Cancun’d

Well the snow’s on its way back to us, its going to get cold again soon. Personally I don’t care, I’m off to sunny….Ireland on Monday so all I care is that the airports are open and then it Scotland can become like seen in 2 days before the day after tomorrow.
Speaking of which, how many of you knew there was a climate conference going on in Cancun in Mexico last week? Are we still having those you may well ask? Didn’t George W. have all the climate scientists taken to Gitmo and waterboarded? Well, I didn’t pay it much attention either, numerous disappointments in the past has led me to know not to expect much from these conferences. And indeed I suspect you gave most climate scientists the choice between a good water boarding and attending another climate conference, they’d be dipping head straight into the nearest bucket. The conference was hailed as a success, because miracle of miracles they actually agreed something, yes everyone agreed the tea was served just a little bit too cold! Seriously thought, they did agree to some non binding cuts in carbon emissions with no fixed timetable and no penalties for anyone who doesn’t meet them with an agreement that they may well drop the whole thing in the future, if anyone feels like it. Also it was agreed a fund to be set up to help pay the costs of poorer countries to adapt to climate change.
For the non academics who don’t understand all this international politics and jargon you’ve probably been hearing about Cancun (or more than likely not hearing, as nobody in the media was paying it any attention, I mean what’s a more important news item, Lady Gaga, Wikifreaks (I told you this story won’t die!) or the ultimate fate of human civilisation….well clearly its lady gaga!). Anyway let me put it all in plain simple English: Suppose you were worried you’re house might burn down at some point in the future, you could a) install some smoke alarms b) purchase some home insurance to cover you against fire or c) put a fiver aside every week assuming that if the house burns down all those fiver’s will be enough to rebuild you’re house and replace all you’re stuff. In Cancun they choose option c).
The fund setup to help poor countries cope with the effects of climate change was woefully in adequate (a mere $100 billion, believe me a drop in the ocean on the scale we are talking about). The Stern report made perfectly clear that cutting carbon emissions now was going to be a lot cheaper than the costs of trying to adapt to climate change as it happened, nevermind the potential for the destruction of property, loss of life, etc. Furthermore, even if the sums promised were adequate we are assuming we can buy our way out of this problem. If an entire Pacific Island state disappears under the Pacific all the money in the world isn’t going to raise it back up above sea level. Where are these people going to go? If a big chunk of Sub-saharan Africa is rendered uninhabitable, money is not going to make rain fall in the right place or crops to start growing again. These people will need to be moved somewhere else, most likely into Western countries. Are we prepared to accept such numbers of climate refugees? If you think we have too many immigrants and asylum seekers in the country now, I hate to say it but this is but a trickle compared to what Europe will have to put up with in the future.
The simple fact is that the longer we delay taking action on climate change, the less time we’ll have to do anything (assuming its still possible to do anything, beyond a certain tipping point a runaway greenhouse effect is a possibility) and the more expensive it will be to take action. Kyoto in its day was heavily criticized by both sides for not going far enough and on the other hand for going too far. On reflection I’d argue it got the balance about right. Had the Kyoto protocol been followed (in particular by the US, Canada and Australia) and had this initially heavy commitment by Western states to carbon reductions was then used as a means of persuading India and China to join the club at a later date (round about now would do nicely!), then we’d be now well on our way to achieving the necessary cuts. It is clear from the countries set to meet they’re obligations to the Kyoto treaty (including many in the EU) that the neigh Sayers talk of doom and how trying to comply with Kyoto would bring down economies, and be hugely disruptive etc., hasn’t materialised, indeed certain countries have profited quite handsomely from it (the Danes with they’re wind farms, China with its growing solar industry, hence why I think they can be persuaded to join Kyoto, were the US in it).
But unfortunately Kyoto is in the past, it was a window of opportunity that was largely missed. Now, I suspect, nothing will be done about Climate change (or the related issues of peak oil, overpopulation and destruction of natural habitats) until its glaringly obvious and things reach crisis point, i.e a large hurricane wipes out a major city, like New York or Shanghai or Mumbai (and not just a poor black working class suburb as we saw with Katrina), or India misses a monsoon season or two, then gets both together the following year. Trouble is doing something about it at this future date will be very difficult, we will not have time to gradually wean our way off fossil fuels, and with the economic repercussions we won’t have a lot of cash to throw at the problem either. Renewable systems (or indeed nuclear reactors or CCS systems) take decades of planning to design, build and commission, especially on the scale we are talking about. By contrast it takes no time at all to simply flick a switch and turn off a few power stations (especially if post peak oil they are becoming increasingly expensive to run), or for all cars with say an Engine larger than 2L’s to be banned from public roads, or a ban on all short haul flights, etc. In other words we’ll have to fire fight these problems reactively rather than with any organised plan, something that will be very disruptive to our daily lives and indeed to the wider economy. And of course, far from being pessimistic, I’m assuming here that we have options in which to do something about these issues, as its quite likely it might be too late to do anything, as the US National academy on Sciences Panel concluded in 1979:
“A wait-and-see policy on climate is not an option, it will likely mean waiting until it is too late to do anything”
Of course mention this to most people and they go on about how its so cold and thus climate change can’t be happening (its winter….this may come as a shock to you but most climate scientists I’ve ever spoken to are aware that it snows in winter, they have accounted for this in they’re climate models). Or people will say its all the sun, or cosmic rays or natural variation, or at least that’s what the guy down the pub told me & how oh, I (or the guy down the pub) knows so much more about climate science by spending 5 minutes reading LittleJohn’s article in the Mail, than climate scientists who’ve spend they’re entire lives studying the topic. I might also note that this year is on course to be one of the hottest on record, yes! It may have been cold (in winter!) in Europe this year but go ask the aussies how cold they thought it was, or the Russians (both had heat waves). Furthermore, the reason why we use the term “climate change” is because it while generally the planet warms up, some parts will cool, weather conditions will become more extreme and erratic, etc.
Personally, it’s a matter of insurance, enacting the precautionary principle and covering ourselves just in case. The IPCC is 90% certain that climate change is man made, even the climate sceptics (those with actual academic qualifications mind) will generally say its closer to 30-50% likely to be caused by us. The chances of your house burning down or your car being nicked is a lot less likely than 30-50% nevermind 90%, yet most of us see it prudent to take out insurance cover of some sorts just in case. Regardless of if you “believe” in anthropogenic climate change or not (for starters its science not religious!) if you honestly think taking some mitigating action isn’t worth the hassle then I suggest you also cancel all you’re insurance policies too, and stop doing silly socialist things like looking both ways while you cross the road, or wear seat belts, etc!

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One thought on “Cancun’d

  1. Mikey,

    actually this is the problem with climate change, the insurance companies can’t afford to pay out. One or two Katrina’s would bankrupt them. After awhile you’ll get insurance coverage for everything BUT “extreme weather events” in the same way that acts of terrorism are no longer covered. This will make alot of business activites alot more risky and less economic.
    For example, would you buy a house for £400k knowing that there’s a 1:20 chance it gets blown down in a storm and you will bear the full costs? Would the bank even give you a mortgage? What’s that going to do to house prices?

    Like

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