Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Deniers' Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

It's been obvious for years that climate change deniers are not motivated by respect for evidence but by something else; almost certainly hostility to the policies that they suppose to be needed to stop climate change. Last week New Scientist's Feedback column gave a rare insight into this hostility. It reports the hostility of various US local authorities and right-wing pressure groups to the UN because, to quote one, it has a plan to "destroy the sovereignty of the United States of America".

Of course, that sounds like arrant nonsense. But is it?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in 1992. It aimed to to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent catastrophic climate change. That, we now see, was about 25 years before the date by which those concentrations needed to reach their peak. If the nations had acted promptly there would have been enough time to solve the problem by a judicious mixture of carbon taxes, permit trading, investment in renewables, low-energy building design, etc. This would have been demanding and mistakes would have been made. But there would have been time to correct them in ways that are quite normal in a democratic society. Nothing in this required a transition to a command economy; indeed many corporations would now be enjoying healthy profits from low-carbon investments.

There are many reasons that this did not happen and opposition by right-wing American groups is just one, though an important one.

But look at the consequences of this opposition.

We are now past the point at which the ordinary processes of democratic politics and international negotiation can solve the problem. So either the problem will go unsolved or it will be solved by some nation or group imposing a solution, as in my Emergency Braking scenario.

If it's unsolved catastrophe will follow. Climate zones will move north, extreme weather events become more common, etc. The US will probably become unable to feed its population and will certainly be unable to sustain its current standard of living. Latino immigration will increase whilst the rich and the smart relocate to Canada. Since similar changes will happen throughout the world resource wars will increase and the US will likely be forced to support the UN in controlling them.

But effective action will create some similar demands. Since geo-engineering will be part of the solution - the time for less drastic measures to be sufficient having passed - and since such measures have global effects there will be pressures to bring these measures under international control.

Thus those who oppose effective action on climate change because it would undermine US influence will have made it likely that the US is ultimately subject to foreign influence. In the circumstances I foresee this influence will not be benign and the achievements of the West in establishing democracy, human rights and the rule of law will be undermined or lost.

Some rightwing extremists may expect their cause to benefit from this. Perhaps a few plutocrats and military strongmen really will benefit. But it will undermine the values they claim to espouse.

Truly, "be careful what you wish for".

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