The Heart of the Problem

By Keith Kloor | May 2, 2012 12:01 pm

Is there an example from human history of a culture taking action with the intended beneficiaries being two or more generations downstream, when there’s no benefit or maybe even sacrifice to the current generation?

I haven’t been able to come up with one, and I suspect we’re just not genetically programmed to worry about two generations downstream. That may be the heart of the problem.

This is MIT atmospheric scientist Kerry Emanuel, in an interview at the NYT Green blog, on the vexing climate change conundrum. The whole piece is worth reading. I think what he says above speaks to one big reason why it’s so hard for climate change to get traction with the public. And that’s why, I believe, climate activists have latched on to the extreme weather/global warming campaign. It makes climate change more tangible and less distant. But that’s a problematic frame, as I recently discussed here.

In his interview with Emanuel, Justin Gillis writes:

Part of our discussion centered on rhetoric. A favored tactic of contrarians, and especially skeptic bloggers, is to set up what scientists like Dr. Emanuel consider to be straw-man arguments that they can then knock down.

We routinely read, for instance, that climate scientists are predicting imminent catastrophe, the deaths of millions, mass starvation, galloping sea-level rise and so on. The goal seems to be to paint the scientists as alarmist so that when a catastrophe does not materialize right away, they are made to seem foolish.

This is a bit of a strawman itself, for it’s true that the climate science community doesn’t make such predictions. But high profile surrogates for climate science routinely talk in catastrophic terms. Also, let’s not forget, to cite just one example, this highly publicized report released in 2009 (reviewed by the IPCC chairman and other notables), which the Guardian reported on (like others) without the least bit of critical assessment:

Climate change is already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and is affecting 300m people, according to the first comprehensive study of the human impact of global warming.

But wait, I thought that such immense tragedy from climate change was not yet upon us? So I’m confused when Gillis, in his interview with Emanuel, writes:

Not only do most scientists not predict imminent catastrophe as a result of the warming of the planet, they formally acknowledge a wide range of uncertainty in the potential outcomes. Catastrophes of all sorts are among those possible outcomes, but few scientists claim these are certain, much less imminent.

Do you see what I’m getting at? There’s a lot of double talk going on, which no doubt confuses the public.

On the one hand, influential figures that shape climate discourse claim that global warming is already killing hundreds of thousands of people a year. On the other hand, we hear that climate scientists are unfairly accused of being alarmists. Well, guess what: The people that speak tacitly on behalf of climate science are often alarmist (with a little help from the media), and that’s where the impression comes from.

So where does the climate science community come down on the potential danger of climate change? Here’s Emanuel in the NYT article:

I can say that my field is almost unanimous in saying that we are facing serious risk. Things could turn out to be fine “” I hope they do. But there’s no evidence at all that would support an assertion that we’re not facing serious risk at this point.

I would agree with that. And I bet many rational-minded people along the climate spectrum do as well. So where do we go from here? Well, that’s the rub, concludes Gillis:

Scientists like Dr. Emanuel argue that the exact magnitude of the risk cannot and will not be quantified until it is too late to head off the potential ill consequences. Until society learns to think of the problem that way, the political discussion about climate change is likely to remain paralyzed.

True, but it might help if we could debate the magnitude of the risk without getting sidetracked by all the tenuous claims made about consequences of climate change purportedly happening right now. That may not be the heart of the problem, overall, but it’s a problem.

  • Matt B

    Is there an example from human history of a culture taking action with the intended beneficiaries being two or more generations downstream, when there’s no benefit or maybe even sacrifice to the current generation?

    How about the Great Wall of China?

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    I have spent a lot of time arguing that one of the tragedies of the climate conversation has been the tendency of what you call climate surrogates to jump up on the podium and grab the microphone away from the scientists–who are only to happy to abandon the stage and get on with their work.

    If the Joe Romms, Chris Mooneys and Justin Gillises of the world (joined by the Michael Tobises, Tim Lamberts et al) were to retire, the proportion of intelligent information and facts in the conversation would surely increase.

