Archive for December, 2009

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Gaia’s Fever

December 16, 2009

I can’t figure out whether to post this under false analogies, accident, or anthropomorphism, but it certainly falls under at least one (if not all) of those categories. I suspect it loses its intended effect because it is such a stretch to make the comparison. Nevertheless, here it is, allegedly from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division of Sustainable Development (though I can find no link to it on their official website).

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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How Føcked Are We?

December 15, 2009

Whee. This is clever, from Grist:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Tomorrow is likely to be a big day of demonstrations and protests. Police are clamping down pretty heavily. Naomi Klein is screeching about how American politicians shouldn’t even show up. And Christiania is being raided, only to be defended by young anarchists in black hoodies.

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King of Night Vision

December 15, 2009

Glenn Beck has spectacular optics. His laser eyesight enables him to pierce the most muddled of issues. Here’s a video of him comparing the stonewalling of climate skepticism to the persecution that Galileo experienced. We’ve seen this comparison many times before, of course, but it seems so misplaced to me that I just have to note it again. It is true that Galileo was persecuted for trying to advance a theory that appeared to run at cross-purposes with entrenched power structures, but isn’t that about as far as this comparison goes?

Lots of people have noted the alleged dissimilarities between Galileo and the skeptics, observing that Galileo was a scientist and the people persecuting him were involved primarily in the church. The skeptics, they charge, aren’t really scientists. I suppose that’s a fair criticism, though I suppose the counter-charge is that the scientific establishment isn’t being terribly scientific, that they’re acting more like religious figures, prostrate to the gods of AGW.

Others have noted that persecution is a far cry from being stonewalled or having your research rejected by top journals. That may also be a fair criticism, depending on your views about the extent to which there was underhandedness in the peer-review process, and the extent to which the scientific journals are rigged to yield a particular result.  Maybe it is persecution to continually reject someone’s research.

But it seems to me that the most damning argument against this comparison is that it isn’t clear what criteria would make it apt. Isn’t it true that whenever someone takes on the establishment, she’s always in the position of underdog? That’s the definition of taking on the establishment. And isn’t it also true that whenever someone taking on the establishment tries to get her papers or her research through the establishment, she’s always disregarded for a while? That, too, seems inevitable.

If that’s true, then it’s hard to say what about this particular circumstance would make it just like Galileo’s circumstance. The dude was thrown to the wolves. He was put on trial for heresy, found guilty of heresy, imprisoned and held under house arrest, and his work was banned. That’s not at all like what’s going on in the climate debate.

Just a thought.

Incidentally, I hope nobody mentions to Glenn Beck, student of history, that one of the two plenary rooms at COP15 is the Tyco Brahe Plenary Hall. That’d certainly send the sun spinning recklessly around the earth.

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Post-Modern Pie

December 14, 2009

Aw hell, I’ll bite.

Mike and Ted (aka S&N) just published a recent bit of cynicism in which they lob a few post-modern cream pies at COP15. They’re awfully pessimistic about the whole event, painting it more-or-less as a very elaborate case of political theater. It’s a nicely written piece, and definitely worth a read, but I’m afraid I have to disagree with its central premise.

They are right, of course, that there is a contrived element to the COP, but so it goes with almost all politics, on all issues. Anybody who’s ever been in a congressional mark-up hearing knows that this is true.

There can also be little doubt that there’s a lot of opportunism in the room. The developing nations smell opportunity, Europe smells opportunity, as do India, China, and the US. That’s true as well. In many respects, much of the discussion at COP15 is about redistributing resources to poorer nations and not so much about climate change.

Finally, as opportunism and drama make good politics, there is also little doubt that there are staged charades and shenanigans that are manifestly about creating a stink and garnering attention. There can also be little doubt that there’s a ton of theatre there. So they’re right about that.

But that doesn’t make Mike and Ted right to say that COP15 is political theater from stem to stern.

Real stuff is happening in Copenhagen, and on my read, one has to be blind to miss it.

Minimally, I was authentically moved by Copenhagen, and there’s nothing contrived about that. I suspect there are many thousands of others who were also authentically moved, or at least, maybe learned something that changed their positions either slightly or dramatically. That kind of authentic political reaction to Copenhagen ought not to be downplayed, though it is clearly not S&N’s main target.

To say that there’s nothing happening even to the top-line goal at Copenhagen strikes me as reductive to an extraordinary degree. Something is happening, even if laws emerging from Copenhagen have few teeth. When a legally-empowered representative of a nation commits that nation to doing something, that legally-empowered representative isn’t simply performing, but in performing is simultaneously forging that commitment. And that’s a big deal.

