11 August 2009

Signs that the Mainstream Climate Debate has Lost Touch with Reality

Speaking in Korea at the World Environment Forum 2009 UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has given a speech that is remarkable for its over-the-top rhetoric and also its disconnect from anything resembling reality. He starts with an apocalyptic warning:

If we fail to act, climate change will intensify droughts, floods and other natural disasters.

Water shortages will affect hundreds of millions of people. Malnutrition will engulf large parts of the developing world. Tensions will worsen. Social unrest – even violence – could follow.

The damage to national economies will be enormous. The human suffering will be incalculable.

Moon tells us that time is short:
We have just four months. Four months to secure the future of our planet.
He also tells us that all the solutions are in hand:
What is needed is the political will. We have the capacity. We have finance. We have the technology. The largest lacking is political will.
He says that we are being guided by a non-human power, science:

When the leaders of the G-8 agreed in July to keep the global temperature increase within two degrees centigrade by the year 2050, that was welcomed and I welcome that statement.

But I also said again, it was not enough.

But leaders have agreed to cut green house gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. That is welcomed again. But that must be accompanied by the ambitious mid-term target by 2020 as science tells us to do.

This speech is wrong at just about every level. Reality is that:

1. The costs of climate change are calculable and highly uncertain (see, e.g., IPCC, Stern, etc.).

2. We have years and decades to act, not four months. In fact, it will take an effort of many decades to successfully manage energy and climate issues.

3. We have political will but lack the technologies needed to decarbonize the global economy and capacity to reduce vulnerabilities.

4. We are guided by a very human politics, not a disembodied thing called "science."

If Moon's rhetoric is even noted in the mainstream climate debate it will be applauded, and certainly not critiqued. Is it any wonder that climate policy is such an utter mess?