    This latter group is often wrong. When they are not wrong they extrapolate wildly, unscientifically. When they oppose other people, they attack them, almost always using ad hominems, guilt by association, etc.

    Extreme climate is just the most recent example of egregious exaggeration and blatant ignoring of what the IPCC and the peer reviewed literature actually indicate on the subject.

  • Roddy Campbell

    Emanuel likens the mass delusion to Nazi Germany in the same article.  Game over, surely.

  • http://www.aei.org/scholar/112 Kenneth Green

    It’s not clear to me that humanity’s (theoretical) inability to deal with inter-generational risk is actually a “problem.”

    Rather than being a ‘bug,’ I suspect it’s more a feature of our evolutionary history. Like one’s inability to recall the sensation of pain, it seems to me that downgrading future risk might be something humans have to do in order to survive. I can think of music, and recall it. I can think of the smell of my morning coffee, and recall it. I don’t need to recall the actual feeling of the MI I had 5 years ago, thanks.

    Let’s face it, every one of us faces catastrophic risks every day – being stricken down by disease, being maimed, being killed, having loved ones maimed, killed, etc. If we let future risks loom too largely in our minds, it could easily induce paralysis.And frankly, not “dealing” with climate risk is probably among the least of our “irresponsibilities.”

    We haven’t done much (if anything) to deal with risks of much greater certainty: we’re unprepared for the next 1918-style super-influenza; we’re unprepared for what would probably be a civilization-ending EMP attack; we’re not doing much to pay attention to the demographics of various global populations needed to sustain themselves or their social systems; we’re doing squat about the entitlement bubble we’ve built; we don’t have robust systems to watch out for asteroids with our number on them (much less do anything if we did)…one could go on at length.

    Bottom line?  I think humans evolved to deal with risks on the fly, not in advance. Sure, we have come up with a few institutions to manage highly-predictable risks (insurance), but if we were so worried about the long-term uncertain ones we tried to insure against everything, we’d never leave the cave.

  • Barry Woods

    My personal experience with the 300K climate deaths claim, is trying to persuade Dr Katie Hayhoe, not to use it in her climate change slides..  ie the citation from the GHF is rather suspect, a totally activist report.  Katie’s initial response was surprising, saying she just cited it, and to take up any questions with the GHF.. 

    As they are defunct, difficult, but more worring it would seem that rather than actually check whether this was good science, Katie was more interested in a good soundbite.

    As she is a quite high profile climate science communicator now, why aren’t other scientists (in the US) correcting this sort of thing.  Katie was not going to change it because a ‘sceptic’ said it was dodgy, and it was only when I tweeted to my twitter followers that another climate scientist, tweeted to Katie, best not to cite it.. referencing a report (Met Office/Hadley centre) that this report was ‘less than rigorous science’ and highly politicised.

    BUT why had Katie not checked this claim  for herself, was the message more important, ie to convey urgent action, because pople are dying?! Greenpeace, 10:10 many other use this type of cite, without any criticism it seems from the media or from scientists publically (informal chats on twitter don’t count)Until, sceptics consider scientists are being self sceptical of the material they present to the public/media, there is just going to be cynicicm, activists not scientists (the media ones that is)And sceptics would like to see other scientists publically calling out when activist scientists (hansen, etc) shall we say stretch evidence too far, rather than silence which is complicity for the ‘message’

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    > I have spent a lot of time arguing that one of the tragedies of the climate conversation has been the tendency of what you call climate surrogates to jump up on the podium and grab the microphone away from the scientists”“who are only to happy to abandon the stage and get on with their work.

    Indeed, the serie of comments in that thread alone testifies to the time spent, starting there:

    http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/dilemmas-in-science-communication/#comment-16085

    more explicitely in the next comment, and many more afterwards.

  • http://timberati.com Timberati

    …the climate science community doesn’t make such predictions. But high
    profile surrogates for climate science routinely talk in catastrophic
    terms.

