Climate Change: Scientific Fact, Not Political Issue

Posted on 18 December 2009 by editor

Fabricio Vanden Broeck

Fabricio Vanden Broeck

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO (IPS/TerraViva) – “In a year’s time, the Japanese archipelago will be completely under water.” This official announcement was made following a violent eruption of Mt. Fuji, as a series of devastating earthquakes shook the country, forcing the world to face the challenge of taking in 110 million refuges within a very short time.

After a brutal diplomatic battle, the Japanese government managed to secure frail support from its fellow nations and evacuate 65 million people. Twenty million sank with the islands, many of them voluntarily, out of love for their country or to give younger people a better chance of fleeing. The rest are believed to have died before the islands sank, victims of the quakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters.

This account is part of a futuristic book published in Japan in 1973, and translated into English as “Japan Sinks”. The author, Japanese novelist Komatsu Sakyo, imagines this catastrophe based on potential natural phenomena, such as the intensification and alteration of tectonic plate shifts under the Pacific Ocean.

But outside the world of fiction, the planet today is being hit by increasingly frequent floods, and many small island states and coastal cities face the real possibility of sinking in the near future. And all of this is a result of human actions.

The threat in real life is coming from above rather than below, but the consequences are equally tragic, even if they appear less catastrophic because they are more spread out in time and space.

A huge cataclysm like the one depicted by Sakyo may be what the world needs to reach an effective agreement that will steer it away from the suicidal path of global warming.

Certain changes, especially those wrought against the economic tide, are only possible after exceptional tragedies or social turmoil. Last year’s global financial crisis, for example, was not dramatic enough to bring about structural changes.

The magnitude of Sakyo’s fictional disaster does not lie merely in the number of victims, but in the fact that it completely wipes out a rich nation like Japan, a country that many in the 1970s saw as challenging the economic power of the United States. The novel is also critical of the arrogance displayed by Japan in the post-war reconstruction period.

The fact that tropical countries, especially small, impoverished nations, will suffer the worst effects of global warming fails to prompt cooperation that should be natural in our present circumstances, as it is a threat that affects the entire world.

The current climate crisis highlights the multiple dimensions of the inequalities among nations, which hinder negotiations. The leading issues – such as legally-binding targets for emissions and funding for programs to address climate change – divide the world, with wealthy countries on one side and the rest of the world on the other, and a middle group of emerging nations whose intention to continue to be counted within the ranks of the poor nations (in terms of emissions cuts, etc) is rejected by the rich.

This inequality is a spoke in the wheel of any multilateral talks, in both market, financial, patent or health matters.

These are all opportunities for developing countries to close the gap that separates them from the rich and obtain more aid for their own development, now with the irrefutable argument that the industrialised world is responsible for the historic accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

But when it comes to climate change, the blocs formed in other forums fall apart. Brazil, for example, is persistently under pressure from environmentalists to break away from the G77 group of 130 developing nations so that it can contribute to reaching an agreement and regaining the leadership role it had in the negotiations for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, and the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

Because it has specific and feasible means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – by curbing deforestation and increasing its already vastly developed clean energy production -, environmental activists argue that it would be to Brazil’s own advantage to commit to ambitious targets.

China, which is associated with the G77, alienated itself from the coalition by moving closer to the United States in volume of greenhouse gases emitted, building one coal-fired electric power plant a week, and holding more than two trillion dollars in reserves.

It’s frightening to think of 1.3 billion Chinese speeding forward towards what is now recognised as an unsustainable process of industrialisation and consumption.

The position of countries that are rich in fossil fuels differs radically from that of those dependent on imported oil. Latitudes and altitudes, the abundance or lack of forests, the threat of desertification, or the dependence on glaciers are some of the many aspects that mark the differences in how climate change impacts each country.

Numerous small island states are already fighting for survival, so they have joined forces with those African nations that are severely affected by desertification and major crop losses to demand that 1.5 degrees C be set as the limit for the rise in temperature in this century. Exceeding that threshold will condemn entire nations to almost certain death or displacement.

But, what power do these countries have to counter the two-degree limit adopted?

This is not about rich countries imposing their will on poor countries, or of a class struggle between states. The goals that must be met are being dictated by scientific studies and assessments. Climate change has crowned a new absolute power: the power of science, whose findings are now determining the very existence of the world’s entire population.

Thousands of scientists who participated in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agreed that a temperature rise of two degrees C by 2100 is a feasible and tolerable limit. Above that, chaos will ensue.

Climate sceptics don’t count. They’re a tiny minority and, in many cases, have lost credibility because they are thought to defend the interests of the fossil fuel industry, or to act out because they feel attacked by attempts to prevent the great climate disaster.

Voices have already been raised against the verdict issued by climate experts, voices that demand that society be included in decision-making, with suggestions of holding referendums. But this is a field where the premises lay outside the dynamics of “democracy.” Climate change is a fact, not an issue.

Politics can only decide on how to handle the phenomenon. Questioning it or determining any variations in the facts is the exclusive domain of science.

This new dimension of what many refer to as the “age of knowledge” will dictate the rules that govern many activities, demanding energy efficiency, and forcing people to change their patterns of consumption and their habits, as has already been achieved, for example, with tobacco in the field of health.

