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Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


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2 °C Warming Goal: Zombie Myths Continues

Fresh on the heels of my last post on whether 2 °C should be the exclusive threshold in international diplomacy negotiations, a link to a Grist article written yesterday caught my eye: “What you need to know about the next big climate report“.  What did I find in the 4th paragraph but this appeal to scientific expertise (emphasis mine):

The panel intends for this assessment report to guide international negotiators as they work, in the run-up to the big Paris climate summit in December 2015, to hammer out an agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. The U.N. hopes nations will find a way to squeeze through the ever-shrinking window of opportunity and cut a deal to keep the planet from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius of warming — the goal scientists have set to avoid the worst impacts of climate change — before we blow right past that target.

It is worth reminding yourself that everything you encounter in any media is biased somehow.  We’re all human and we all have our own biases.  Nothing is unbiased or objective because the act of putting words to concepts is derived from brains with preferred neural pathways.  There is nothing inherently bad with the bolded language above.  It comes from Grist, which many in the climate activist community view as a legitimate source of information (unlike say, Fox News).  However, the 2 °C threshold was not originally scientific.  That was one of the fundamental take home messages of my last post.

Negotiators in the early 1990s for the IPCC asked for some type of threshold that they might use in negotiations because, not being scientists, they didn’t know what threshold might be useful or appropriate.  A German scientist offered up the 2 °C threshold as part of the UNFCCC process and because nobody else came up with a different threshold or challenged the temperature threshold, negotiators moved it through their process until politicians from countries around the world agreed to insert the language in a formal report.  As is usually the case with these type of things, it has remained as the public threshold ever since.  Climate scientists started using the threshold as part of their work in an attempt to maintain legitimacy in the funding process because politicians control research purse strings.  Finally, as I wrote in my last post, the status quo is very hard to change.  Witness the personalized (not science-based!) attacks on the authors of the Nature Comment that initiated the most recent version of the threshold discussion.

The language Grist uses plays into skeptics hands.  “The goal scientists have set.”  That implies that scientists have political power and have already exercised it at the expense of every other person.  Unsurprisingly, most people aren’t fans of yielding power without a chance at involvement.  Hence one very good reason to subvert those scientists.  Grist is helping perpetrate the meme that there is a conspiracy against non-scientists – a meme that many climate scientist activists further inflame when they claim exclusive providence over anything climate related.  If activists don’t view someone as a perfect example of their tribe, they attack the “other” without hesitation because they’re using the climate issue as a proxy for arguments they should have instead.

Politicians and diplomats set the 2 °C threshold.  They were the only ones that had the power to do so.  Scientists don’t approve the IPCC’s language.  They write their own papers and contribute to the IPCC process, but politicians are responsible for approving every last word in IPCC reports.  Grist writers and editors should know this.  They’re all too willing to allow zombie myths to keep roaming the discussion space, it appears.

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2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit News 12/22/09 – Accord & Future Directions

I obviously haven’t posted anything about the Copenhagen Conference for a few days.  Not for lack of desire, but for a lack of time.  So before more time slips away and I lose track of what happened in Copenhagen, here are where things stand, as best as I can determine.

The Copenhagen Climate Conference of 2009 wasn’t an abject failure, as too many people continue to profess.  Did the Conference result in the most aggressive actions by every country that the most optimistic could have hoped for?  Of course not.  Anybody who thought that would happen set themselves up for severe disappointment.  Is it the final step in climate action internationally?  Again, of course it isn’t.  What I think happened is a solid step in the general right direction was taken.  The results were actually better than the total gridlock that appeared 1-3 days days prior to the end led observers to believe they would be.  The agent who made the recorded progress available?  The Obama administration.

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2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit News 12/11/09: 1st Draft Issued & Wingnuts on Parade

The first official draft on a climate deal has been written and issued.  The expectation is the details won’t be worked out for another 6 months or so, which was what a lot of people were thinking going into this Summit.  Keep in mind that George Bush’s crew did everything they could for 8 years to make sure the climate crisis was worse when they left than when they took power.  President Obama’s administration has had only 10 months so far to undo those 8 years of damage.  That little fact will be very handy when the Cons start screaming that the Summit and the U.S. President are failures.  Gotta love those patriots!  Back to the draft:

A key working group under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came up with a six-page text Friday. The draft may form the core of a new global agreement to combat climate change beyond 2012, when the present framework, the Kyoto Protocol, expires. However, most figures in the text are shown in brackets – meaning that there is not yet agreement on these specifics. Most importantly, the draft states that emissions should be halved worldwide by 2050 compared to 1990 levels, but it also suggests 80 percent and 95 percent reductions by that year as possible alternative options.

Those two emphasized statements are at the root of a lot of disagreement between parties, as I cover below.

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