The commitments made and pronounced at Copenhagen make up a unique set of speech acts known as “performative utterances,” first discussed in the speech act theory of J.L. Austin. If the sovereign of nation X says that X will do A for the purpose of addressing CC, that’s not merely a symbolic pronouncement but also a commitment that, while not legally binding, is at least morally binding. It’s not the same sort of utterance as saying “There’s a cat on that mat.” (That’s a declarative.) It’s more like a judge pronouncing the guilt of an accused, or a justice of the peace declaring two people husband and wife. When the sovereign of X  announces their commitment, they commit themselves by virtue of that announcement. X can (and certainly will) be called to task for failing to live up to that commitment. That’s a pretty big deal.

Seems to me that the true post-modern position is the one that doesn’t accept the commitment of the prime legislator as morally binding in any way, but rather, instead, views the statements of signatories to COP15 as declaratives only. That appears to be S&N’s stance; and that’s why I disagree.

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Lomborg vs. Krugman

December 13, 2009

Worth a watch. (Sorry. Can’t embed it for some reason.)

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Insurrectiania

December 13, 2009

Yesterday began the first day of what I suspect will be a week of increasing protest and resistance in Copenhagen. I missed the protests, as I was on my return flight to the US. I did, however, have an opportunity to witness first hand what I think is a certain sign that things will soon get considerably more heated. Why would I say such a thing?

Suppose I were to devise a nefarious plan to stage an “nearly non-violent” “black-velvet” insurrection: nobody hurt, just lots and lots of property damage. If I were to do that, I would wish for a nearby staging ground to freely house the thousands who were joining me. If I were to do that, I’d hope to have hundreds of private rooms where we could all plan out our individual actions. If I were to do that, I would hope to have copious amounts of food that would benefit those who had come along. I would hope for no police presence in this area where the Copenhagen’s new (and extremely sketchy) pre-emptive protest law could come into effect. I would post guards to protect my high level planning committee from being spied upon. I would disallow cameras. I would have open markets for folks to congregate and get supplies. I would build camaraderie and friendship by living closely in tight quarters together. I would provide numerous gathering locations, for individual activists to bond and form working groups. I would ensure that I had hundreds of secret chambers for storage of equipment I planned to use. I would pump everybody up with raucous music, plenty of booze, and wild, drug-enhanced parties.

As it happens, Copenhagen has a near ideal staging ground for the sort of insurrection that I would plan, and it’s located halfway between downtown Copenhagen and the Bella Center.

I went to a section of town called “Christiania” on Thursday night, escorted by Søren, a long-time Danish philosopher friend of mine. Christiania is an independent free state, a long-standing social experiment nestled neatly inside the state borders of Denmark but “tolerated” by the government as independent. As social experiments go, it is enormous, spanning 85 acres. It has its own military barracks, several restaurants, many bars, an open market, hundreds of apartments, loud music, and plenty of drugs. On the night I went there, it was crawling with black blockers. The streets were alive with energy. There were oil drums burning openly in the streets, offering fire for warmth. There was a food tent. There was dancing and partying in the streets and in bars. There were punk bands blasting. And there was anticipation in the air. In all respects, it is an awesome compound.

If I were to plan an insurrection on the order of Seattle, Genoa, Montreal, Rostock, and so on, I would wish I had a staging ground like Christiania.

I will be surprised if you don’t see some heavy action in the coming days.

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Stateside

December 12, 2009

Missed the demonstrations in Copenhagen today, as I left early in the morning and I am now back in Colorado. I’m exhausted. Hope to catch up tomorrow. More posts in the works.

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Climate Ethics

December 11, 2009

Time Magazine has just done a nice piece responding to Todd Stern’s bald rejection of the notion of a climate debt the other day. Friend and former colleague Dale Jamieson gets a nod:

“The impact of emitting greenhouse gases will go on for a millennium or more,” said Dale Jamieson, an environmental ethicist at New York University, in a speech last year. “It’s as if I stood on your foot for a while. It hurts, but when I take my foot off you, the pain gets worse and goes on longer. That’s the kind of problems we deal with in climate change, and that’s why we need to act sooner rather than later.”

As does Don Brown, who organized the contingent of ethicists here at COP through his outfit at Penn State University:

“Ethics says that those who cause the problem must take responsibility for compensating for the damages,” says Donald Brown, director of the Collaborative Program on Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change at Penn State University. “It’s unfair and unethical to deny that responsibility.”

We held a presser this morning. More on that in a bit.

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URGENT: Skeptic Breakfast Hacked!

December 10, 2009

This entry was cross-posted at Climate Progress and linked at the Washington Post’s Post Carbon.

Explosive, Breaking News!

One of the stranger features about this Copenhagen conference is that so many people involved in the climate debate, from many sides, are all in the same town, all at the same time. Among the people inside and outside of the COP, the skeptic community has come to town.

