Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Denial by a different name

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Kate Aronoff reports in the Intercept:

IT CAN FEEL GOOD to make fun of climate deniers. So let’s take a little romp with one: Wolfgang Müller.

Here he is in a Dusseldorf hotel conference room, 100 people gathered to take a group photo before him. He’s distributing stemware and pouring champagne, at the 11th annual International Conference on Climate and Energy, a convening this past November of some of Europe’s pre-eminent denialist minds.

Given that this is Europe, it’s not a huge crowd. Müller and company fit the stereotype: cranks poking holes in scientific consensus, railing against the pointy-headed academics — often, though not in his case, with generous industry funding. This particular gathering is co-hosted by the European Institute for Climate and Energy, known as its German abbreviation EIKE; the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an American outfit; and a handful of smaller groups of self-identified climate skeptics.

It’s not hard to see why EIKE sits on the margins. In one presentation, a historical building preservationist argued that medieval building practices — castles with 2-foot-thick stone walls — were better suited to insulate heat than Germany’s apparently tyrannical energy efficiency standards, in a talk that included an extended, only half-joking anecdote involving sex and boar skins. A session on renewables pleads sympathy for wildlife; literature handed out by the presenter features a picture of a dead bird at the foot of a wind turbine. The sole caption, in German, asks: “Bird shredder?”

Billed as a “Contra-COP23,” it takes place about an hour’s train ride from COP23, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 23rd annual Conference of Parties talks in Bonn, where the world is vowing to redouble its efforts to combat climate change in spite of the spurning of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Back in Dusseldorf, it’s cause for celebration. For the camera, they toast: “To Donald Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement!”

It is the patent impotence of Müller and his cohort that allows us to laugh at him. In the realm of international policymaking at the UNFCCC talks, he is far more than an hour from the main conversation, where climate change is universally acknowledged to exist, to be manmade, and to present one of humanity’s most pressing challenges — a fact that even right-wing heads of state rarely dispute.

Viewed close-up, the two sides and their competing conferences couldn’t look any less alike. Yet panning back and taking a longer and broader view — the one that actually matters to the health of the climate — the daylight between them shrinks.

Müller, at least, is honest about this denialism — even if he prefers the term “skeptic.”

Müller’s own scientific rationale may make no sense, but his conclusion is easy on the conscience: Relax, everything will be OK. Another version of that message is being marketed across COP23. As climate scientists call for a dramatic transformation of the world’s economy, a different set of deniers is starting to coalesce around something easier — plans to seemingly tackle climate change that may well still portend planetary catastrophe, even according to conservative climate projections. Unlike Müller, they’re at the center of the climate policymaking debate in Bonn. Like its predecessor events, exhibition halls at COP23 were dotted with stalls sponsored by fossil fuel companies proselytizing carbon capture and storage technology; international investment banks eager to discuss the central role of private finance in driving the new green revolution; industry-backed think tanks exploring the necessity of spraying particulates into the air to block out the sun. The solutions coming out of high-level talks don’t inspire much more confidence.

They peddle in a set of easy fixes: a market signal here, an industrial-grade aerosol there, and the crisis will be an artifact of history, with corporate shareholders better off for it.

If you believe that, then I have a clean coal plant to sell you.

AMERICA MAY WELL be the only country in the world where climate deniers making claims similar to Müller enjoy access to the reins of power. Given its status as the world’s largest economy and its second-largest polluter, that’s not something to be taken lightly; former EPA administrators estimate that the damage wrought by agency head Scott Pruitt in his first year could take three decades to repair. A few dozen miles from the EIKE confab, though — at a sprawling U.N. campus along the Rhine — was a preview for the kinds of climate politics that will dominate the 21st century once Trump and Pruitt are out of office. Unfortunately for the rest of us, they’re only marginally more in touch with scientific reality than our German revelers.

The relevant question isn’t whether the Earth is heating up, but what we intend to do about it. That’s a radically different conversation about climate change than the one that’s been had in America to this point. Here, decades of propaganda from the fossil fuel industry and the denialist think tanks they support have forced the debate to orbit around whether there’s a problem at all, prying open the Overton window to accommodate conspiracy theorists and Nobel Prize winners alike. That the two co-habitated for years on the same cable news panels put the climate debate on deniers’ terms, taking any discussion of reasonable, large-scale solutions — stringent regulation, massive public investment, an economy planned around reducing emissions — virtually off the table. In its place has come a parade of utopian techno-fixes and market-based solutions, dreamed up by the likes of Milton Friedman and now embraced by left and right alike. The same disinformation campaigners that created a debate over the reality of climate change have hedged their bets and staked a claim to solving a problem that they had tried to convince the world didn’t exist.

In late March, Royal Dutch Shell — Europe’s biggest oil company — released a pathway to meeting the low-bar commitment laid out in the Paris Agreement to cap warming at 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels; the actual text calls to cap it at “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. Still, the company’s decarbonization plan — to reach net-zero emissions by 2070 — is hugely ambitious. As Vox’s David Roberts notes,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2018 at 10:40 am

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