Naomi Klein attends a leading US scientific conference to hear a top scientist argue not only that his computer models show the world’s climate is careening out of control because of mankind’s environmental pillage but that the same models show the only hope of stopping the impending catastrophe comes from the resistance of those the media dismiss as “fruitcakes” and troublemakers.
Or, according to Brad Werner, of the University of California, the need for resistance of the kind attempted by the Occupy movement is not a matter of opinion, but the required answer to “a geophysics problem”.
The reality, however, is that most scientists are downplaying the problems facing the planet.
In order to appear reasonable within neoliberal economic circles, scientists have been dramatically soft-peddling the implications of their research. …
We probably shouldn’t be surprised that some climate scientists are a little spooked by the radical implications of even their own research. Most of them were just quietly doing their work measuring ice cores, running global climate models and studying ocean acidification, only to discover, as the Australian climate expert and author Clive Hamilton puts it, that they “were unwittingly destabilising the political and social order”.
The soft-peddling includes evasiveness about the likely effects of the current targets for carbon emission reductions.
[Kevin] Anderson and [Alice] Bows inform us that the often-cited long-term mitigation target – an 80 per cent emissions cut below 1990 levels by 2050 – has been selected purely for reasons of political expediency and has “no scientific basis”. That’s because climate impacts come not just from what we emit today and tomorrow, but from the cumulative emissions that build up in the atmosphere over time. …
To have even a 50/50 chance of hitting the 2° target (which, they and many others warn, already involves facing an array of hugely damaging climate impacts), the industrialised countries need to start cutting their greenhouse-gas emissions by something like 10 per cent a year – and they need to start right now. But Anderson and Bows go further, pointing out that this target cannot be met with the array of modest carbon pricing or green-tech solutions usually advocated by big green groups. These measures will certainly help, to be sure, but they are simply not enough: a 10 per cent drop in emissions, year after year, is virtually unprecedented since we started powering our economies with coal. In fact, cuts above 1 per cent per year “have historically been associated only with economic recession or upheaval”, as the economist Nicholas Stern put it in his 2006 report for the British government.
So what Anderson and Bows are really saying is that there is still time to avoid catastrophic warming, but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which may be the best argument we have ever had for changing those rules. …
There are many people who are well aware of the revolutionary nature of climate science. It’s why some of the governments that decided to chuck their climate commitments in favour of digging up more carbon have had to find ever more thuggish ways to silence and intimidate their nations’ scientists.
In other words, many scientists now understand that we have to totally rethink the way our societies and economies are organised if we are to survive as a species. A bit of tinkering at the edges of global corporate capitalism just won’t cut it.
Frightening stuff – which is why so many people still prefer to bury their heads in the sand.