Kyoto, day 1

Today, the Kyoto protocol on Climate Change comes into effect. It’s a start, albeit a meager one. As George Monbiot points out in the Guardian

No one believes that this treaty alone – which commits 30 developed nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 4.8% – will solve the problem. It expires in 2012 and, thanks to US sabotage, there has so far been no progress towards a replacement. It paroles the worst offenders, the US and Australia, and imposes no limits on the gases produced by developing countries. The cuts it enforces are at least an order of magnitude too small to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at anything approaching a safe level.

…[One reason we don’t appreciate the problem] is that there is a well-funded industry whose purpose is to reassure us, and it is granted constant access to the media. We flatter its practitioners with the label “sceptics”. If this is what they were, they would be welcome. Scepticism (the Latin word means “inquiring” or “reflective”) is the means by which science advances. Without it we would still be rubbing sticks together. But most of those we call sceptics are nothing of the kind. They are PR people, the loyalists of Exxon Mobil (by whom most of them are paid), commissioned to begin with a conclusion and then devise arguments to justify it. Their presence on outlets such as the BBC’s Today programme might be less objectionable if, every time Aids was discussed, someone was asked to argue that it is not caused by HIV, or, every time a rocket goes into orbit, the Flat Earth Society was invited to explain that it could not possibly have happened. As it is, our most respected media outlets give Exxon Mobil what it has paid for: they create the impression that a significant scientific debate exists when it does not. (Emphasis mine.)

Actually, this pernicious tactic is used in at least one other case in the public’s eye: the discussion of evolution, and the impression of legitimacy given in most media about so-called alternatives such as the incontrovertibly wrong ideas of creation “science” and intelligent design.

He goes on to talk about the conflict between the requirements of dealing with climate change (curtailing growth and strong international regulations) and orthodox free-market economics. In fact, this is a similar tactic in the end, presenting a false opposition between the sciences of climatology and economics. The difference, of course, is that economic laws (if such there be) are laws about people and behavior, which we can hope to change:

The challenge of climate change is not, primarily, a technical one. It is possible greatly to reduce our environmental impact by investing in energy efficiency, though as the Exeter conference concluded, “energy efficiency improvements under the present market system are not enough to offset increases in demand caused by economic growth”. It is possible to generate far more of the energy we consume by benign means. But if our political leaders are to save the people rather than the people’s fantasies, then the way we see ourselves must begin to shift. We will succeed in tackling climate change only when we accept that we belong to the material world.