Saturday, January 1, 2000

Jonathan Porritt's lecture 14 Dec 2010 : Part One

Jonathan Porritt's lecture, The Scourge of Denialism,
at the Science park on 14th December 2010 : Part One

Cancun question
He started by saying that he had been quite cheered by Cancun, the recent summit in Mexico. Everyone attending had been desperate for it not to be sidetracked or blown out of the water like the Copenhagen summit. It wasn't perfect, but some consensus emerged and it was better than nothing. Climate change involves many complex interacting issues of policy, economy etc, but with all the good science to prove it, how come fewer politicians and members of the public believe in the risks of Climate Change than a decade ago?
Science or Faith?
  Politicians know that to be elected, they have to promise greater prosperity, health, economic growth, gross national product and the like. The media promote the affluent lifestyle through advertising. Culturally, opinion formers like Jeremy Clarkson make it seem laddish and amusing to be in denial about climate change. But worse, far worse is when elected politicians turn their backs on scientific evidence entirely and take a religious view like Fred Upton, or an economic view like G W Bush, both of whom deny that there's any point doing anything about it.
What will Climate change lead to?
  People misuse the expression 'global warming' when we should be talking about 'climate change'. They miss the point every time we get a winter snap like we are having in the UK. Climate change is non linear, it is a greater level of Chaos (for example, some places will get hotter, but it is likely to make the UK's climate colder in the long term), and it is Runaway (meaning that one symptom provokes another, eg methane gases released by melting tundra), and most alarmingly, Irreversible (meaning we can't stop it within several lifetimes once the processes are moving).
What is the UK doing?
Well, if we could stabilise the atmosphere at 450 ppm, causing only a 2degC rise, we would have to cut our current emissions by 60% in 2050, and the UK is proposing an 80% cut, so we are full of good intentions. This is based on computer projections - we don't have another planet and species and global economy to test this out on, so there is no way to know firmly what future temperatures will be and what the effect of this will be - we can only theorise, plan and hope.
Carbon Reduction Planning
He suggested a number of measures to consider:
Kondratiev Cycle :
Innovation through leaps and bounds
(but leaving some behind)
1. Decoupling - separate economic growth from emissions - using carbon tax, carbon trading etc as incentives to reduce emissions.
2. Innovation - improving Technology, and the use of Materials.
3. Marketizing - putting an economic value on green resources like Forests, just like we do on oil reserves or fish stocks.
4. Regulation - remembering that private sector and the public will take too long to get moving unless they have to.
5. Behaviour change (or nudging) - using education, children teaching their parents to be more energy efficient, through greening and Transition campaigns.
6. Wellbeing - managing a cultural change whereby wellbeing and benevolence are considered just as important as wealth, searching for happiness is fulfilling in its own right, sharing and healing are important values. (Unfortunately, after experimenting with this for 2000 years, it is still too slow to work see Sermon on the Mount).
Kondratiev Cycle
Kondratiev showed a time chart revealing that innovation tend to occur in leaps and bounds, often overlapping or obsolescing the previous one. He was writing in the nineteenth century, but the theory is entirely vindicated by subsequent events. Examples would be the steam engine (industrial revolution), concrete and steel, motoring and air travel, digital technology. The countries which get on the crest of the wave do well. Britain once held the lead in manufacturing and textiles. The US had the lead in aircraft, space travel and computer evolution. The world is now entering a huge new area of economic opportunity resulting from green technology - the need to develop solar power stations etc. As this moment the US is falling behind because the Chinese are already way ahead with investment in technology, and have the sort of centralised decision making that can make change happen, eg decreeing an entire new city to have district heating, or to build solar power stations. They are no longer copying technology, they are pushing the boundaries with new processes and products. The next Kondratiev leap is now happening.
Scepticism or Denialism?
Jonathan made it clear that Scepticism is healthy, it is the whole basis of the scientific method, and the sceptic is open minded and ready for agreement provided the evidence is presented and placed in context - what may have been caused by Apathy or Ignorance can be overcome if the need is pressing. Denialism is harmful, because no amount of evidence will convert them, as their motivation is religious or economic greed - as George Lakoff points out, they have formed 'frames' in their mind, and will only regard more evidence as example of your misguidedness or faithlessness, and they might even have the attitude of "Bring it on!". Don't ever make such people chairman of an Energy committee!
  At a time like now when the winter is cold, there is a lazy tendency for denialists or sceptics to retreat into a Clarkson-Daily Mail bubble of complacency, or 'I told you so'. 

Jonathan's Lecture, Part TWO

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