Monday, December 14, 2015

What the Climate Summit Was Really About

The demise of journalistic standards is one of the unexpected consequences of this connected age, a point made very well by both Laura Slattery of the Irish Times and Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post only last week. But not even the perfidious internet can be blamed for the weak reporting of the Conference on Climate Change that ended on Saturday.

The major news media of the world hailed the thing as a complete success. What is not being reported are the serious scientists who say the thing was a fake.

Front and centre of these is Professor James Hansen of Colombia University, who has spoken about the danger of climate change since 1988. The Guardian interviewed him about the Paris conference, and he’s not impressed. “It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”

So why have we been hearing about it all week? Just what exactly is going on?

A Climate Change Primer
The industrial revolution saw man’s relationship to the environment change. The new industries and industrial processes altered the balance of nature, to the extent that the planet could no longer adapt to or dispose of the waste produced by man. Two hundred years later, that waste has damaged the ozone layer that surrounds the atmosphere of the earth. The ozone layer protects the planet from deadly radiation that exists in space. The more it’s damaged, the more of that deadly radiation gets through. And that would be bad.

But ... Why Don’t We Just Stop What We’re Doing and Do Something Else?
This is where the bad reporting comes in. Civilisation isn’t just about science. It’s also about politics and economics. It’s chic for certain writers in the west to write about these things in terms of evil corporations sucking the life-blood of Mother Earth because that fits in with a popular culture narrative. But the truth is, as ever, more complex.

What’s Really Going On
The Global Carbon Report has some excellent infographics on the current state of play as regards carbon-based pollution, the big beast of all pollutants. Take a look at this chart, taken from one of their infographics:

The west is rich because the industrial revolution was a western phenomenon. Now, the rest of the world, especially China and India, want to be rich too. You get rich by increasing industrial production, and the cheapest way to fuel that industrialization is by using coal, oil and gas.
The world isn’t run by scientists. The world is run by politicians and economists. The Climate Change Summit wasn’t about science. Science was coincidental to the real discussion, which is about who gets to run the world.

The infographic shows quite clearly that the major polluters of the present day are the major Asian economies. The West wants those Asian economies to stop using coal, oil and gas to fuel industry, because we’ve already used too much of those.

And who exactly is this we, asks the East, folding its arms and tapping its foot. You used it, not us. Now it’s our turn and if you don’t like it, well boo sucks to you.

All the climate summits, from Kyoto on down, have been about this standoff between the West, whose wealth was powered by fossil fuels, and the East, who want to catch up and are not impressed when they get to the head to the queue to see the Yanks pull down the shutters and say, sorry, the beer’s all gone – would you like a 7-Up instead?

This side of things isn’t reported by western media, for all manner of reasons. The decline of media standards, the general dumbing down of the population, the knee-jerk tendency of current media to check their privilege, and all the rest of it. But as regards the writing of history, these summits are about the West and the rest of the world butting heads to see who gets to run the world.

But … What About the Planet?
The planet will be fine. Right now, there’s too much money tied up in fossil fuels (and this isn’t Mr Monopoly rolling in a bath of fivers here – think of all the pension funds of ordinary people that have shares in Exxon Mobil and Texaco and the rest) to invest properly in alternative fuel research. But that doesn’t mean research isn’t going on.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some scientist in a lab somewhere working on how to make nuclear fusion work, which would eliminate fossil fuel reliance at a stroke. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t groups of scientists working on better batteries, because the hardest thing about electricity is effective storage. This work is going on all the time. Science has got the memo about fossil fuels, and is on the case. Rest easy, world, and try to take what you read in the papers with a pinch of salt.