The real climate change deniers

In the run-up to the Copenhagen update of the Kyoto process, the biggest climate change deniers are those who can’t or won’t see that most of the rhetoric about what we “must” do is so  much hot air. What we ought to do is another matter.

Climate policy realities

* The validity of none of the following points is altered by one’s being a climate change science believer, sceptic or denier.

* Given enough time, 50 years say, reducing the rich world’s carbon footprint might be quite easy. The poor world’s footprint will take much longer (50-100 years, say). Overall, then, it’s a long-term task.

* This is not easy politics. Who wants to suffer to benefit the unborn, especially the unborn foreigner? (A brutal sophisticated version of this view might be put like this: There’s no tragedy like the inter-generational commons of which I’m not a part because I’m dead when anyway my bit of geography looks not too bad even for my grandchildren, like I really care.)

* There are big uncertainties as to the where, when and what of the supposed or expected damage from climate change. (So it is silly of the activists to accuse all climate policy sceptics of being flat-earthers – though some are, and some are quite useful even so).

* The 550 ppm or  750,000 megatonnes  and 2 degree Celsius limits are surely not achievable. We’ll crash through that pyschological and political barrier. If that means a white-knuckle ride: so be it.

* Alarmism is counter-productive. Whilst we may do too little because we think the risks are not severe or imminent, we will do even less if we think they are colossal and unavoidable.

* Global carbon emissions won’t be seriously reduced soon (within 20 years), partly because people will only accept policy which is cheap and convenient. (The activists and politicians can afford big rhetoric, and maybe can’t afford anything else, but it’s not entirely respectable.)

* Climate change policy is at best damage limitation (so we’ll need adaptation as well as mitigation, in the jargon), and we’d better hope the damage is easily survivable because the mitigation will be slight or late or both, and the adaptation won’t be an equitable effort.

* Because I am an optimistic sceptic, I think mankind will thrive almost whatever climate change turns out to be, and that given time and multiple reasons (not just climate change), or strong future evidence of climate damage (in the here and now to the people who matter)  technology could make a big dfference to our carbon footprint (if such a thing goes on mattering to us).

* Intellectually, morally and politically, the biggest problem is to decide what are the present merits of present policies which will have marginal impact. (Even virtuous people may feel little moral imperative to undertake policies of marginal utility.)

* I think we will get started on the job and do so in whatever way can optimise self-congratulation vs sweat.

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Publication date

17 November 2009