Confound those politics

It is quite astonishing. Dr Chu, Nobel Prize winning physicist whom Mr Obama appointed as US Energy secretary (presumably on the grounds that he knew something about eh topics of energy and climate change) has come out with two statements which perhaps sum up the reaction of wealthy nations to climate change. 

Statement 1: The USA will not be able to cut greenhouse gas emissions as much as it should cut these emissions due to political opposition.

Statement 2: Dr Chu fears that the climate might be approaching a “tipping point” a point beyond which the climate can never recover.

First let us look at political opposition to emission cuts. There is a climate change denial lobby everywhere, but it is not, in my view, powerful or taken particularly seriously. I likened it to something that makes us all think hard, and get our scientific acts together and wrote in another post that climate change denial was useful for those reasons. Some climate change deniers reacted angrily by calling me patronising; presumably they were those who think that stimulating debate is worthless. I guess they never read Socrates’ defence, comparing himself to a gadfly, keeping the horse awake by stinging it.

No, I do not think that the climate change deniers are a serious political impediment; they certainly do not in my view present a cohesive political argument against climate change policies.
The political opposition that Dr Chu refers to (and it exists throughout the world) is not really the politics of a political movement. I am not aware of any major political party that has the basis of its politics climate change denial either in North America or in any major European country or in any of the large economies of Asia or in Australia or in many Latin American countries. In fact it seems to me that every major developed country accepts politically the concept of human made climate change.

There are of course the “gadflies” that sting and wake us up from time to time but they are not an organised political movement. So what is the political opposition to climate change measures of which Dr Chu speaks?

The political opposition to climate change measures is not founded upon a policy of disbelief in anthropological climate change. It is founded upon self interest.

Because climate change is not direct and immediately noticeable (unlike say the stench created by the lack of any sewerage system in London two hundred years ago) there is no political benefit in climate change measures.

Politicians can justify spending money on things that you notice – like smells and disease – but the climate change measures protect against a problem that is far more serious but at the same time less noticeable.

This makes it easier for politicians to spend money on foolish, pointless and wasteful projects (like purposeless buildings, wars and on their own enrichment) than it does to spend money on climate change measures.

It seems that politics will not permit the spending of money on say solar energy unless it is “cost effective” which means “cheaper than fossil fuel energy” on a direct immediate basis.

We are apparently too unsophisticated politically to take account of the fact that solar energy may well save our planet and all that live on her from catastrophic climate change. Not using solar energy is rather like building a ship without lifeboats on the grounds that lifeboats are too expensive.

And this brings me to Dr Chu’s second statement; he fears that we might have reaching the tipping point in climate change. It is deeply ironic that politics will force us into reaching the tipping point beyond which the climate will not be able to recover. But do not worry; nothing last forever, not even climate change. If you give the planet a few million years, and get rid of its parasites, the earth’s climate will in the end be suitable for those that inhabit it then.

4 Responses

  1. What Chu is getting around to is that the tipping point was a sociological or political event, and we passed it decades ago.

  2. There’s still lots to do….palliative care, migration, desertification, urban agriculture, etc.

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