Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Climate Change -- the Worst-Case Scenarios. Can Something Be Done?


Dear friends,

just a few days ago, I read a very interesting essay by an American journalist, who interviewed several top-level climate scientists – among them some who had actually discovered global warming, climate change and related facts in the 1980s and thereafter. In his essay, David Wallace-Wells, the author, summarizes what he heard from these scientists and what he had read on the subject. In it he depicts the worst-case scenarios that would emerge if the worst fears of the climate scientists come true.
    The essay has gone viral, has been read by over 2 Million people and commented on by over 400 people including myself. I think all political activists, especially those leaders in politics and the media who make or influence policy, should read it.
    I admire the author for writing this important text. But I also find it deficient in its concluding part, in which he only repeats the technological optimism of the scientists.
    Below I give you the links to the article and the text of my comment.

With best wishes

Saral Sarkar


My comment:

It is a very good piece of work. My sincere thanks to Wallace-Wells for imparting to us, activists and non-scientists, all the relevant knowledge we need. Yet, the conclusion is disappointing. Here he does not express his own thoughts, but only reproduces the optimism of the scientists he interviewed, which he seemingly shares.
    After we have learnt all that, the question remains: what can and should be done? Here, I think, the author makes several mistakes:
    (1) He mixes up discovery and invention, science and engineering. The scientists and the author have presented here much information about discoveries. They discovered the hole in the ozone layer. But some engineering and political decision-making were necessary to patch it up, e.g., by replacing one gas, CFC, with another, so that consumers did not have to forgo a single refrigerator. The Apollo Program was a huge feat of engineering that enabled man to land on the moon – at the cost of enormous amounts of energy and materials plus enormous amounts of carbon emission and other pollutions. All engineering feats, all increases in production increase GHG emission and pollution.
He writes about "our debt to nature". Wonderful! But how do you pay this kind of a debt back and become debt-free? Do you then, as usual in usual kinds of debt, undertake new engineering projects and increase production and income? In real life, in certain situations, the debtor simply cannot increase his production/income. Then he reduces his consumption in order to pay off the debt. Our (carbon) debt to nature is not a usual kind of debt. It can only be paid off by reducing carbon emission, i.e. by reducing production. Through its Apollo Program, humanity did not reduce its carbon debt to nature. On the contrary.
    In the text I did not find any mention of renewable energy technologies, but spraying sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere and carbon capturing were mentioned. Application of all these technologies would entail producing more CO2 with uncertain results. To place our hope in such technologies is "another form of delusion
    (3) Instead of relying on engineering, we should rely more on social or socio-political engineering. We should bring our ingenuity to bear on this area.
    Wallace-wells says reduced global output would lead to reduced per capita GDP. But per capita GDP is a function of both GDP and population size. If we ourselves collectively start a dual project of deliberately reducing global output and, simultaneously, reducing global population size, then the pain would be bearable. I believe such a social-engineering project would have more and quicker effect than the hard engineering ones the scientists are dreaming of. Reducing consumption in the rich countries and raising more taxes there to be channeled to reforestation and population control projects in the poor countries would not only be just but also help immediately.

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