    Yet, NASA scientist Jim Hansen has called the Keystone pipeline project a “fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet” and that if it is built it is “game over” for the climate. He said, “[T]here is no need to equivocate about the summer heat waves in Texas in 2011 and Moscow in 2010″¦it is nearly certain that they would not have occurred in the absence of global warming…The increasing greenhouse gases will cause the rapid global warming of the past three decades to continue and this warming will cause the dice to become more and more loaded with greater and greater extreme events.” And, I believe he called for coal industry execs to be arrested and tried for crimes against humanity.These sound as though he predicts bad things.

  • BBD

    It would be sooo helpful if people actually *read* Hansen’s papers before having a pop at the man.

  • grypo

    “[I]t might help if we could debate the magnitude of the risk without getting sidetracked by all the tenuous claims made about consequences of climate change purportedly happening right now.”

    Are you saying we should talk about the risk of climate change change effecting humans now, or soon? That is part of the risk and cannot be ignored in any risk assessment or conversation. Dr. Emanuel would know this by his own research.

  • David in Cal

    Is there an example from human history of a culture taking action with the intended beneficiaries being two or more generations downstream, when there’s no benefit or maybe even sacrifice to the current generation?

    I’ve sacrificed plenty for my children and even for my grandchildren. And, there’s nothing special about me.  My parents set up college funds for my children. I’m sure plenty of other grandparents have done the same.

    Granted that’s not exactly what Mr, Kloor was asking, but it’s close. The experience of parents and grandparents shows that it’s not particularly difficult to get humans to sacrifice for the benefit of future generations.  I think people are more discouraged from sacrificing to prevent catastrophic global warming because of the uncertainty.

  • Keith Kloor

    grypo, I’m saying the climate concerned community can’t have it both ways. Either climate change is killing 300,000 people a year and causing misery for millions of others (as the report claims)–presently, in which case you should stand by the rhetoric of climate catastrophe. Or, as, as indicated by Emanuel, the true risk of climate change to future generations remains unknown and can’t really be known until the full impacts arrive.

    I’m saying: Let’s have the debate about risk without the exaggerated rhetoric and claims.

  • BBD

    AFAIK, the GHF report took a (2003?) WHO modelled study as its basis and simply doubled the estimated mortality to allow for time elapsed in the interim. RP Jnr was very critical, IIRC. Also Stoat.

  • grypo

    I don’t pay much attention to reports put out by think tanks, but there is numerous peer reviewed literature that discusses the risk that climate change impacts are happening now or sooner than thought.

  • grypo

    Oh, wait, so we either say risk is unknown and only effects future generations or we stand by catastrophe rhetoric?  That binary doesn’t make any sense and really isn’t about having it both ways.  How about, climate change is real, it will very likely effect future generations negatively in numerous ways, and there is some evidence suggesting that it could be happening now, effecting at-risk populations.  

  • BBD

    Yup, thought I remembered that right:

    http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2009/06/death_and_disaster.php

    It’s worth a read.

    Grypo – me neither, but this wasn’t your typical think tank – Kofi Annan in the chair; HJ Schellnhuber advising on aspects of the science etc. And one has to admit, it does look as though it was bollocks.

    On your main point we can’t have a *risk* that something *is* happening now or sooner than thought. If you mean that bad stuff looks likely etc, then yes, I wouldn’t argue against that. But I don’t think that is the point Keith is making here. It’s all a bit tricky. Shades of the Schneider Balance…

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    It would be reasonable to pose the issue (and several reasonable people have) like this:

    If sensitivity turns out to be higher than the mid-range of IPCC projections, human emissions of CO2 pose a risk, as the IPCC notes, after about 2040. The risk is probably greater for developing nations that don’t have the wealth needed to develop resilient capacity to deal with it. How the threat manifests itself is still unknown to a large degree, but recent extreme weather events may serve as an example of what may become more common.

