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Climate change: where the action is (and isn’t)

February 19, 2010

Writing in the Guardian about the resignation of Yvo de Boer as executive secretary of the UN climate change secretariat, Mark Lynas is just the latest in a stream of journalists to display a kind of nihilistic pessimism about climate change mitigation and the significance of the public furore surrounding it. So much hand-wringing, so little attention to what actually matters: the science. And while the voice of the mob may be strident, ugly, hysterical and vituperative, it may make little difference to the political outcome because more powerful influences are at work, those influences coming from a rather unexpected quarter.

Sure, we all feel a  bit let down by CRU and the IPCC, but none of the recent problems that have emerged, or the public’s staggering over-reaction to them, will make the ice come back or stop the sea levels rising. It is important at times like this that we return to the ‘core competencies’ as we say in business, and look at the greater picture. This is my response to Lynas’ self-pitying diatribe:

Well Mark, I must say there is far too much self-absorption going on lately, you being the latest of the pessimists who seem to be ignoring the facts.

As you well know, the physical evidence of climate change – those predicted by the models so beloved by denialists – is stark, and rapidly accumulating. The cryrosphere is displaying exactly the symptoms that we expect, with both the poles losing mass at an accelerating rate, the Greenland ice cap now discovered to be losing 75% of its diminishing mass from below due to the warming oceans, 80% of the world’s glaciers losing their mass, the heating of the oceans (interesting summary of new research into ocean heat content by John Cook at SkepticalScience last week), accelerating sea levels, increases in water vapour, the accelerating release of methane – all these are predictable signs of climate change. As the correlation between the physical evidence is consistent with the theory that man is causing the change, the science and the theory regarding causation is gaining strength all the time.

So do not conflate political or procedural issues with the science – this plays into the hand of denialists because they like nothing better than to deliberately confuse the two. And get a grip: it is bloody obvious that governments will not do what is required, and the outcome of COP15 was as predictable as Obama’s tenuous control over congress and the senate. There is no point in complaining about recent events when your complaints are based on foolish and naive expectations, much like those invested in Obama. There is no free lunch, and especially where climate change is concerned.

By focusing on what drives the need for climate change mitigation – the science and the evidence for it – we stand on firm ground, no matter what tripe the deniers may post, no matter how much hyperbole and disinformation in which they indulge themselves.

And pay attention to industry, for it is there that the real action is taking place, the real influence is being felt. Look at the CBI, representing Britain’s industry and business, and note how hard they lobby now for mitigation. Look at the defections from the US Chamber of Commerce – big business leaving the fold because they view the Chamber’s actions as obstructive. They do not do this out of political ideology because they have none. They do this because they know their future profits are being threatened by the very people who should be doing all they can to protect it.

Right now, the biggest stumbling block is the US, stuck in the fearful demagogic polarisation that the right use to leverage their agenda. When you consider how Republicans will react when their corporate sponsors pull the plug on their campaign funding because their business interests are not only unsupported, but threatened, the Republicans will be in danger of losing their primary source of money – the thing that in the US buys you power. No political party can ignore big business, and that business doesn’t give a shit about denialism, only profit and self-interest.

Commerce isn’t fooled by denialism, and governments – as beholden as they are to commerce – will ultimately reflect, for better or worse, the interests of their most powerful constituents. The public may think they are important, but history demonstrates that even in a democracy, it is money that moves the levers of power, not votes.

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