#climate, Kevin Anderson and the smoke-filled planet/room

Professor Kevin Anderson is what they call a mensch.  For years he has been fearlessly reporting on what we are actually tipping into the open sewer we call our atmosphere. Not what we are promising to emit, or what we would like to believe we are emitting, but what is actually going up.  He ties that to both what we are probably going to emit (once you’ve built a coal-fired power station, you’ve got an incentive to use it, after all) and – given various climate sensitivities- what this means for our chances of not broiling ourselves.  They weren’t good when he started doing this. You need an electron microscope to see them nowadays.

It’s a simple presentation, and one that he repeats with the new numbers plugged in.  It’s horrifying.

For the last year, as part of a broader project, I’ve also been looking at what we knew and when.  Some perceptive scientists saw a problem in the 60s (Bolin, Keeling, Revelle, Bateson etc).  By the mid-70s (ignore the ‘they were warning about ice ages’ nonsense) the evidence was hardening.  By 1983 the US National Academy of Science and Environmental Protection Agency released reports that should have scared the crap out of the people who are supposed to be running the show. This was all before the 1985 Villach meeting, where carbon dioxide was joined by other greenhouse gases, and climate scientists realised they’d have to start slapping policy-makers around and saying ‘capisce?’ to them.  Well, that went well…

We didn’t act then.  We won’t now.  The second half of this century will make the first half  of the last one look like a golden age of peace and enlightenment.

Kevin Anderson is trying to push the Paris meeting in the ‘right’ direction. To that end, he has tweeted as follows, and is asking folks to share and to tweet at any climate scientists they know.


FWIW, my answers to his (non-rhetorical) question is-
I think it’s a mix of
a) innumeracy about what the budgets and trajectories actually are
b) fear of offending funders/being ridiculed (see also the social psychology experiment of the smoke-filled room)
c) the desperate need to believe that it is not too late (more prevalent perhaps among parents of young children, but we are all capable of believing comforting tosh).

12 thoughts on “#climate, Kevin Anderson and the smoke-filled planet/room”

  1. Hi Marc, I finished watching again, The Jaques Cousteau Odyssey, a DVD collection of some of his late 1970s, TV documentaries. One of the constant messages from him, is that we cannot keep exploiting the earth’s resources and destroying the environment.
    On one of films, he mentions that there are committeees talking about doing something. But, in reality, they were talking the ‘policy of evasion’, things being resolvable but not resolved. Also, he interviews the Mayor of Marseille, in ‘Cradle to Grave’. Who states, “Because of morale, the truth is normally hidden from the terminally. When it is those who know and fight, have a chance to survive”.
    One of the factors of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), is that politicians have the last say, in what is actually published. And these politicians are being lobbied by multi-national corporations, who wish to keep the status-quo. Hence the push for ‘fracking’, biomass incineration and new nuclear. Not further investment in renewables, energy efficienty and a move away from a consumer society. Cousteau, points out, that discharges from nuclear plant, as it is warm and slightly radioactive, is environmentally unsound.
    Another one of his films, concerns the Easter Islands and how it is a lesson for us. With our hero-worship of false idols (sports people, actors, muscisians, etc,..). The plundering of natural resources to build bigger and bigger structures. (Reminded me a bit of Manchester City Council and their obsession, with demolishing decent council homes and building on green spaces, to build energy inefficient monstrosities). The idol builders were replaced in the end, by the bird worshippers, who became cannibals.
    Scientists other than Kevin Anderson have been speaking out. I went to several talks hosted by the WWF (World Wildlife Fund for Nature), in the mids 2000s. Then, the limit of global temperature rise was 4 degrees C and these scientists were arguing for a limit of 2 degrees C and that it was a matter of urgency. But of course, these scientists got little media attention. Instead, in the UK, we get journalist (who I consider, fake greens), like Petiffer and Monbiet. Saying, do not panic the children, technology will save the day, new nuclear and CCS (carbon capture and sequestration). Nuclear is not a carbon neutral answer, as biomass incineration is not. Nuclear has a very large carbon footprint along with a very toxic legacy. And after decades of research into CCS, there are no large scale plants in operation. Whilst the paper they write for, advertises holidays in the West Indies and the Indian Ocean. Promotes bio-mass incineration and masses of other consumer goods. And some of the consumers goods the paper advertises, are the books these non-scientist or engineers write.

  2. Marc,
    I tried asking Kevin on Twitter, but he didn’t respond. Do you have any idea why he agreed with Richard Tol here?

    .@RichardTol Agree; but my arguments hold for the IPCC's headline range of 2°C budgets.— Kevin Anderson (@KevinClimate) August 4, 2015

    As far as I’m aware, if we know the climate sensitivity, then we essentially know how much warming we would have for a given concentration. The uncertainty comes – AFAIA – mainly from our uncertainty about climate sensitivity.

    1. No, I’m not aware why he he has. My understanding is as yours – we don’t know for sure the climate sensitivity (but we are of course going to find out by the end of the century or sooner), and from that uncertainty, we don’t know *exactly* what ‘our’ ‘budget’ it.

      But even in the UNFCCC, that most anodyne of documents, there is the thing about uncertainties should not prevent us taking action…. And we would treat a drunk driver who said ‘prove which bottle of beer I had cause me to run over the children at the pedestrian crossing’ with unreserved contempt….

      This is a species that wants to kill itself, and is succeeding in doing so. Precisely how quickly is kind of interesting, but kind of irrelevant…

      1. Thanks. I realise that Richard’s Tweet didn’t appear. It said

        2K is consistent with a range of CO2 concentrations, even if you fix climate sensitivity

        which – as I understand it – is not correct (unless I’m missing some kind of subtlety).