    Sadly, nobody can leave it at that.

  • grypo

    “we can’t have a *risk* that something *is* happening now or sooner than thought.”

    But what I mean here is that we know that these people are dying due to weather catastrophe, yes, and the -risk part- is that climate change is contributing to it, now, according research, which includes a lot of the new fractional attribution studies and what-not. Which would also increase the future risk, as an unwelcome bonus. So I think a conversation about risk that doesn’t include the full spectrum of risk is inadequate.

  • BBD

    I seem to recall the GHF report actually only attributes 5% of the modelled 300,000 ‘deaths’ to weather disaster. The rest from disease and malnutrition. I politely advise caution with the GHF report (set it aside).

  • NewYorkJ

    KK: Or, as, as indicated by Emanuel, the true risk of climate change to future generations remains unknownThat’s not exactly what Dr. Emanuel said.  The existence of a “serious risk” is stated unequivocally.

    “I can say that my field is almost unanimous in saying that we are facing serious risk,” is the way Dr. Emanuel put it to me. “Things could turn out to be fine “” I hope they do. But there’s no evidence at all that would support an assertion that we’re not facing serious risk at this point.”

    Would be good to have the full interview. 

    Relevant are these comments from Emanuel:

    “People like to call us alarmists,” said Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at MIT, speaking to more than 150 audience members at First Parish Meeting House in Wayland Center last Thursday at the Walden Forum.

    “I would say that history shows the exact opposite. Not just in climate science, but across science, we tend to be conservative.” – Jan. 27, 2012

    http://www.wickedlocal.com/wayland/news/x690033457/Packed-house-for-Walden-Forum-on-climate-change#axzz1tk2kXseh

  • Vinny Burgoo

    BBD, yes it was about 5%: 15k out of 317k. GHF’s estimate of CC-related deaths from disease in 2010 was an exact doubling of the McMichael estimate for 2000. The 15k came from shenanigans with earthquake-related insurance statistics.Not good, especially as the WHO’s estimate (166,000) wasn’t all that reliable to start with. It was essentially a guesstimate – and yet it still crops up in respectable scientific publications. McMichael has been plugging it quite hard recently, so it might even end up in AR5.A paragraph from one such recent plug in the BMJ:As warming proceeds, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, cyclones, floods, storm surges, heavy precipitation, and droughts are forecast to increase substantially. Many such changes are already becoming apparent worldwide.Hmmm. I don’t think that’s epidemiology talking.

  • Barry Woods

    we do not KNOW that climate change (man made OR even natural)  is contributing to this, we do know that poverty, etc and extreme weather events have always been with us. ..
    Prof Richard Betts (met Office/Hadley Centre, IPCC lead author AR4, AR5) cited this to persuade Dr Katie Hayhoe to remove that 300k climate deaths claim from her public slides.http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/foresight/docs/migration/science-reviews/11-1121-sr3-changing-variability-in-climates-year-to-year.pdfRichard: “Nevertheless, interest in potential links between climate change and possible changes in climate variability and extremes continues to mount. Some claims have been made linking an apparent increase in the severity of weather-related disasters to climate change, with high-profile claims being made such as “˜Climatic disasters are on the increase as the world warms up’ (Oxfam, 2007) and “˜every year climate change leaves over 300,000 people dead, 325 million people seriously affected, and economic losses of $US125 billion’ (Global Humanitarian Forum, 2009). These statements appear to unsubstantiated by rigorous science. For example, the Global Humanitarian Forum (2009). conclusion was based on a simplistic attribution methodology which compares the rate of increase in weather-related disasters to non-weather disasters (such as earthquakes), notes a steeper rate of increase in weather-related disasters and assumes that this is due to anthropogenic climate change. “—————Anyone imho, that has looked at the GHF document for themselves would consider the methodology to be a joke, and a document that reeks of climate activisim (calls for ‘climate justice) and utterly political.Yet Greenpeace (UK) use it, 10:10′s Franny Armstrong cited 300k deaths, in the Guardain scoop of ‘No pressure’ video.. to challenge these guys is to be a ‘denier’
     

  • Barry Woods
  • Nullius in Verba

    “Is there an example from human history of a culture taking action with the intended beneficiaries being two or more generations downstream, when there’s no benefit or maybe even sacrifice to the current generation?”

