What Do you Do After the (Climatic) Impossible Fails?
Here’s an interesting back and forth from the combox to ED’s post on climate change. (Found in comment thread #1).
I think – to some degree – you’re conflating two theories that don’t have the relationship you’re purporting them to have.
Theory 1 – climate change, Theory 2 – markets and fuel.
You’re right that economic principles will, at some point, force an increase in the price of certain fossil fuels as they become scarcer (a combination of supply and demand changes) and higher energy prices will result in behavioral changes for consumers and changes to the type and number of producers in energy markets. If we assume climate change to be exacerbated by man-made activity, it’s still entirely unclear that by the time fuel scarcity prompts a mitigating change in human caused carbon emissions, there will still be time and resources enough to either reverse the shift or dampen its effects on the biosphere.
Shorter, mother nature knows no free market, only her own rules and timetables. e.g. The Dust Bowl
The Dust Bowl is certainly a good cautionary tale of improper agricultural techniques. I’m not sure it lines up exactly with climate change, however. Just as it’s entirely uncertain that fuel scarcity will prompt a mitigating change in human caused carbon emissions, it’s also entirely uncertain that it won’t, and even more uncertain that cap and trade will do anything whatsoever to curb emissions or slow climate change especially so long as China and India remain out of play. (my italics)
On ED’s last point—i.e. cap and trade has to be implemented across the globe or we are in prisoner’s dilemma territory and likely China and India (and Brazil) won’t go for it–I agree (and so does Kyle).
But I don’t really understand what ED is saying in that portion I italicized. I’ll loop back to this point in a second, but first I’ll start by putting my cards on the table and saying that (as a layman in this field) I basically accept the (so-named) consensus scientific opinion that 350 parts per million is an acceptable level of carbon in the atmosphere. Beyond that we are in danger territory. That level was passed in 1990.
I’m open to debate on the degree of danger and the best way to deal with that danger while still taking into account the current reality of poverty and disease. But even there I mostly hold that what should be done is what is being called for by say a climate action network group. (pdf)
I also know politically there is no way what they call for is ever going to happen.
e.g. (from page 3 of the pdf):
“Industrialized countries as a group must take a target of 40% reduction of CO2 by 1990 levels by 2020.”
This statement goes under the “ambitious” category of the threefold “fair, ambitious, and binding.”
In contrast, the Waxman-Markey House Bill and the Kerry-Boxer Senate Bill are calling for 17-20% reduction from 2005 levels.
That bill is going to have one helluva time passing the Senate. But it’s not even close to what is needed, if we are to accept the policy proposal of the Climate Action Network (which again in rough outlines I do).
The “fair” part requires massive payments from industrialized countries to poorer countries as a kind of “tax” or “sin payment” or reparation for the cause of global warming. Something the Europeans agreed to do, but got criticized for not doing enough of, which the US won’t do, and the Chinese (holding 2 trillion in reserves) want to receive payment for even while they have become the world’s biggest CO2 polluter. 2 down, 1 to go.
Binding is easy. Absent an hones to God world government with the ability to enforce any nation-state to abide (probably at the barrel of a gun if it came to that), how is the binding ever going to happen? Especially when the political waters are poisoned by things like reparation payments, countries that inevitably won’t reach their targets and will go unpenalized.
0 for 3 in other words. And yet recall that I think these policies are absolutely vital and completely unachievable (politically). That political impossibility is true I believe whether because countries have election time cycles (e.g. USA) where politicians achieve success through short-term thinking or whether the country’s absolutist hold on power only occurs because it has been creating an “economic miracle” (China) and anything that would disrupt that deal would cause the rather swift collapse of said ruling party.
Now for ED, the solution is a free-market (plus wise governmental policy) one. While in some ways I wish I could be so optimistic, I’m not. And I think there Kyle’s critique is on target, and not yet really answered (as far as I can tell) by ED’s response.
I don’t think it’s “it’s entirely uncertain that fuel scarcity will prompt a mitigating change in human caused carbon emissions, it’s also entirely uncertain that it won’t,”.
The carbon that is already in the atmosphere–again for 20 years already over the theorized (validly imo) limit–is not going to immediately dissipate just because oil markets go up and people stop driving their cars as much. Nature works via feedback loops and in phases of non-equilibrium can go in all kinds of directions.
I support investment into advances in carbon sequestration, alternative fuels and infrastructure, ways to “climateproof” zones of the planet that will likely face the most severe consequences (especially since I live in Vancouver), but there’s still the question of de-carbonization. Particularly after, as I believe is likely, the Copenhagen Conference will politically fail, given its own definition of success.
Even if markets help bring non-petroleum based energy for transportation, manufacturing, and the rest, how does this deal with the still existing and exacerbated problem of the carbon in the atmosphere?*
In other words, I think we find ourselves in the double bind where what is necessary is not politically viable.
Which leaves humans eventually headed I believe to the only other option that will be left: geo-engineering. Not exactly a fail-safe mechanism and one rife with all kinds of potential for negative blowbacks. [For a good piece on the subject, here via The Atlantic.]
In the meantime, I think the best way forward is to build for a post-carbon future on the local level, absent these (imo rather doomed) international treaty talks, but still this planetary level is left to be dealt with. I think either geo-engineering will succeed or not (or fix some problems and cause others) and absent that reality, these localized communities will need to exist in order for life to continue beyond a potentially very likely crash (or crashing) scenario.