      2. Kevin responded. His point seems to be that there are other factors that can influence the overall concentration, such as uncertainty in non-CO2 GHGs and about the actual pathway followed. This is all correct, I think, but I think that if you know the CO2e concentration and the CS, then you should essentially know the warming.

  3. Since I’m commenting, I’ll give my 2cents worth as to why so little is happening. I think there are two factors. One is simply that people don’t realise that the impacts are likely irreversible on human timescales (or don’t want to recognise this). I think there is a sense that we can see what happens and then do something about it. The other problem, I think, is that what is often presented are emission pathways (with emissions in GtCO2/yr) and I get the sense that some think that if we want to end up with the same amount of warming as a particular pathway, we simply need to aim to end up with the same level of emissions as that pathway. That is, of course, incorrect because it is cumulative emissions that determine our warming, not annual emissions. So, the longer we spend on a high emission pathway, the more dastric the emission reductions will need to be if we wish to end up with the same amount of warming as for a low emission pathway.

    I suspect that the above is essentially a complicated way of saying what you said in (a).

  4. Hello ATTP! I think we need to break down the why so little has happened, relative to the warnings and the warmings for different categories. I think ‘information deficit’ (which would include both outright innumeracy and inability to understand the question of cumulative emissions) is necessary but not sufficient as an explanation. For me, personally, the biggest reason policy-makers haven’t acted is that they have not been forced to by relentless growing, learning, organising and winning social movements. That is the only thing, in my opinion, that makes elites do things that are against their own short-term interests. And for me, the social movements could never get a handle on climate because a) it is so damned slippery – an invisible odourless gas building incrementally in the atmosphere, and the responsibility of us ‘all’ (some more than others, of course and b) they had skillsets and constituencies built up around conservation and wilderness (this is especially true for Australia, to some extent in the US, and complicated in Germany). And those battles, around conservation and stopping specific stupid things, took up a lot of time, energy and attention in 80s, 90s and into the 2000s. So the elites could basically keep kicking the can down the road, beyond the next election, beyond the next planning and investment cycle. By the time the social movements ‘woke up’ it was basically too late (and, frankly, what is their repertoire – marches and petitions and going along with the ritual of submissions to this or that inquiry/commission – all very easily absorbed/ignored by The System (man!). My take is that we are smart enough to cause these problems, not smart enough to stop ourselves from causing them. We have been degrading environments and running from the consequences for thousands of years. It ‘works’ really well if you can run fast. Nowhere to run to now though, nowhere to hide…

    1. Very much the case in my Canadian province… re this: ‘b) they had skillsets and constituencies built up around conservation and wilderness (this is especially true for Australia, to some extent in the US, and complicated in Germany). And those battles, around conservation and stopping specific stupid things, took up a lot of time, energy and attention in 80s, 90s and into the 2000s.’

      And we too/also did this across Canada: ‘going along with the ritual of submissions to this or that inquiry/commission – all very easily absorbed/ignored by The System (man!).’

  5. I should also say that as well as not thinking that info deficit explains enough, and using notions from social movement theory and policy making, I am probably unduly fond of the psychoanalytic perspectives, of the Thanatos instinct and all that. I’d really recommend Ernst Becker’s The Denial of Death, which I read when I was 21, more years ago than I care to remember (but, as I always say, glad I am my age. Wouldn’t be young for quids, looking down both barrels of the 21st century. Oh, and finally – I grew up with unstructured play in natural settings (what the scholars who look at what committed greenies have in common call ‘Significant Life Experiences’). I think there is something in ‘nature deficit disorder’ – if you never knew it, you don’t mourn it, you don’t worry about its passing. (Kids today, glued to their mobiles… no respect for the old ways… In my day, we had to walk to and from school, five miles, up hill, both ways!!!)

  6. Hi Marc, it is not so much ‘information deficit’, but a constant stream of misinformation by those who profit from things staying as they are. The Daily Mail had a story, stating that the Antarctic was not melting but was growing. To which a scientist from the Grantham Institutue did reply. But how many of the Mail’s readers, read the letters page? http://www.pressreader.com/uk/daily-mail/20150730/282750585440455/TextView?utm_source=Grantham%2BInstitute&utm_campaign=674924086a-20150804_Weekly_Update&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ac7a1f2837-674924086a-262594989&mc_cid=674924086a&mc_eid=f57e6d79ed
    Even the BBC has at times publish stories, that contratict the reality of climate change.
    A lot of people feel powerless, they do not even have a say what happens in their own neighbourhood. Manchester, is a prime example, of local neighbourhoods being uprooted and dispersed around the surrounding authorities. And they are left struggling to cope with making ends meet. Some even beleive the media stories, that climate change is a con, to make them pay more for their energy.
    What we lack, is real ethical and moral leadership. As recent a report from the World Commission on Environmental Law, points out: https://portals.iucn.org/library/node/45261?dm_i=2GI3,BAK1,48BM12,Q198,1
    And we will never get it in the UK, with the ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system.
    It is not just the poor of the Global South who will suffer do to the lack of action by our leaders.

    1. Very much so in Canada/Alberta petro-jurisdictions re this: ‘a constant stream of misinformation by those who profit from things staying as they are. ‘ There’s a massive propaganda blowback underway now for the last 4-5 years to blunt/reverse the bad press about tarsands GHGs.

  7. kevin anderson offers a courageous but almost solitary voice…some time ago, 2012 or before, he made a well supported scientific case for zero carbon by ~2030, and of course he knows that facts dont matter much to the establishment’s [Stern, IPCC, etc] divisive policy agenda.

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