    Hmm. Perhaps we should ask the historians, to see if they can find any examples in the medieval chronicles, in which historically-minded writers set down current events for posterity…

    Oh.

    “I can say that my field is almost unanimous in saying that we are facing serious risk. Things could turn out to be fine “” I hope they do. But there’s no evidence at all that would support an assertion that we’re not facing serious risk at this point.”

    That’s an interesting statement right there in the middle. I wonder how many alarmists and activists would agree with it?

    I agree that there is no proof that there is no serious risk. But the same can be said of many speculative scenarios. Pascal made much the same point with his wager. There is no evidence at all that we do not face eternal hellfire and damnation if we do not believe in and obey the one true God (who is obviously Tlaloc, God of climate and population control), so if there is no proof there must be at least a possibility, and any non-zero probability multiplied by an infinite (or at least very large) cost makes the decision obvious. All hail, Tlaloc!

    Pascal’s neat trick enables one to bypass any level of doubt over the probability simply by raising the stakes. You can substitute impact for evidence. That’s another good reason for predicting catastrophe and disaster.

  • http://timberati.com Timberati

    How about, “Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity” by James Hansen? According to the publisher, “In Storms of My Grandchildren, Hansen speaks out for the first time with the full truth about global warming: The planet is hurtling even more rapidly than previously acknowledged to a climatic point of no return. In explaining the science of climate change, Hansen paints a devastating but all-too-realistic picture of what will happen in our children’s and grandchildren’s lifetimes if we follow the course we’re on. But he is also an optimist, showing that there is still time to take the urgent, strong action that is needed- just barely.”

    We are always just on the brink of catastrophe, n’est-ce pas?

  • Vinny Burgoo

    We are always just on the brink of catastrophe, n’est-ce pas?

    I know I am but, luckily for you lot, I’m not we.

  • BBD

    Same problem, Timberati. You are making a noise, but you haven’t read the book. Bad form, that.

  • Vinny Burgoo

    … an exact doubling of the McMichael estimate for 2000 … (166,000) …

    In case anyone was wondering how twice 166k is 302k, GHF doubled the McMichael WHO estimates for malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea, left out heart disease and did its own disaster estimate.

    (Re heart disease, today’s Goklany paper might have been unfair to the WHO, but I’ve only skimmed it so far.)

  • Steven Sullivan

    Timberati offers
    “And, I believe [Hansen] called for coal industry execs to be arrested and tried for crimes against humanity.”Specifically, for spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) about the reality and seriousness of global warming, in order to protect their industry from regulation and/or censure.  His analogy was to tobacco companies whose FUD campaign against science linking cigarettes and cancer, helped run them afoul of the law.Isn’t context cool?

  • BBD

    NIV

    Unless I mistake your meaning, the mediaeval chroniclers aren’t a very good example. They were steeped in a culture of argument from ancient authority and their purpose was didactic and self-justificatory in intent, not altruistic.  Or are you being very, very dry tonight?

    If not, perhaps the great cathedrals would do better? I think the largest took in the order of a couple of generations to complete (life expectancy being what it was then). 

    I liked the Tlaloc quip btw. You being you, you will know that this deity also rejoiced in the name Xoxouhqui or ‘Green One’  :-)

  • Steven Sullivan

    KK, instead of chiding  climate scientists to take the initiative in actively monitoring and rebutting the polemics emerging regularly from nonscientific advocacy think-tanks, how about you guys (journalists) make it a point to *always* seek out and report commentary on such products from a range of reputable scientists  – something I don’t see in the links you cited?  It’s usually the media who go gaga over those reports and splash them in headlines, not scientists, after all.  (They’re usually busy gathering and analyzing climate data and writing up results in peer-reviewed journals — when they’re not writing grant applications.)  And how about *you*, the reporters,  vet the credentials of the advisory committee and authors and spokespersions of such reports, and report to *me*, the news consumer,  how they stack up re: the subject of the report and claims it make? (Kofi Annan weren’t no climate scientist, last time I looked.)

