Climate scientists are people too

November 19, 2019

Climate scientists understand potential climate disasters, but can not accurately predict the timescales or details of how they will unfold.

Some are more sceptical than others about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but all see it as an essential outlet for their research.

When pushed to question some of the IPCC’s ludicrous assumptions on negative emissions technologies, some are readier than others to criticise.

These were my impressions from an all day conference in London yesterday, where scientists presented the IPCC’s three recent reports – on limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, on oceans and ice sheets, and on land and agriculture.

All the scientists who spoke had felt a shot in the arm from the school climate strikes and

Earth, from space. No land is visible because that is the Pacific Ocean. Corinne Le Quere showed this photo at yesterday’s conference: a reminder that the oceans cover 70% of the earth’s surface

Extinction Rebellion. “People now feel the urgency in a more visceral way”, Andy Challinor of Leeds university said, opening the event.

Speakers repeatedly urged political and social action, which they are convinced can avert the worst impacts of global warming. But there was no mention of radical social change: the appeals were, rather, for “joined-up government policy”.

The event was organised by the Royal Meteorological Society of the UK. It was free to get in and open to all. There was a deluge of useful information, clearly and thoughtfully explained. (The presentations and other relevant stuff are on its web site here.)

To be honest, I could not understand why it wasn’t over-booked, and was disappointed that there were empty seats. One scientist I talked to in a coffee break saw it differently: he had Read the rest of this entry »


Geoengineering: let’s not get it back-to-front

November 1, 2019

A response to After Geoengineering by Holly Jean Buck (London: Verso Books, 2019)

We need to talk about geoengineering. Badly. To do so, I suggest two ground rules.

First, when we imagine futures with geoengineering, whether utopian or dystopian, let’s talk about the path from the present to those futures.

Second, if society is to protect itself from dangerous global warming, it will most likely combine a whole range of different methods; there is no silver bullet. So we need to discuss geoengineering together with other actions and technologies, not in isolation.

In After Geoengineering, Holly Buck urges social movements and climate justice militants to engage with geoengineering, rather than rejecting it. She questions campaigners’ focus on

Civil society groups protesting at the UN climate talks in Lima, Peru, in 2014, when fossil fuel companies organised sessions on carbon capture and storage. Photo by Carol Linnitt from the DeSmog Blog.

mitigation, i.e. on measures such as energy conservation and renewable electricity generation that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Buck offers a clear, jargon-free review of technologies, from afforestation and biochar that some climate campaigners embrace, to solar radiation management, the last word in technofixes that is broadly reviled. She intersperses her narrative with fictional passages, warning of the pitfalls of “mathematical pathways or scenarios, behind which are traditions of men gaming our possible futures” (p. 48).

But one of Buck’s key arguments – that we will reach a point where society will collectively “lose hope in the capacity of current emissions-reduction measures to avert climate upheaval”, and “decide that something else must be tried” (pp. 1-2) – cuts right across both my ground rules.

Buck asks: are we at the point […] where “the counterfactual scenario is extreme climate suffering” and therefore “it is worth talking about more radical or extreme measures [than mitigation]”, such as geoengineering? “Deciding where the shift – the moment of reckoning, the desperation point – lies is a difficult task” (p. 4).

This is a false premise, in my view, for three reasons.

First: we can not, and will not for the foreseeable future, perceive this “desperation point” as a moment in time. For island nations whose territory is being submerged, for indigenous peoples in the wildfire-ravaged Amazon, for victims of hurricanes and crop failures, the point Read the rest of this entry »


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