End of the year: one door closes, another door…closes!
What was my year like? It started with the fallout from a betrayal of monumental proportions, when our dear leaders failed to achieve anything at COP15. This was compounded by the unauthorised release of emails from the CRU, which became the deniers’ focus for the entire year, due to having nothing else – science in particular – on which to found their anxious conspiracy theories.
My main impression is that nothing at all has really changed, except the science – which has simply got stronger, in part – curiously – as a result of the way it has been attacked. Phil Jones’ experience hammered home the nature of the political environment in which climate science must operate, making it clear that climate change is not an issue that can be separated from politics, the implications being so far reaching.
The other way the science improved was in the quality of data generated by better instruments, employed in more novel ways. For example, the combined use of gravimetric data from the pair of Grace satellites, and GPS readings taken from units placed in Antarctic and Greenland bedrock, gave us a much clearer understanding of how fast the ice sheets are losing mass, and that this process is accelerating. Results from the recently launched Cryrosat II – which completed commissioning at the end of November – will help a great deal in determining the effects of climate change on the world’s ice.
As the science moves forward, so the social debate seems to regress. I suspect this is a process we have to survive, because as the case for ACC becomes ever clearer and stronger, so the clamour of denial will increase in volume. Of more concern are the threats to the basic freedoms that science should enjoy – freedom to research without fear of reprisal depending on result, and freedom from legal threats that require the perverse use of legislation to make science ideologically sound. What the incumbent Republican congress are threatening to do sounds eerily like McCarthy all over again, an excess motivated, oddly enough, by the same fear of communism…apparently. For a country with such extravagant military power, the US seems strangely fearful.
As the year closes, it ends with a whimper reminiscent of the one with which the new year was ushered in. Cancun served to demonstrate only the futility of mitigation, which cannot find political support. There is no convincing leadership on the issue of climate change, not at least within the industrialised nations. It is clear that until the true, disastrous scope of climate change is demonstrated unequivocally – and that means people are going to have to die – only then will politicians realise that the public are best served by leaders with vision and courage. Until we get some, we’re screwed, and if it takes too long to find leaders with such qualities, our options will be severely limited and the costs of our complacency beyond comprehension.