  • Steven Sullivan

    Also also note that Gillis doesn’t quote Dr. E directly on the ‘catastrophe’ issue; indeed many of the claims in that article are paraphrases at best.  Small alarms going off for me there. Scientists often like to be scrupulous in their language and one would like to have read Emmanuel’s views verbatim on many of the points visited, rather than secondhand.

  • NewYorkJ

    Gillis is notably better than your average journalist in covering climate issues (that alone doesn’t say much).  His knowledge of climate issues is relatively strong, and many of his articles indicate that a strong degree of work had been put into gathering information and relevant views.  His article on uncertainties in the cloud feedback manages to spend a lot of time covering Lindzen’s views without delving into lazy faux balance he-said she-said journalism.  It gathers views of his work and activities from other experts.  It takes a rare critical eye at a skeptic.  It puts his views in the proper context and balance of views within the scientific community.  I haven’t checked, but it probably upsets deniers.Gillis’ writing style is not always ideal, and as Steven (#31) said, the paraphrasing may have introduced errors or caused some confusion on who is saying what.  As an example…Scientists like Dr. Emanuel argue that the exact magnitude of the risk cannot and will not be quantified until it is too late to head off the potential ill consequences.While the opening phrase has its place in casual conversation (such as ”more journalists like Gillis would be a good thing for climate science communication”), it has fooled “people like Keith” (#11) into believing this was specifically an Emanuel argument (which may or may not be), leaving aside the further errors Keith introduced in interpreting it to fit his narrative that we should never speak of weather events in the context of climate change, or of the possibility that some climate change consequences are happening now.

  • hunter

    What insurance company(ies) is Kerry working for or a part of? What are his financial interests in promoting climate fear?

  • Tom Scharf

    I find this walking back of climate catastrophism lately baffling.  Especially this attempted rewrite of history (what alarmism are you referring to exactly, pray tell?  I certainly never imbibed in that foolishness!).  

    It may be a return of climate science to near sanity levels, which would be a good thing for everyone.  However cynical people will tend to believe that many are running away from the career spiral of death while the getting is good.  When climate science is no longer trendy in progressive circles and the government funding has moved on to the latest cause du jour, there will be no one left who says he ever supported this madness.  A few climate dead-enders (as Rumsfeld would say) will not be able to escape, namely Al Gore, Hansen, and a few other notables.  Unfortunately the Internet has a long memory.

    For now, we are in the phase of CYA double talk, such as we get from Emanual with his “We can’t prove a catastrophe isn’t going to happen, so the catastrophic risk is very high, although we never actually said the real risk of a catastrophe was very high, only that the risk of not knowing equates to a greater risk than of knowing, which I hope makes if perfectly clear where I stand on this issue”.

    The only thing slower than global warming is the death of global warming.

  • http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/ Bart Verheggen
  • http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/ Bart Verheggen

    Ken Green (4) suspects that ”it’s more a feature of our evolutionary history rather than a bug” to not consider future generations. That’s not concistent with the numerous signs that protecting one’s offspring is central to evolution. So I’d rather call it a bug that if the threat is not yet apparent in its full magnitude it’s easy to ignore it.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    I agree with you Bart, but history also shows us that intergenerational issues are ‘good times’ problems–things to think about when the economy is doing well and peace prevails. Perhaps you and Kerry Emmanuel could sit down and ponder a ‘pulsed’ method of addressing climate issues, focusing more effort and money at the right time of the economic cycle and accepting that there will be lulls when times are tough.The old engineering adage holds true: When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember that the goal is to drain the swamp.

