise to the natives of Hawaii (1893), the people of Cuba who were busy liberating themselves from the Spanish until Uncle Sam stepped in to “help” them (1898), the Philippines (1898 too) and the “Panamanians” (1903- the isthmus was stolen from Colombia, a country created, so a canal could get built).

And for someone who says he doesn’t know anything about climate change, he seemed somewhat over-confident in his proclamation that there was “clearly a degree of exaggeration on climate change, or at least its impacts.”
Of course, any investigation that clears the CRU (like the Royal Society one, or the parliamentary one) are obviously a whitewash.

In a nutshell- over-ran on his four relatively anodyne points, so we never got to hear his conclusion.

Keith McCabe, a transport wonk for various groups, gave an hilariously inaccurate account of the run-up to and consequences of Copenhagen. He claimed there was no guarantee that the Americans would be there- Obama was (from memory) the second world leader to confirm he would go after Gordon Brown, in early November.
He assumed the Copenhagen Accord has legal status (it doesn’t). He stated that Obama set up the Major Economies Forum (he modified something inherited from Bush, who had been trying to set up a spoiler group against the UNFCCC); Bush had form on this.

He seems to have forgotten about the World Trade Organisation, which is able to enforce treaty’s against the US.

For McCabe, the key question is “how to expand the world economy and come up with technologies that allows decreasing emissions.” Loadsamoney, was his suggestion.
Well, a) there are other pressing enivironmental problems besides climate change htat are going to hit us if/as we keep a-colonising and strip-mining the planet
and b) there is a SPEED and DEPTH needed for emissions cuts that goes far beyond “x per cent by 2050”. A reading of Anderson and Bows would clarify this, but undercut the technophilia.

In a nutshell, it was the Lomborg fallacy (though he was never mentioned by name) – “there’s a problem, but nothing we can’t throw a load of money at to solve.” Vorsprung durch Teknik or Katastrophe durch Teknik? Time will tell…

The key problems with all this technophilia is that it assumes the technologies will come on line, be taken up very quickly, that there will be no blow-back, no Jevon’s Paradox. A cursory reading of the literature around Science and Technology Studies would decrease hubris around this… Take the Whale and the Reactor, it’s an easy read…

The q and a was the standard mix of people talking past each other.
One questioner was at least honest enough to state how the volcano made him feel un-nerved (see also Gideon Rachman in the FT) by Mother Nature constraining humanity’s room to maneouvre.
Neither speaker took up an invitation to address the work by Kevin Anderson that looks at the numbers around our emissions pathways and the reductions required to keep atmospheric Carbon Dioxide concentrations down to a level that will avoid dangerous climate change, concluding that economic growth and a habitable planet are incompatible.

And one of the last contributions gives this blog its title. The suggestion came from the audience that we “put nature on the rack and make it scream for us.” Er, isn’t that we’ve been doing all along? There’s a limit to how long you can play that game. All our culture tells us of stories warning against hubris and greed- whether it’s Icarus or the clown who killed the goose that laid the golden egg.

It’s the Thelma and Louise fallacy. As the two cops discuss-
Max: You know, the one thing I can’t figure out are these girls real smart or real real lucky?
Hal Slocumb: Don’t matter. Brains’ll only get you so far and luck always runs out.

Some people (men mostly) hate the idea that there are limits to their brain and luck (they don’t see it as luck). They tend to gravitate- for obvious reasons- to a 19th century American love of technology and taylorism avant la lettre. That worked then, because we weren’t at the limits. We are now. Time to grow up. Or else it is, in the words of Roy Batty “time to die.”


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
This entry was posted in copenhagen, libertarianism, thelma and louise. Bookmark the permalink.

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