7 Comments For This Post

  1. Dorothy Says:

    Thank you for this, and for your consistantly fine reporting from Copenhagen. If anything can save us, it’s the intelligence and caring you have shown.

  2. Shaktiva Says:

    Climate change is indisputable, global warming not.
    The latter opens a path for dicussion and needs to be avoided in an effort to help those in need.
    For the sake of progression leave global warming leave semantics out of this issue.

  3. Hugh Casper Says:

    These are very reasonable points. Unfortunately, in the arena of cultural ADHD & sound-byte argumentation, the scatter-gun, whack-a-mole style of rhetoric wins over the popular thinking on the topic: opinion is provided ready-made, appeals are made to one’s sense of freedom & to the issues of credibility the skeptics accuse science of fudging; beyond this, the specifics of understanding the amazingly complex phenomenon of a fluid far from equilibrium system that is our global climate are not even given a second chance. In the eye of the public, understandably confused about who & what to believe about something that is potentially catastrophic if true, it is both more comforting & reassuring to believe that life is continuing as normal, & opinion-shaping devices like the pro-skeptic scientists & media voices have exploited this gap between the science & the public’s comprehension, as if the implications of the science reflected merely another issue of the day.

    The counter argument on credibility for skepticism however boils down to this: if, as the skeptics like to argue, anthropogenic climate change isn’t happening, then at the worst there will be a lot of scientists, activists, politicians, & even corporations with egg all over their public faces & the skeptics will be able to roll around wetting themselves with laughter & scorn. But … if the science is right, & the skeptics are wrong, & not only is ACC happening, it is happening rapidly & in keeping with projected trajectories, then, in very simple English, we will be dealing with a series of catastrophes across the globe, at multiple scales, with an uncertain climax.

    That about sums it up really.

  4. top residual income business Says:

    It sounds like you’re creating problems yourself by trying to solve this issue instead of looking at why their is a problem in the first place

  5. Sue Says:

    ACC or no, we live here, and if it doesn’t work for us, then we don’t live here, so we had better do something about it or else we will have to put up the barricades and live in ghettoes, Mad Max films, try also John Birmingham’s beautiful little book on nuclear futures or do something, person to person, everything you do is helping or not, its your choice

  6. Robert Pringle Says:

    The real solution to a great problem, has almost always came through dicovery. Since this issue of climate change, hints at catastophic results, I belive the intelligent thing to do, would be to push the envelope, in every possible direction. There is, discoveries to be made and/or revealed. In the case of, “Revealed”, our patent office is sitting on a hydrogen generator patent, that should now be, Public Domain, or for certain, could be declared so, by Executive order, in the intrest of liberating the world, from this Climate/Energy crisis. Are you going to tell a person, who has to burn wood for heat, because he cannot afford any other fuel, that he has to pay a carbon tax? I cannot believe, we could get that low and still call ourselves, “A human race”. Back to discovery, in a field of research, that has already shown remarkable revalations, I believe there is waiting, something so profound, that our “Modern” minds will struggle to comprehend it.
    This research will be undertaken as an, international youth science and film expedition, that will also engage in humanitarian outreach. The funds from the film, will go to new youth enterprises and help continue the humanitarian outreach. As for this discovery, I plan to just stay out of the way and see if the world might be inspired to real peace, but safe to say, “I can make no claim to it”. I am looking for non profit organizations, that would sanction and assist this project. I hope there will also, be many, who will step up to volunteer in this effort, with the hopes of revealing something beneficial for all.
    Robert C. Pringle
    P. O. Box 2831
    White City, Oregon 97503

  7. Robert Pringle Says:

    A few thoughts on forest management. The wildfires we have seen, in the last two years, put out more greenhouse gases, than home heating fires have caused in the last 100 years. Plus, much of the lumber resourse was lost, plus the considerable erosion. We can do much better, without doing and logging, other than salvage of dead or diseased trees, by a means that has very little impact. What needs to be done for the forest, is clean up the slash and underbrush and the dead limbs off of trees, so there is not so much fuel in the forest. This waste, can be converted to an asset, by composting and worm farming, to make a product to reverse desertification and puting cattle back in our forests, will add several benefits.
    The cattle help keep the underbrush, in control and mix the ground cover to get leaves and light waste mixed with the soil, so it will not give off the methane to the atmosphere, as it breaks down. The cattle will also, bring back the grasses, that also, contribute to CO2 conversion. It is said, that an acre of grass, will generate more oxygen, than an acre of trees. However, this may be an indication that we need to let trees get bigger. In their natural environment (Eating grass, not grains) cattle do not need to be pumped full of antibiotics and they will help fertilize the trees, so they will grow better and not be so suseptable to disease.
    The horse powered salvage logging, could be a recreational activity, with youth and community participation. Many horses could also help remove the waste from the forests and give many youth groups, a productive activity. One drawback, for certain, this approach will require considerable more ambition, than protesting with a sign or going on a hunger strike, but the rewards are beautiful forests, that are not so vulnerable to wildfires. As Spock would say, “This would be the logical thing to do”, but this also, seems to be the first thing rejected. Time will tell.





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