  • kdk33

    Irony:

    Warmists argue (in varied guises) that skeptics are skeptical because humans are psychologically unable to evaluate the climate change risks.

    Being an evolutionary/biological trait, this works both ways.

  • Martha

    There are many cultures that consider commitments to future generations as part of their actions, without immediate benefit.  For example, in the United States, the last time I checked, you still had Indigenous youth, elders, organizations, and leaders, and the teaching of Seven Generations. 
     
    Wow, that colonialism thing is fascinating:  you really have no idea who else exists.

  • Michael Larkin

    Tom Scharf #34

    +1 (Saved me the trouble of trying to say exactly the same thing)

  • Matt B

    @ 39 Martha – I think your gripe is with Kerry Emanuel, not all colonists.

  • Keith Kloor

    Martha,

    When was the last time you were on an Indian reservation? You really need to get that New Agey idea of indigenous peoples out of your head. 

  • http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/ Bart Verheggen

    Tom,I’m afraid you’re right. As also argued in this recent article, that the economic situation is most important in influencing public concern (or lack thereof) for environmental issues:http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378012000143

  • Marlowe Johnson

    The inter-generational problem is compounded by the asymmetric geographic distribution of costs and benefits. Asking people of your tribe to sacrifice for the greater good of the tribe’s descendants is one thing. Asking them to sacrifice for the benefit of some other tribe in the future is another matter entirely. IMO when climate skeptics advocate a do-nothing or do-little domestic policy position, what they’re really saying is that is that they don’t care about those africans that will be born 100 years from now enough to make any substantial sacrifice. Hiding behind:’the science isn’t settled’ or, ’there’s no point in doing anything since China and India are building coal plants’, or’we should wait until low carbon technology is cheaper’

    are simply convenient poses designed to distract from the uncomfortable moral implications of their position.

  • Anteros

    If people seriously believe scientists aren’t leading the way in the ‘catastrophe’ stakes, they should re-read AR4 and count the number of times the word is used.Hint – it’s more than 300

  • BBD

    Marlowe

    I cannot prove that what you say is correct, but I suspect it is. So here’s my unreferenced, unsupported +1.

  • kdk33

    IMO when climate skeptics advocate a do-nothing or do-little domestic policy position, what they’re really saying is that is that they don’t care about those africans that will be born 100 years from now enough to make any substantial sacrifice.

    And you would be very, very wrong!

    It is, in fact, very much the opposite.  Those that argue for aggresive decarboniztion are saying, in effect:  we’re worried about this climate problem, and we in the developed are probably rich enough to do something (use higher cost energy); too bad for the poor.

  • BBD

    Anteros

    How many in WG1?

  • BBD

    kdk33

    Are you completely bereft of shame? I am not just referring to your baseless and misleading nonsense above btw.

  • Anteros

    BBD – vastly less than would have been the case had Mr ‘death trains to crematoria’ been involved.

  • Tom C

    Watching BBD and others twist and turn and wiggle is most revealing.  Kloor’s point is unassailable.

  • Anteros

    Tom C – I’m endlessly amused to see the desperate defence of James ‘Coal is the greatest threat to humanity and all life on earth’ Hansen and the risible claim that he’s not alarmist!

  • Howard

    Kerry Emanuel is absolutely wrong, people do all manner of things for future generations… back in the day it was called planning.  The US greatly benefits from the infrastructure built in the early to middle 20th century.  In our modern Luddite world, self proclaimed popes of environmentalism fight expanding and improving infrastructure to prevent the blasphemy of growth inducement.  I hope Bart pauses once in a while to thank the long ago generations who built the dykes and bridges that makes life in his country made free from Nazi oppression by  generations past from foreign lands.

  • Tom C

    Howard -The real irony here is that simply having a child is a great way to ensure that there is a future generation – and the radical greenies don’t encourage that.