Yesterday, they held a raucous offsite conference of their own. You can watch some footage from that conference, and a momentary youth protest, here. (You may notice from the video, for instance, that there are very few non-protesters in the room.)

This morning, as I sat down to breakfast wearing my trench coat, sunglasses, and a Groucho Marx nose, my interest was suddenly piqued by a voice over my shoulder.

“Nice to see you, professor.”

Naturally, as a professor, I turned to fix on the voice, wondering who the kind professor in question might be. I had no idea. Moi?

No luck. He was an older gentleman, distinguished looking. I got the sense from the speaker’s deferential tone that he was important. The speaker and the professor then sat down at the table next to me. As I was alone and dressed in my ludicrous disguise, I could not help myself from listening in on their conversation. Turns out, the two were discussing climate change, and their rather pronounced skepticism of it.

What unfolded then, I believe, will go down in history as my first dalliance in secret agency. As the morning continued, questions and conversations morphed into positions, platforms, and condemnations…all revealing, I think, a nefarious campaign to sow misunderstanding; a clever trick aimed to confuse even the most astute “believer in science.”

The private breakfast conversation was troubling, offering clear and indisputable evidence of attempts by the highest members of the climate denier community to manipulate the truth, shout down debate, silence dissent, hide data, initiate a political coup, deliberately conflate theoretical terms, isolate and mock the weak, cover up known facts, obfuscate good science, and wimper.

Who, pray tell, was in attendance?

Present at the breakfast were Godtfred Høpner Petersen, retired professor of marine biology from the University of Copenhagen; several aides from the office of Godfrey Bloom, MEP; Godfrey Bloom, MEP, himself; and then, fifteen minutes into the conversation, the eminent Lord Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley.

Yes, that Lord Monckton. The same buttoned-up gentleman in the video calling climate protesters “Hitler youth.” His wife, or his mistress (or Bloom’s wife, or Bloom’s mistress — one can never be sure nowadays), also joined the cabal.

As it happens, I was sitting at breakfast with my computer open, working on something else. What to do? Oh, what…to…do?

I flipped the switch on my parabolic microphone.

Read the rest of this entry ?

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Black Carbon in Arctic Russia

December 9, 2009

{Cross-posted at the Center for American Progress’s Wonk Room.}

Of the many interesting venues offering side events, I’ve been most impressed by some of the events put on by the Bellona Foundation. You can actually stream and watch some of these events here. It’s a noisy little spot, so be warned. I’ll just give you a taste here of what a side event is like. Here’s video from the event on black carbon.

The upshot of the event is that polar and alpine regions are warming rapidly, so watching what’s going on in Russia is important. Moreover, since the arctic makes up one of the largest regions in Russia, watching black carbon is not just extremely important, it’s extremely important to Russia.

Pam Pear of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative and Elena Kobets from the Bellona Foundation noted that rapid reduction in CO2 emissions is vital to slowing arctic warming, but that simply reducing CO2 is not enough. It is prudent also to pay attention to the role of land use. In this case, black carbon (or soot, basically) plays an warming role as well, since when the black carbon lays over white snow, the carbon absorbs more light and thereby exacerbates the melting.

What then causes carbon on the snow? It results from a variety of activities, but mostly from agricultural burning and from forest fires, even though transportation, power, and industry also create this soot effect. Notably, of the forest fires creating black soot, approximately 97% begin from reckless agricultural burning. To make matters worse, underground peat fires caused by above-ground agricultural fires add to the black soot effect by emitting more greenhouse gases. (Click through the slideshow at the video stream to see graphs of this effect.)

So what we’re really talking about here is “agricultural burning,” which is a common farming practice in Russia. Indeed, the demographic data illustrates that a heavy portion of black carbon emissions can be attributed to agricultural burning in Russia itself. A smaller number of agricultural fires are started in the US and Canada, though some burning does happen in North America as well.

The team presented several proposals to help remedy this problem. One proposal is to encourage the passage of a domestic Russian law prohibiting, restricting, or at least monitoring agricultural burning. To date, there is no such law. The international community can help by applying pressure.

Secondly, the academic community could become involved in identifying the problem and devising solutions. This could occur at the scientific level, in identifying sources and causes of the problem; but it could also occur at the cultural or sociological level, since agricultural burning is partly an unjustified cultural practice.

Finally, it would help to export agricultural savvy and technology to those agricultural regions of Russia where such burning is taking place. It is a widely held view, apparently, that agricultural burning melts the permafrost and the loosens the soil, thereby making planting easier; but this can be shown in other arctic agricultural environments to be false. Knowledge sharing and capacity building could go a long way.