  • BBD

    Tom C

    WTF? See # 12 ff.

    Anteros

    That is not an answer.

  • Paul Kelly

    I think Emanuel is using we in a political sense. Individuals foster future generations because of lineage. Societies do many things for the present that have lasting benefit for future generations. Politicians and governments tend only to place burdens on future generations.

  • Tom C

    BBD -Your comment #12 suggests that this is all based on one bad report.  Hardly.  We are inundated with wildly alarmist nonsense from a handful of scientists but magified by the media.  The problem KK is pointing out here is that the supposedly “mainstream” Kerry Es of the world do not protest these pronouncements.  So, they can’t have it both ways.When Emmanuel comes out swinging against Hansen then maybe I will take him seriously. 

  • BBD

    Paul Kelly @ 56

    Here in the UK, Victorian sewers still serve London. Ditto parts of the Underground rail network. And the overland rail network (including tunnels, cuttings and viaducts). Since 1948 we’ve had the National Health Service. And there’s the National Grid and indeed all the rest of the infrastructure we all take for granted: water mains, gas, road networks, emergency services etc etc etc. All examples of the terrible burdens laid upon us by past governments.

  • BBD

    Tom C

    My comments about the GHF report should indicate that I have an open mind and will happily stick the boot in to crap work when I see it.

  • grypo

    “Societies do many things for the present that have lasting benefit for future generations. Politicians and governments tend only to place burdens on future generations.”

    An indicator that sociopaths have been in charge a bit too long. I agree that, as a society, the problem is that we don’t think past the end of our noses. But when ideas are put to popular vote or even basic polling, the actions we want to take vary drastically from the actions forced on us. It’s why we are not allowed to vote for anything important.

  • BBD

    And Tom, may I refer you to # 8.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    > Kloor’s point is unassailable.

    Take that, Popperians!

  • Anteros

    BBD – your question was so ridiculous it didn’t deserve an answer. ‘Catastrophe’ is the language of impacts, so in the section on IMPACTS is where you’ll find it (should you be reading a wildly alarmist tract like AR4). To ask about impact language in a non-impact section is the swerving and wriggling that you so frequently indulge in.

  • BBD

    Anteros

    You miss the point: reacting badly (as you do) to being warned that CC will not be a bed of roses does not undermine the physical science basis. 

    This, however, is the root of much ‘sceptical’ strawman construction, perfectly encapsulated by ‘CAGW’.

  • Anteros

    BBD – au contraire, it is you who has missed the point. And you repeat your misunderstanding by claiming – laughably – that ‘CAGW’ is a sceptical strawman construction. AR4 uses the word ‘catastrophe’ 338 times – sceptics simply respond to the ill-founded alarmism.

  • BBD

    Anteros

    CAGW *is* a sceptical strawman. AGW is what it is. It is principally dependent on the atmospheric fraction of CO2 from burning fossil fuels. Emit enough, and the likely result will be catastrophic in the end. But sceptics say: ‘look – no catastrophes – CAGW is a hoax’. A classic strawman. You are doing it now, on this thread.

  • hunter

    BBD,AGW without a crisis is a waste of time. Everything changes. It is dangerous change that must be managed. You true believers who refuse to admit this are kooks.

  • hunter

    @35 Bart V,Think more about Kerry’s assertion. It is literally insane.And how much of it is hypocritical smoke from his insurance company conflicts of interest?

  • BBD

    My goodness, full moon again, already?

  • hunter

    BBD,Yes, your AGW madness is possibly impacted by lunar phase. Good luck with it.

  • hr

    A timely article Keith,Even in the past couple of days I’ve read multiple comment along the lines that cAGW is a strawman construct of deniers, that climate scientists have never even contemplated catastrophe. It seems utterly bizarre they are all doing it all the time.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvmnZ3Q7Vj0  (Mann ~10mins)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zi12lZIdGjQ  (Hansen)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Str4Fv0gJxM (Ramsdorf)

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »